While most NHL franchises are zeroing in on the big-name free agents who will be going on the market July 1, a familiar game plan is taking shape in the Coyotes’ front office.
“We’ll continue to look for value,” Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said with a hint of resignation. “It’s simply a fact of the franchise and our finances.
“A year from now, when (prospective owner) Greg Jamison is here, we certainly think we’ll be a destination for free agents. But with the franchise’s uncertainty, right now, it’s business as usual.”
That means you can scratch Zach Parise, Dustin Penner and Alexander Semin off the shopping list. The Coyotes won’t be major players in free agency aside from the pursuit of their own unsigned players. And when they do go shopping, their scope will be narrow — especially since the team re-acquired defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
“We’re very solid in goal, and we’re not looking at any defensemen in the free-agent market,” Maloney said. “Up front is where we’re focused.”
The Coyotes have already extended a qualifying offer to restricted-free-agent forward Kyle Chipchura, and they continue to negotiate with unrestricted free agents Shane Doan and Ray Whitney.
“I do remain steadfast in the belief that Shane will be a Phoenix Coyote, and we’re doing everything we can to make it happen,” Maloney said. “We’re comfortable with a long-term contract, a short-term contract, and I don’t think it’s a money situation.”
Maloney said the main issue with Doan is his concern over whether the franchise will remain in Phoenix for the long term.
Whitney’s status is less certain. He said at the end of the season that he’d like to be paid according to his production, and he led the Coyotes in points last season with 77. Unlike Doan, he holds no long-term ties to the area and will likely go to the highest bidder, provided that team has a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.
The Coyotes have made “a couple offers” to Whitney’s camp but won’t likely get a reply until other teams have made offers. Maloney also doesn’t expect to have any further conversations with forward Taylor Pyatt or center Daymond Langkow until the market determines their worth.
The trade for Michalek effectively closed the door on the potential return of free-agent defensemen Michal Rozsival and Adrian Aucoin unless the Coyotes move one of their existing defensemen, such as Keith Yandle, in a deal for a top-end center or wing.
The Coyotes already have Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michalek, Rostislav Klesla, Yandle, David Schlemko and Derek Morris in the fold, and Maloney also would like to find more opportunities for the franchise’s stable of young defensemen that includes Maxim Goncharov, David Rundblad, Chris Summers, Michael Stone and Brandon Gormley.
With the free-agent market for centers limited and the Coyotes already deep (if not overly skilled) at that position, the best bet for a free-agent addition would be on the wings, where the team is looking for more scoring punch.
The good news is Maloney will have some cap flexibility even if the team is able to re-sign Doan and Whitney. How much flexibility he has will depend on who is paying the bills: the NHL or Jamison.
“The NHL gave me a number to work with and Greg gave me a number to work with,” Maloney said. “Greg’s budget is a little better, which is a good thing. It gives us more flexibility. We’ll have to see what happens.”