With free agency approaching, the Coyotes were already expected to deal from their strength — defense — in order to pick up some much-needed scoring help up front. Trading two prospects and a draft pick to bring defensive-minded blue-liner Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix only solidified that belief.
Michalek will likely fill the salary slot of unrestricted free agent Michal Rozsival, who made $5 million last year and won’t be coming back. Michalek was a big favorite of Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who was upset when he was outbid for the free agent in the summer of 2010. When the chance to bring Michalek home and give coach Dave Tippett another one of “his kind of player” on the bench, he pulled the trigger and was only too happy to help the Penguins lighten up their payroll.
There were a lot of pre-draft trade rumors swirling around Keith Yandle, who has another four years and $21 million on his contract. The Coyotes probably can’t afford to sign a high-priced free agent who can be a consistent 30-goal scorer, but dangling Yandle in a trade — with Oliver Ekman-Larsson poised to settle into his playmaking role — could give the Coyotes the right bargaining chip to get the job done.
Yandle played in his second straight All-Star Game last season but didn’t score a single power-play goal and struggled at times offensively, an area that should be his strength. He is an assistant captain, team leader and close friend of captain Shane Doan, who is also unsigned and probably not too fond of the idea of losing his running mate. But Doan also understands that the Coyotes need more firepower if they want to make another lengthy playoff run.
The Coyotes’ current defensive corps includes Yandle, Ekman-Larsson, Michalek, Rostislav Klesla, Derek Morris and David Schlemko. Maloney believes Michael Stone and Chris Summers are ready for NHL minutes, and David Rundblad and youngster Brandon Gormley are also on the way.
Yandle’s resume and salary make trading him sensible. It’s just a question of if the right deal is out there.
Maloney acknowledged at the draft that the team is willing to listen to calls on Yandle but said nothing is “imminent,” adding that “one of the calls of him gave us something to mull.”
A rumor circulating around the league over the past couple weeks had the Coyotes offering Yandle for Penguins center Jordan Staal, but Staal was dealt to the Hurricanes over the weekend. DRAFT ADDITION
Winger Henrik Samuelsson (first round, No. 27) is no stranger to the Valley or the Coyotes. The son of former Coyotes assistant Ulf Samuelsson (now the head coach of Modo in the Swedish League) grew up in Scottsdale and spent a lot of time around the team’s practices and games. Samuelsson is a strong, physical forward who — like his father — is known for playing with a nasty edge. His play has drawn comparisons to Claude Lemieux, another player with Coyotes ties. FREE-AGENCY FOCUS
The Coyotes have six unrestricted free agents, foremost among them captain Shane Doan, who wants to finish his career in Arizona — as long as there is a team with which to do it. Whenever the ownership situation is settled, Doan will be the first priority.
Veteran winger Ray Whitney is coming off a team-best 77-point season and, at 40, is looking for a multi-year deal and a raise from last year’s $3 million salary. Whitney has been with seven teams and isn’t shy about the possibility of going to the highest bidder after taking lower salaries the last few years.
Winger Taylor Pyatt had a strong playoffs but had only 19 points in the regular season after scoring 19 goals the year before. Center Daymond Langkow also had a good postseason but struggled during the regular season, made $4.5 million and is likely too rich for Phoenix unless he’s willing to accept a lesser role and salary. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin turns 39 in July but wants to return and could be a better value option than Michal Rozsival, who made $5 million and likely won’t be brought back after the acquisition of Zbynek Michalek.