GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last piece of the Coyotes’ remarkable offseason fell into place Saturday when the team agreed with restricted free agent Mikkel Boedker on a two-year deal. Sources say the deal averages about $2.55 million per year. There are no incentives in the contract.
“I think it’s a fair number,” GM Don Maloney said. “He’s a good player, but with Boeds, the question is can he consistently put up awesome numbers? We like parts of his game, but is he a 30-to-40-point guy or 50-point guy?
Since Boedker isn’t eligible to become an unrestricted free agent for three more seasons, the contract could amount to a three-year deal if the Coyotes extend him a qualifying offer when this deal is complete.
Getting Boedker in camp was an important move since he is expected to play with newly acquired center Mike Ribeiro at times on one of coach Dave Tippett’s ever-shuffling lines. Missing some of camp would have limited their opportunities to build chemistry and learn each other’s tendencies.
“Certainly with a new ownership group in place and us going into a stable environment, not to have an important player here from the start would have been unsettling,” Maloney said. “Plus, we’re looking at Mikkel as a potential winger with Mike Ribeiro. He’s going to have a great opportunity to step right into a front-line role and get the ice time to be a productive player. If he misses the start of camp, somebody else gets that opportunity, and you never know.”
Maloney acknowledged that playing with Ribeiro could provide Boedker a unique opportunity.
“This is the first time we can say a very creative centerman is there to greet him,” he said. “This all looks good on paper, but when you look at Ribeiro holding the puck and his creativity, maybe Shane (Doan’s) big shot and Mikkel with the speed he can bring and his transition game, if the chemistry works, it could be a terrific line. But that’s why we show up next week to find out.”
Boedker is also intrigued by the idea of playing with Ribeiro.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played with a center who’s not good, but maybe just not at that higher skill level,” he said. “I’ll just work as hard as I can to prove myself and that’s up to Dave (Tippett) to decide if I play with him. But maybe with my speed and his play-making ability, it could really be something special.”
Boedker, 23, was believed to be seeking a long-term deal — likely something in line with the five-year, $17.5 million deal the Senators gave former Coyotes forward Kyle Turris. But Boedker’s late-season slump (two goals in the final 22 games) made the Coyotes hesitant to commit to a long-term deal.
“We’ve been adamant all along that we will pay on performance; we’re not going to pay on potential. We did it with (Keith) Yandle coming off his entry-level deal,” Maloney said. “When you look at the first 20, 25 games last season, he was almost a point-a-game player — arguably our best forward. The last 22 games, not so much.”
Boedker thinks a combination of bad bounces and bad thoughts may have led to the slump.
“I think the biggest thing was that I was over-thinking things,” he said. “Maybe we started talking about the extension a little and then you get that going in your head and suddenly things aren’t going your way.”
Last season, Boedker finished with seven goals and 26 points in 48 games. In parts of five seasons with the Coyotes, he has played in 256 regular-season games, totaling 34 goals and 95 points.
With Boedker signed, the Coyotes have their top six forwards spots nearly set. The other players pegged for the top two lines are Ribeiro, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. The Coyotes would still like to identify a top-six left wing, but there are a number of possibilities. Young players such as first-round pick Max Domi, Chris Brown and Lucas Lessio will be given a long look in training camp to see if any is ready to assume that spot. The Coyotes will likely complete that evaluation before considering a trade or even another free-agent signing.
The team is deep on its blue line, so that could allow for a trade if the spot isn’t solidified by one of the internal options. If the Coyotes sign a free agent, it may mean moving other salaries to keep the team within its budget.
It will be interesting to see what Boedker can do playing alongside Ribeiro, a centerman skilled at creating plays. Boedker’s speed is his greatest asset, but he also possesses good stick skills and has proven to be a solid penalty killer. He is at an age where it’s time to elevate his game to another level if he’s going to be the elite talent the Coyotes had envisioned when they selected him eighth overall in the 2008 draft.
“I’ve proven I can do it,” he said. “Now I have just have to do it on a consistent basis.”
One failing of the Coyotes’ scouting system, and one Maloney has discussed in the past, has been the organization’s inability to draft and develop elite forward talent. But Boedker could be the watershed player for change, with several other intriguing prospects (Domi, Brown, Lessio, Henrik Samuelsson, Laurent Dauphin) waiting in the wings.