With less than five days remaining until NHL free agency begins, the Coyotes have only re-signed one of their key free agents: defenseman Chris Summers.
That’s not a surprise since the team never intended to bring back defenseman Derek Morris; goalie Thomas Greiss wants to test the waters to see if he can land a starting gig; and the team will look to upgrade on veteran forwards David Moss ($2.1 million last season), Paul Bissonnette and Jeff Halpern. (The Coyotes are expected to tender a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Brandon McMillan.)
Wing Radim Vrbata was the only question mark in this group, and the Coyotes understand that he deserves a raise over the $3 million he made last season. So what’s holding up that process? The same thing that always seems to limit general manager Don Maloney in the offseason: Money.
While co-owner Anthony LeBlanc suggested last week that the Coyotes might be afforded a bump in spending this offseason, the Coyotes later clarified that they will spend about the same money as last season.
Some flexibility will remain to add pieces during the season, but for now, the Coyotes must work within a tight budget.
The Coyotes spent somewhere between $55 million and $57 million last season, according to capgeek.com, which gets its numbers from the NHL Players’ Association. The Coyotes already have $51.4 million committed to next season’s payroll, so there isn’t much wiggle room at present.
When: 4 p.m. Friday (first round); 7 a.m. Saturday (rounds 2-7) Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia TV: Friday, NBC Sports Network; Saturday NHL Network
That’s where this weekend’s NHL Draft becomes a factor — and not because the Coyotes could find immediate help with the No. 12 pick. They won’t. Any picks they make will likely take three to four years to make an impact on the club.
But the draft will afford Maloney the chance to meet with the NHL’s other GMs (and player agents). The focus of those meetings will be trades. The Coyotes are actively pursuing some deals. If they pan out, Maloney will know how much money he has available to spend in free agency, including potentially bringing back Vrbata.
LeBlanc, Maloney and coach Dave Tippett have all acknowledged that the team needs help up front. There is still a dearth of skill and scoring depth on the roster, but the team also needs help in its bottom six forwards.
So what might the Coyotes be dangling? Among the team’s best current assets are defenseman Keith Yandle and center Antoine Vermette, who is coming off a terrific season that increased his value. Yandle would seem to be the Coyotes’ one chance to acquire a top-end, skilled forward, but the asking price will be steep for the 27-year-old, whose offensive talents are a rare and crucial commodity in today’s fast-paced NHL.
Moving Vermette would create a hole at center, so Maloney would have to bring a center back in. The same goes for oft-injured Martin Hanzal, who hasn’t played more than 65 games the past three full seasons but impacts every facet of the game when he’s in the lineup.
It’s unlikely the Coyotes will be able (or willing, after just one year) to move center Mike Ribeiro with three years left on a deal that pays him an average of $5.5 million, but given their desire to get younger, few players should be viewed as untouchable. Wing Martin Erat will turn 33 in August has a cap hit of $4.5 million next season, but his actual salary is about half that so he could be palatable in a trade. Wing Lauri Korpikoski makes just $2.5 million, but he had a disappointing season from a production standpoint, managing just nine goals and 25 points while missing 18 games.
With so many balls in the air, Maloney described himself as "incredibly busy" on Thursday — particularly without the help of an yet-to-be-hired assistant GM. The decisions made over the next four days will be crucial to determining the team’s immediate future.
As for the draft, it’s been widely assumed the Coyotes will look to stockpile forwards in an effort to improve a longstanding franchise deficiency. Both Maloney and Tippett have said that desire remains, and Maloney has mentioned the possibilty of moving down from the No. 12 pick in the first round to acquire an additional pick.