Coyotes stockpile forwards at draft; acquire Grossmann in trade

As Don Maloney used each successive draft pick to select a player on Saturday — instead of using them as trade chips — you wondered whether the Arizona Coyotes general manager was sticking too stubbornly to his philosophy of making long-term decisions instead of short-term fixes.

He was, but that didn’t stop Maloney from also making good on his promise of a significant trade from the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla.

Two hours after Arizona made its seventh and final selection of the NHL Draft, the Coyotes grabbed everyone’s attention when they sent forward Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for big Swedish defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and the contract of Chris Pronger, who retired because of post-concussion issues and an eye injury. Pronger works for the NHL Department of Player Safety. 

"Part of the deal was my insisting he goes into the Hall of Fame as a Coyote," Maloney quipped.

Sportsnet reported on Friday that the Coyotes were considering buying out the last year of Gagner’s deal. Arizona acquired Gagner last season from Tampa Bay. Maloney said the Coyotes would have paid one-third of Gagner’s $3.2 million salary in the buyout, but the trade helped them avoid that move.

"We made the decision that it just wasn’t working with Sam and we could bring in a younger player with the energy we need," Maloney said. "By taking on Pronger’s contract we reduced our acquisition costs." 

Pronger has two years left on his contract. He is owed $575,000 in each of those years, but he carries a cap hit of $4.941 million according to generalfanager.com. The cap hit is immaterial to the Coyotes, who won’t be anywhere near the cap ceiling anyway. Because Philadelphia retained $500,000 of Grossmann’s salary, Pronger will only cost the Coyotes about half his nominal salary.

The Coyotes were also believed to covet free-agent defenseman Adam McQuaid, but the Bruins re-signed him on Friday to a four-year deal with an average annual value of $2.75 million.

In Grossmann, 30, they get the big, stabilizing presence that coach Dave Tippett has been craving for two seasons. Tippett coached Grossman (6-4, 230) in Dallas, and whenever talk turned to the Coyotes’ needs on their blue line last season, he would mention Grossmann’s name.

New unis

"He’s a solid teammate, a very honest player. And from a coaching standpoint, he’s not a guy you’re worried about being prepared," Tippett said. "Nick defends with position and smarts and he’s big enough to eliminate people. We need to have a good mix on our blue line, and a left-handed penalty-kill guy is something we’ve been missing."

Tippett hopes Grossman will mentor young Swedish defenseman Klas Dahlbeck the way Swede Mattias Norstrom mentored Grossman in Dallas.

By taking on Pronger’s contract, the Coyotes have $4.64 million in salary ($9 million against the cap) locked up in three players who won’t play for them next season (Pronger, Mike Ribeiro and Keith Yandle). That’s not an ideal way to do business, but the Flyers deal brought them a defenseman Tippett believes in and it also allowed the Coyotes to rid themselves of last offseason’s mistake. 

Gagner never fit in at his favored position of center in a Western Conference where his size was a liability. When Tippett shifted him to the wing, he improved marginally, but he managed only 15 goals and 41 points. 

With Gagner’s offense gone, Maloney said the Coyotes still have a lot of work to do to improve next season’s roster. On the shopping list is a pair of centers, another defenseman and a backup goalie.

To get those pieces, he said the team is willing to part with some of next season’s draft picks, players off their roster (if there is a demand), existing prospects outside the core, and even some of the prospects they acquired on Saturday at the draft.

The Coyotes started the final day of draft with six picks. Nearly everyone figured they would package some of them to acquire existing NHL players, but Maloney said he was surprised how little interest he drew from teams wanting to move up.

Instead of dealing picks for NHL players, the Coyotes finished the day with seven picks after trading the No. 60 pick to Calgary for Nos. 76 and 83. In two days’ work, the Coyotes chose six forwards, one defenseman and two goalies.

"Our draft was very diverse and I think we gave ourselves opportunities," Tippett said. "Everyone comes away from the draft thinking they got all the right players, but I think we did get some very good prospects."  

More Coyotes

Aside from No. 3 pick Dylan Strome, Tippett said No. 30 pick Nicholas Merkley drew a chorus of rave reviews from his peers.

The Coyotes also selected power forward Christian Fischer at No. 32, puck-moving left defenseman Kyle Capobianco at No. 63, big goalie Adin Hill at No. 76, power forward Brendan Warren at No. 81, Swedish wing Jens Looke at No. 83, dynamic forward Conor Garland at No. 123 and Swedish goalie Erik Kallgren with their final pick at No. 183.

Fischer played last season with the U.S. National Under-18 team and racked up 64 points (31 goals) in 66 games. At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, he has a big frame he doesn’t hesitate to use.

"I like to play in front of the net and get those scrummy goals by creating havoc," he said. "I use my body, my power, my strength and I think I have a really good shot."

Of the seven picks on Saturday, the 5-8 Garland intrigues the most. He led the QMJHL last season with a whopping 125 points in 67 games.

"He’s one of those pint-sized players that has the puck all game long," Maloney said. "Every time we went to a game we came out and said, ‘Yeah, he’s small but he’s the best guy on the ice.’"

Over the last three years, the Coyotes have done a credible job of restocking what was a bare cupboard at the forward positions. Maloney said this year’s draft wasn’t deep in high-end defenseman so the team opted to add more forwards, but there is still a need on the blue line. He also acknowledged that there would be more moves to improve the current roster as free agency opens July 1 and more teams become desperate to move existing players.

"We’re not in a state of panic here," Maloney said. "We know we have roster holes, but we can’t rush and start sweating that we’re not getting the pieces we need. There’s plenty of time. We have plenty more work to do to build this roster and we will do it."

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