Market still tough as NHL’s trade freeze ends

The Coyotes are one of 25 teams that will exit the Olympic break either in or within four points of playoff position.

Kevin Hoffman/Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The NHL’s Olympic trade freeze expires Sunday at 10 p.m. Arizona time. But don’t expect the Coyotes to pull the trigger on a trade just yet. 

The NHL’s trade deadline will still be 10 days away when business re-opens, and the market looks much the same as it did before the freeze went into effect.

"No change, nothing imminent," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "There’s a limited pool of players that fit what we need."

The main factor behind that reality is obvious when you pore over the league standings. With seven weeks left in the season, 25 of the NHL’s 30 teams are either in playoff position or within four points of such position. That creates a seller’s market.

"The asking price is still very high," Maloney said. "Ideally, we need to add something to the mix, tweak this group without giving up anything out of the group. I don’€™t want to trade any of our top-nine forwards."

And there are additional challenges created by the artificially lowered salary cap that continue to constrain league GMs. According to Cap Geek, 16 teams have less than $5 million in cap space so few teams have leeway. 

"As we go forward, it’s trying to make the contracts and make the finances work for both clubs," Maloney said. "That limits the options even more."

Maloney made it clear early last week that he wants to add a couple forwards to the current mix. The hole on the left side of the Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata line is the most obvious area of need, but the Coyotes could also use another hard, heavy forward or help for the penalty-killing unit, which has languished near the bottom of the league’s rankings forst most of the season, partly due to the loss of Boyd Gordon in free agency. 

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"We’ve been better of late, over the last half-dozen games," Maloney said, "We’ve done a much better job of pressuring the puck all over the ice rather than sitting back and letting teams set up their power play."

The Coyotes are also hoping the next week of practice will help reassert the style they need to play — the style that, two seasons ago, spearheaded the only playoff run this franchise has had since moving to the Valley.

"There’s some things we can do to get back to the identity we want to have," said coach Dave Tippett, who named consistency of work ethic and tactical soundness. "We’re not doing the hard things it takes to win enough, so we can enlighten some of those things by conversation, by video and by doing them on the ice."

One additional position that will bear watching is left-side defenseman on the third pairing. David Schlemko currently occupies that spot, but the recent call-ups of Brandon Gormley and Chris Summers make it clear that the staff has not been satisfied with Schlemko’s play.

While Gormley’s arrival is likely more a reward for his season with Portland of the AHL than an opportunity to win a roster spot, Summers has a chance to unseat Schlemko if the former doesn’t show more consistency. Summers has played well in the minors and has 29 games of NHL experience to draw upon during this crucial stretch.

If none of the above players grab the job, it’s still possible the Coyotes could look for a shutdown defenseman on the market right at the trade deadline, but that position will take a back seat to the needs up front.