Scoring wing, backup goalie on Coyotes’ free-agent wish list

Unrestricted free agent Radim Vrbata could return to the Coyotes next season. But can they afford him?

With Sam Gagner and B.J. Crombeen aboard, and a qualifying offer tendered to restricted free agent Brandon McMillan, the Coyotes should have 11 forwards, eight defensemen and a goalie under contract by the start of free agency on Tuesday.

Add in a couple of young players — maybe wings Max Domi and Lucas Lessio — and Arizona is close to its 23-man active roster.

Unless general manager Don Maloney has more trades up his sleeve — still a distinct possibility — the Coyotes may be fairly quiet when the NHL’s shopping season officially opens.

But there are two areas where Arizona could make moves. First, Maloney said he expects to sign a backup goalie quickly — likely on Day 1 — and that goalie probably isn’t going to be last year’s backup Thomas Greiss, who has numerous offers as he chases a starting gig and more money.

Prospects Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue need another year of seasoning in the minors. Current backups who could fit the bill include former Coyote and current Bruin Chad Johnson, Carolina’s Justin Peters, Colorado’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere (expected to retire) and Winnipeg’s Al Montoya.

The other move is more intriguing but far less certain. The Coyotes still need scoring help on the wing. But can they afford it?

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Assuming McMillan accepts his qualifying offer, and assuming the Coyotes will carry 14 forwards, seven defenseman and two goalies on their 23-man roster, the Coyotes have about $50.5 million committed in actual salary (the cap hit is higher), according to, which gets its numbers from the NHL Players’ Association. Backup goalies normally come in the $1 million range, give or take a couple hundred thousand dollars. 

If Domi and Lessio make the team, their salaries next season are $925,00 and $867,500.  

The Coyotes spent somewhere between $55 million and $57 million last season, according to Could they add another wing and exceed last year’s spending by a couple million? If so, they might be able to bring back Radim Vrbata, or chase free-agent wings Ales Hemsky or Milan Michalek — brother of Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek. 

Maloney could move more pieces to free up the money. Or, maybe he’ll chase another center and move Gagner to the wing, where some analysts feel he is better suited due to his defensive shortcomings and faceoff struggles.

It appears Vrbata is the only one of the Coyotes unrestricted free agents with any shot to return. Everything will be sorted out in the next few days, giving Coyotes fans a pretty firm grasp of what the 2014-15 roster will be.

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