This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference and War on Ice, and of course, NHLNumbers.
The Arizona Coyotes finished the 2014-15 season with the worst record in the Western Conference, and it’s fair to assume that they’ll do the same again this season. Although the Coyotes are a ways away from being competitive, they’ve put together a solid group of prospects including Dylan Strome, Anthony Duclair, and Max Domi. If all goes well, the Coyotes will have been bad enough to draft local hero and blue chip prospect Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the draft. Long story short, the Coyotes aren’t worrying about winning games right now, they’re looking at finally putting together a contending team that can grab the attention of potential fans in the desert.
- Traded Sam Ganger and a conditional pick in 2016 to the Flyers for Chris Pronger’s contract and Nicklas Grossmann.
- Traded Lauri Korpikoski to the Oilers for Boyd Gordon.
- Signed Brad Richardson to a three year contract with a $2.083 million cap hit.
- Signed Steve Downie to a one year, $1.75 million contract.
- Signed John Scott to a one year, $0.575 million contract.
- Signed Zbynek Michalek to a two year contract with a $3.2 million cap hit. They traded him to St. Louis at last year’s deadline.
- Signed Antoine Vermette to a two year contract with a $3.75 million cap hit. They traded him to Chicago at last year’s deadline.
- Signed Anders Lindback to a one year, $0.875 million cap hit.
- IN: Dylan Strome, Antoine Vermette, Boyd Gordon, Brad Richardson, Steve Downie, John Scott, Chris Pronger’s contract, Zbynek Michalek, Nicklas Grossmann, Anders Lindback.
- OUT: Mark Arcobello, Sam Gagner, Lauri Korpikoski, David Moss, Tye McGinn, Martin Erat, B.J. Crombeen, John Moore.
The Coyotes were really, really bad last season. They couldn’t score and they couldn’t keep the puck out of the net, as they finished 29th and 28th in goals scored and goals against respectively. Well, if you’re going to finish the season with the second worst record in the NHL, it’s pretty obvious that you aren’t going to be good at either goal scoring or goal prevention, so I won’t go into too much detail. The Coyotes’ top point scorer last year was a defenceman. Their second highest point scorer was Sam Gagner, who was traded away in the offseason for Chris Pronger’s contract and Nicklas Grossmann. Their third highest point scorer was Keith Yandle, who they traded to the New York Rangers before the trade deadline. I said I wouldn’t go into much detail, so I’ll stop there.
As we all know, the Coyotes aren’t trying to win games right now. Last year, they shed Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle midseason to help their tanking effort and it resulted in them drafting Dylan Strome third overall. Strome joins a pretty impressive group of forward prospects including Max Domi, Henrik Samuelsson, Christian Dvorak, Brandon Perlini and Anthony Duclair. The goal for the Coyotes heading into this season is to give their prospects an opportunity to develop behind some competent NHL veterans and ultimately give themselves the best odds possible to land Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the draft come June. The Coyotes added depth down the middle in Antoine Vermette, Boyd Gordon, and Brad Richardson which should help ease their young forwards into playing in the NHL. With this depth, the Coyotes won’t be forced to rush Dylan Strome to the show, and if they do, he won’t need to face the opposing team’s top competition.
Rebuilding teams are incredibly difficult to gauge because you don’t know which prospects are going to pan out and which veterans are going to be dealt to help bring in more young, controllable assets. For all we know, three years from now none of the forwards listed above could be playing for the Coyotes. Aside from their freshly signed rookies, the Coyotes have just one forward signed for more than two seasons. This gives them a tremendous amount of flexibility in deciding who they want to keep around for the long haul, and it also gives them a nice group of players who could be dangled as rentals to contending teams over the next couple of seasons. As their young players develop and begin to take on bigger roles, they can easily move any of the forwards they have signed if they choose, because none of them are signed to ugly, long term contracts.
*Chris Pronger won’t play again due to concussions, but he’s still being paid for two more seasons before his contract is finished.
Just like with their forwards, the Coyotes have a bunch of flexibility going forward because only one player is signed for more than two more years. As a result, it’s pretty tough to gauge who’s going to be a part of their long term plans. The only defenceman on the Coyotes roster signed long term in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and it’s safe to say that he’s a part of the team’s future, as he led the team in goals, points, and time on ice per game last season at the age of 23. After him, only Zbynek Michalek is the only defenceman who won’t be looking for a new contract at the end of the season. Newly acquired Nicklas Grossmann is set to become a UFA, while Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, Brandon Gormley, and Klas Dahlbeck will all need new RFA deals. The Coyotes are going to have a whole bunch of cap space, so it doesn’t really come down to how they’re going to fit all of these guys, it comes down to which ones they actually want to keep around.
The only really ugly contract on the Coyotes at this point is owned by Mike Smith. In 2011-12, Smith had a remarkable season, leading the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals with a 0.930 save percentage and a league leading 34.63 goals saved above average in 67 games. After a solid season in 2012-13, Smith was rewarded with a six year, $34 million contract. At the time, judging by the way he had played in his first two seasons in the desert, it looked like a pretty reasonable contract. Now, after a horrible season in which Smith put up a 0.904 save percentage and -20.13 goals saved above average, it doesn’t look very good at all. To be fair to Smith, he doesn’t deserve to shoulder all of the responsibility for his terrible season. The Coyotes were towards the bottom of the league in shot and possession metrics, and they allowed 31.0 shots against per 60 minutes at even strength.
I think it’s pretty unlikely that Smith ever has a season as good as he did in 2011-12, but I also don’t expect him to be as bad as he was last season again. Both seasons, good and bad, are well off his career average, so it’s safe to assume that he’s going be closer to the goalie he was in the 2013-14 season, in which he had a 0.915 save percentage and 2.22 goals saved above average. If that’s the case, he still won’t be worth his contract, but it won’t look quite so terrible as it did during last year’s disaster season. Regardless, Smith’s deal is pretty easily the worst one on the Coyotes. Thankfully they’re nowhere near being competitive right now, so the deal doesn’t hurt their short term cap situation. Let’s be honest, Mike Smith’s contract isn’t going to get in the way of the Coyotes signing any key players to new contracts. For those who might be worried, it’s going to be coming off the books in 2020 when Oliver Ekman-Larsson is set to become a UFA, which is also one year after Strome, Perlini, Domi, Dvorak, and Duclair’s rookie deals come to an end.
Like I said, it’s difficult to gauge rebuilding teams because they’re exactly that. We don’t know which prospects are going to pan out, which veterans are going to stick around, and even though they’re taking the course most likely to result in long term success, there’s no guarantees that’s going to happen. The Coyotes were really bad last season and it’s reasonable to assume they’re going to be really bad again this season. They have enough veteran bodies that they aren’t going to have to throw any rookies who aren’t ready into the fire. They’re also in a situation, with virtually no players signed to long term deals, that they can be active as sellers at the deadline if they feel it’ll help their long term situation.
The future in Arizona is very unpredictable for multiple reasons, but I think the Coyotes have put themselves in a nice position to finally build an interesting team in the desert.
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: