While no one was guaranteeing a post-season berth for the Arizona Coyotes there was a lot of optimism heading into this season. Yes, the Coyotes struggled down the stretch last season but the experience they gained combined with the young talent on the roster, 2016-17 was supposed to be a step forward for the organization. Instead nothing changed, but there is still time to turn the Arizona Coyotes into contenders.
Four Steps to Turn the Arizona Coyotes Into Contenders
Get some goaltenders
First and foremost this upcoming off-season Coyotes general manager John Chayka needs to start adding goaltenders to his organization for next year and beyond. The soon to be 35-year old Mike Smith is not the answer for Arizona both in the short and long term. Also, Arizona does not have a goalie prospect in the organization that is currently under consideration as the long-term fix.
There will be a number of unrestricted free agent goaltenders that could fit the bill for Arizona over the next two-three years. Even with a lot of dollars coming off the cap, it’s hard to imagine the Coyotes are a legitimate contender for Ben Bishop or Brian Elliott. Thomas Greiss, and Jonathan Bernier could be viable options.
At 2017 NHL Draft, Mr. Chayka needs to add some promising goaltenders to the organization. Trading for one or two goalie prospects at the trade deadline would be a wise move as well.
Deal for a defenseman
The Coyotes also need an experienced top four blue liner to be added to this roster and join Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Jakob Chychrun, and Anthony DeAngelo. Free agency doesn’t offer many ideal choices for the Coyotes. Kevin Shattenkirk is the top free agent defenseman and will be highly sought-after by contending teams. It will be shocking if Arizona is in that mix.
That leaves the trade route for the Coyotes front office. Ironically the team that maybe be the perfect trading partner is the one that does not currently have a player in their organization yet. That is, of course, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The expansion draft is going to offer Vegas general manager George McPhee many options on defense. However, talented young forwards will be at a premium for McPhee. That’s what makes Arizona and Vegas great dance partners.
Arizona has a number of talented young forwards both the NHL level as well as in the prospect pipeline. A likely scenario is defenseman such as Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Cam Fowler, and Calvin de Haan all could be available in the expansion draft. Expansion could lead to the missing piece to Arizona’s blue line puzzle.
Add veteran talent
There are many NHL organizations that are envious of the young talent of the Coyotes, but that alone does not win hockey games. The Edmonton Oilers of recent years are proof positive of that and should be a cautionary tale for the Coyotes.
Young players no matter how talented have to learn how to play in the NHL as well as win hockey games. You can’t expect to throw out a bunch of talented kids on the ice and expect a Stanley Cup contender.
A wise move by the young Coyotes general manager, Mr. Chayka would be to add a veteran presence to this team. This could be Shane Doan‘s last year in the league. The right veteran could be a huge help for the young Coyotes.
One candidate that would be a great choice in terms of adding a veteran to the roster is Justin Williams. The 35-year old Williams is a UFA at season’s end.
Maximize cap space
It’s a bit odd to see the Coyotes near the top of teams with limited cap space. That is a bit deceiving from a payroll perspective because Arizona has dead cap money in Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger.
But a number of players are scheduled to come off the cap for the Coyotes at the end of this season including the contracts of Datsyuk and Pronger.
In fact, Arizona is scheduled to have $27 million plus come off their cap at season’s end. This will give Arizona plenty of space to add a goalie, solid top-four defenseman, and a veteran forward.
If these moves can be made, the 2017-18 season could be a big step in the right direction for the Coyotes.