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Coyotes questions: Seven things I wonder with NHL trade deadline in rearview mirror

Craig Morgan Avatar
March 6, 2023

It would be a painful piece of irony if 4,600-seat Mullett Arena cost the Coyotes the opportunity to draft Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson.

When Arizona rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit on Sunday to force overtime against the Cup contending New Jersey Devils, it improved the Coyotes’ record at home to 14-11-3.  Compare that to the other teams at the bottom of the league standings. Columbus is 13-19-2 at home. Chicago is 12-18-3. San José is 6-18-8. Anaheim is 11-16-2. Vancouver is 12-17-1.

Already, the Coyotes have managed wins at Mullett against Florida, Boston, the New York Islanders, Los Angeles, Colorado, Toronto, Vegas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.

There are plenty of games left at the Mullett, too. Thirteen of the Coyotes’ remaining 19 games are at home. If the Coyotes keep this up they will not enjoy good odds of landing the first franchise player this organization has boasted since the Jeremy Roenick-Keith Tkachuk days.

They may have to settle for more individual goals like Matias Maccelli climbing into the Calder Trophy race, or budding franchise player Clayton Keller becoming the second player in Coyotes history to reach 80 points.

While other teams can say the same thing, the roster that the Coyotes are assembling after the NHL trade deadline is a far cry from the one they had before it. Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Bjugstad, Nick Ritchie and Troy Stecher are all out the door. You have to wonder if that will have an impact over the final six weeks of the regular season, but it’s not the only thing that I wonder now that the trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and the end of hockey’s regular seasons are approaching at all levels.

Here are seven more.

1. What will the Coyotes do with all this draft capital?

When the dust had settled on deadline day, the Coyotes had increased their draft-selection stock to 47 picks over the next four seasons (2023-2027). If Arizona were to execute all of those picks, it would set an NHL record.

Here are the teams that have executed the most draft picks in a four-year period since the NHL decreased the draft from nine rounds to seven in 2005.

Coyotes' draft-pick comparison
The Coyotes could become the most active team at the draft in recent history. (Source: NHL Stats)

The most picks the Coyotes have had in a four-year span since 2005 is 35 from 2019-2022. From 2005-2008 the team had 28 picks and it had 29 from 2006-2009.

“If we sat here and did nothing until 2026, the end of that draft, we would be in great shape,” GM Bill Armstrong said. “We just would draft. Those are all in place so if we just simply follow the process and keep drafting well and keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to be in great shape.”

It is doubtful that Arizona will execute all of these picks, however. Teams can only have 50 players under contract at all levels.

“If we can stock enough picks back there, we’re able to go out and buy players at a certain time but also when we go into drafts, it enables us to move up on the draft floor and it enables us to get some really quality players in the draft with that amount of picks,” Armstrong said.

Even though it is likely that the Coyotes will use some of those picks as assets to acquire real players or move up in the draft, Armstrong is also a scout by trade so he knows what his scouting staff is thinking. No matter how many picks they have, director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski and associate director of amateur scoring Ryan Jankowski probably won’t complain about the extra plate appearances.

“Those guys are home-run hitters,” Armstrong said, laughing. “They’re always going to swing. They can’t get enough. The problem is that Darryl and RJ are getting too used to the amount of times they get to swing compared to the rest of the field.”

2. Will LTIR/dead money become an issue?

The Coyotes’ recent acquisition of the contracts for Shea Weber and Jakub Voráček raised eyebrows across the league.

When asked about it on Friday evening, Armstrong offered no regrets. “We do business in here, those are the rules, and we operate within the rules,” he said. “It helps this franchise to unload at the deadline and make sure that we have enough cap to be compliant so we’re not gonna apologize for that.”

The question is, will the league allow them to keep doing it? While Armstrong is correct that the Coyotes are playing within the rules, agents and players are not happy about potential cap room being tied with players who are not playing. This could be a topic of discussion at the next GM meetings in Florida from March 13-15, or at the next Board of Governors meeting in June.

I reached out to a handful of league executives for their anonymous thoughts on the matter. Here is a sampling.

One executive: “I’d like to see a discussion about it. My issue has long been that I don’t think the LTI rules are strict enough for teams that abuse the rules. I think the rules are fine for teams that are legitimately thrust into an LTI situation due to legitimate injuries. I think with this prevalent use of LTI as a roster building mechanism there should be more punitive actions. I’m not sure how punitive but I feel like something needs to change. I think we could probably all agree it’s not good for the health of the game. I would assume Arizona is not done taking advantage of those dead money deals and so I do wonder whether their actions could be a tipping point towards discussion and changes.”

Another executive: “I gotta believe it’s going to be a discussion at the GM meetings, but more so at the Governor level. The rules weren’t intended to be manipulated such as this. Arizona isn’t breaking the rules but the spirit of the rule wasn’t intended for this so yes, I think it gets addressed.” 

Another executive: “I don’t know if it will be a discussion point at the upcoming meetings because the GMs never get the agenda until the day before. You guys usually see the agenda items before the GMs! I’m sure it will be a discussion at some point, as it seems like [Gary] Bettman was a bit irritated about it recently. I believe any changes would require the approval of the PA since it’s a CBA item.”

Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley
Minnesota Golden Gophers forward and Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley carries the puck during a Big Ten game against Michigan State on Jan. 27. (Getty Images)

3. What will Logan Cooley do?

Coyotes 2022 draft pick Logan Cooley is taking part in the Big Ten tournament where top-ranked Minnesota will face Michigan State in the semifinals on Saturday. The Golden Gophers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and if they make a deep run, Cooley will be playing until early April. 

What happens after that is a question at the front of Coyotes’ fans minds. If Cooley makes it all the way to the NCAA championship game on April 8 in Tampa, that would leave two remaining Coyotes games this season in which he would be able to play; one of them just two days after the NCAA title game.

We’ll see what the Coyotes decide there, but it is looking like a near-lock that Cooley will sign with the Coyotes after this season and turn pro. There are a couple of things to consider on that front.

With Dylan Guenther also likely to rejoin the team next season, both could start the season in Tucson to build chemistry and play in as many situations as possible, away from the NHL spotlight. Armstrong and assistant GM John Ferguson Jr. have talked a lot about over-baking prospects to properly develop them. They would have the opportunity next season to put their words into action with two key parts of the franchise’s future.

The other question is this: Is Cooley going to play center right away or will the Coyotes put him on the wing while he learns the intricacies of the game? It’s a common development path that bears watching.

4. Will the Coyotes sign any college free agents?

Armstrong told me that the Coyotes will certainly explore all opportunities, but as prospect analyst Chris Peters recently noted, this year’s crop of free agents is underwhelming, with no real difference makers or sure things.

When I last spoke to Peters, he named drafted players whose rights were set to expire when they left school such as Harvard’s Henry Thrun, Michigan’s Erik Portillo, Northeastern’s Aidan McDonough, Minnesota’s Ryan Johnson, St. Cloud’s Dom Basse and ASU’s Robert Mastrosimone.

After that conversation, the Kings acquired the rights to Portillo from the Sabres, and the Sharks acquired the rights to Thrun from the Ducks.

Coyotes forward Matias Maccelli
Coyotes forward Matias Maccelli carries the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. (Getty Images)

5. Will the Coyotes sign any RFAs before the season ends or wait until summer?

The Coyotes currently have five restricted free-agents-to-be at the NHL level in goalie Connor Ingram, center Jack McBain, forwards Matias Maccelli, Christian Fischer and newly acquired defenseman Connor Mackey. All but Maccelli have arbitration rights and there are some important RFAs in Tucson as well, including forwards Jan Jeník, Nathan Smith and goalie Ivan Prosvetov.

While the Coyotes recently elected to extend defenseman Juuso Välimäki, my sense is that they will wait until the summer to extend any more. That said, the Coyotes are interested in re-signing all of the aforementioned players.

6. Will Tucson have enough bodies to make a playoff push?

Getting defenseman Josh Brown back in the Coyotes lineup and acquiring defenseman Connor Mackey certainly helped. The Coyotes were able to re-assign defensemen Vladislav Kolyachonok, Michael Kesselring and forward Miloš Kelemen to the Roadrunners  on Saturday, giving coach Steve Potvin and his staff a full complement of players.

Coyotes re-assigned to Tucson It is important to the Coyotes that the Roadrunners make the AHL playoffs. They want their prospects playing meaningful games in pressure situations down the stretch, both for the staff’s evaluation and for the players’ development under trying circumstances.

Seven teams make the playoffs from the Pacific Division. Tucson currently sits seventh in the division with Henderson and San José nipping at its heels.

“We will attempt to optimally manage our active roster and available recalls to best accomplish development and competitive objectives at both levels,” Ferguson said. “We believe that playing meaningful minutes in meaningful, crunch-time games is critically important to player development. That includes playoff games, of course, so that remains our goal.

“Winning and player development at the American League level are not mutually exclusive. One hastens the other. That said, NHL experience is also a necessity. We are committed to player development at both levels.”

7. Will other core players follow Jakob Chychrun’s lead?

Jakob Chychrun made a point of noting that it was the Coyotes who first approached him more than a year ago about a trade. The Coyotes finally granted his wish just before the trade deadline.

In the aftermath of the 2023 trade deadline, Armstrong made a point of noting how the Coyotes kept the rest of their core together, despite reports of interest in Nick Schmaltz and Lawson Crouse.

“I’ve got to do my part as a GM; that’s my job,” he said. “You always have to look what’s on the other side, but our main goal was to get through and not move those pieces that we liked.”

But as reality of the rebuild sinks in, you have to wonder if other core members will have similar thoughts to Chychrun. This isn’t going to be a quick turnaround. The Coyotes will almost certainly not be a playoff team during their four-year tenure at Mullett Arena.

Will players such as Schmaltz, Crouse, Clayton Keller, Karel Vejmelka, Christian Fischer and others be willing to spend the primes of their careers in a situation where they have no shot at the playoffs?

As I noted multiple times with Chychrun, you can’t blame players for wanting a chance at the playoffs; for wanting out of a situation that does not afford them that opportunity. If that request comes, will Armstrong grant it as he did with Chychrun, acquiring more assets while likely pushing playoff possibilities farther down the road?

Top photo of the Coyotes scouting staff at the 2022 NHL Draft in Montréal via Getty Images

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