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Coyotes trade deadline primer: Limited possibilities, open to all options

Craig Morgan Avatar
March 1, 2024
Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong.

When the Coyotes reached the midpoint of the 2023-24 season, they were three points out of the second Western Conference wild card spot. GM Bill Armstrong lauded his team for its expectation-exceeding performance, but he also cautioned against external playoff expectations, just as he had at media day in September.

“We have a tremendously tough schedule in the months of January and February so I do believe it’ll work itself out before we get there,” Armstrong said of the March 8 trade deadline.

GMs are paid to take the long view and once again, Armstrong’s foresight has proven accurate. Since Jan. 1 when the Coyotes were in a playoff spot, the team is 4-17-3, it has endured a 14-game winless streak (the second longest in its Arizona tenure), it has fallen 19 points off the wild card pace, and it is clearly in sell mode with seven days until the trade deadline. 

“It’s been a different kind of schedule in the sense of the tough competition we’ve seen back to back to back to back,” Armstrong said. “It probably would have helped the club in a lot of ways to have it spread out and play a few games against some lower teams to gain some confidence in certain areas to help us get through some stretches, but that’s not what happened.

“Like I have said, we’re gonna go down a path where our players are going to dictate where we’re at, and everybody I think can look at the record and where we’re at in the standings now and understand what’s coming. I’m gonna field calls. That’s what GMs do. They call every day. We talk every day about different possibilities. That’s the way the world works, not only with the Coyotes, but with 31 other clubs.”

Armstrong is open to multiple scenarios including acquiring existing prospects, existing NHL players, and acquiring more draft picks, despite the fact that the Coyotes have 13 picks in the first two rounds of the next three drafts, and 20 in the first three rounds.

“People mistake the approach of getting more picks,” Armstrong said. “They think that we will keep picking. We might, but we also could get [players such as current Coyotes] Jack McBain and Sean Durzi because of those picks so it gives you a lot of different options to do a lot of different things. You’re really just trying to gain assets, but I’m not so sure there are any clubs that have gone through the process with as many picks as we have. It creates many options, not only to draft players, but to acquire players.”

Unlike past seasons, the Coyotes don’t have an abundance of attractive veterans who are set to become unrestricted free agents after this season, but they do have some pieces that will almost certainly be moved at the deadline, and others that might be moved if the situation is right.

Coyotes defenseman Matt Dumba.
Coyotes defenseman Matt Dumba. (Getty Images)

Tier 1: UFAs on expiring contracts

D Matt Dumba: When Dumba signed a one-year, $3.9 million contract with the Coyotes this past summer, the idea was to revive his game, much like Shayne Gostisbehere had done two seasons before.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

Dumba’s offensive game (four goals, nine points) has diminished considerably from the 50-point season he produced for Minnesota in 2017-18, and the defensive game that had supposedly replaced it hasn’t always been evident. Dumba has struggled with turnovers, overly aggressive plays, and bad reads, although he has played better of late, including a strong performance on Thursday in Toronto; one of many teams rumored to be kicking the tires on the veteran.

It’s hard to say what Dumba’s value is in a market that was quiet before the Chris Tanev trade on Wednesday night. Most playoff teams want depth on defense because the postseason is a war of attrition. Dumba is a big hitter, he has plenty of playoff experience, he can skate and he’s right-handed. All of those qualities are attractive.

The smart money says Dumba could fetch a third-round pick, but if the Coyotes are willing to eat some of his contract, he might fetch a second-round pick.

F Jason Zucker: Like Dumba, Zucker’s game hasn’t matched his expectations when he signed a one-year, $5.3 million contract in the summer. He was matched on a line with Logan Cooley early in the season, but Cooley was still struggling to find his way in the NHL and the two never found great chemistry.

Zucker (eight goals, 23 points) has some value as a veteran wing with 46 playoff games under his belt, but his cap hit will likely necessitate the Coyotes eating some money to move him and he likely won’t land more than a mid-round pick.

D Troy Stecher: Last season, the Coyotes sent Stecher and Nick Ritchie to the Flames at the deadline in exchange for Brett Ritchie and Connor Mackey. Neither of those players are with the Coyotes, Nick Ritchie isn’t with the Flames and Stecher returned to the Coyotes in the offseason.

As a defenseman, Stecher still has some value for teams looking for depth, but the return will likely be nominal again and the Coyotes may choose to just keep around a likable veteran who does a lot of little things well that go unnoticed in games.

D Travis Dermott: If a team is looking for depth on defense, Dermott could have some value but he won’t bring much in return. It seems unlikely that he will be back next season on a team that needs to either upgrade its blue line or infuse some prospects.

D Josh Brown: Brown is also set to become an unrestricted free agent. He has only appeared in 32 games, often serving as a healthy scratch. The latter would be his most likely role with a playoff team as well, and he wouldn’t command much of a return.

F Liam O’Brien: Speaking of UFAs-to-be who could serve in a depth role and be in and out of the lineup, O’Brien could add a physical element at little cost. That said, it’s questionable whether Armstrong wants to move a bunch of players who only bring later-round picks or low-level prospects.

Coyotes forward Alex Kerfoot. (Getty Images)

Tier II: Coyotes 2025 UFAs

F Alex Kerfoot: Of all the movable players on this year’s roster, Kerfoot may have the greatest value. After a slow start, Kerfoot (10 goals, 35 points) has been everything that he was touted to be: a smart, versatile player who can play up and down the lineup in different positions, and boost a penalty-killing unit. He’s a coach’s dream.

Kerfoot signed a two-year, $7 million contract last summer and the Coyotes really like what he brings to the ice and the room. If a team wants to pry him away, that team is probably going to have to craft a package that brings a first-round pick back to Arizona.

C Nick Bjugstad: Last year at the deadline, Bjugstad brought the Coyotes defenseman Michael Kesselring and a 2023 third-round pick (Vadim Moroz). Bjugstad has 13 goals and 31 points this season. He is on pace for the second-most productive season of his career.

As with Kerfoot, the Coyotes like what Bjugstad brings to the ice and the room as a veteran matchup center and a spectacular influence on the younger players. As with Kerfoot, it will probably require a package that includes a first-round pick to pry Bjugstad away with one season left on his two-year, $4.2 million contract.

F Michael Carcone: Buoyed by an unsustainable shooting percentage, Carcone had 14 goals in the first 26 games of the season. He has one goal and three points in his past 25 games. Might a team be willing to overpay for that scoring potential, or might the Coyotes want to hang onto a guy who is signed for another year at just $775,000?

G Karel Vejmelka: Vejmelka’s numbers have fallen significantly this season. He has a 3.62 goals against average, a .893 save percentage and minus-4.03 goals saved above expected (last season he was plus 6.98). That said, there are plenty of contending teams that need goaltending help, including Colorado, Carolina, Edmonton and Toronto.

If a team is willing to overpay to pry Vejmelka free — and as we stated above with Kerfoot and Bjugstad — they’re probably going to have to find a way to send a first-round pick back to Arizona. The Coyotes may also need another goalie coming back since the pro side of the organization is already down to three potential goalies, although Anson Thornton could be a stopgap if Vejmelka is moved.

Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz. (Getty Images)

Tier III: Longshots with term

F Nick Schmaltz: Fans are frustrated with Schmaltz. They want more from him offensively. They want a higher compete level on a nightly basis.

The Coyotes? They know exactly what Schmaltz is: a second-line player playing out of position on the team’s top line. The Coyotes’ analytics on Schmaltz are good, aside from a shot that appears to be a bit off target this season. In an ideal world, Schmaltz would be playing on a second line where he would enjoy more favorable matchups and likely better results.

The Coyotes don’t have that luxury. Clayton Keller (currently injured) is the only player on this roster with an argument as a first-line forward so they need to play Schmaltz up a notch. One of the least discussed aspects of team building is how much playing a player above his natural slot impacts an entire team. Like Schmaltz, Barrett Hayton should be playing lower in the lineup. The defensemen who are leading this team in minutes — Sean Durzi and JJ Moser — should also be slotted down a peg. So it goes with Schmaltz.

But if you’re thinking the Coyotes are going to trade Schmaltz at the deadline, think again. First of all, he makes Keller happy. Second, his contract is backloaded with salaries that will pay him $8.45 million next season and $8.5 million in 2025-26; the final season of his deal. That makes moving him in this cap-strapped world very difficult.

And as mentioned previously, the Coyotes understand Schmaltz’s place on the team.

If somebody offers Armstrong a first-round pick for Schmaltz at the deadline, he might flinch, but the far more likely occurrence is for the Coyotes to revisit the situation this summer when more options are on the table. Even then, Schmaltz might remain a Coyote.

Top photo of Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong via Getty Images

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