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Neutral Zone: Cleaning out the NHL Draft notebook

Craig Morgan Avatar
July 11, 2022

When you cover the NHL Draft, you engage in dozens of conversations. The draft floor and media areas (even the streets) in Montréal were the place to be with league and team executives present, former and newly added players present, and most of the major media outlets present.

Here are a few notes that did not make it into any of my stories as we await the start of the free agency period on Wednesday.

NHLPA still monitoring arena situation

Mathieu Schneider’s much publicized visit to Arizona in February caused a bit of a stir when it was suggested by multiple national media outlets that the Coyotes players, en masse, were livid about having to play at ASU’s multi-purpose arena for the next three seasons.

It wasn’t a fair characterization by media, and it wasn’t a responsible one either because those media outlets did not speak to the players and ask their opinions, and they never made it clear just how many players that Schneider, an NHLPA executive, spoke to when delivering his assessment to those outlets.

I spoke to Schneider on Thursday. He confirmed that he met with “the entire team, the entire organization, we were all together in one room,” but Schneider never claimed to have polled all or even half of the players for their opinions. 

“I spent some time with the guys when I was out there — six or seven guys that hung around; guys that are going to be most impacted,” he said.

Two of those players are Clayton Keller and restricted free agent Lawson Crouse. They offered opinions to local media on break-up day in May.

Crouse: “I’m approaching it with an open mind. Obviously, it’s going to be a huge adjustment. It’s gonna be very different but from everything that they’re saying, and what we’re hearing, they’re going to try and make it as best they can for us with what’s going on with the 5,000 seats or whatever. I’m going in with an open mind, I’m excited. It kind of reminds me of a junior rink. I had a lot of fun in juniors so it’s gonna be good, I think.”

Keller: “It’s definitely interesting that we’re playing there, but I think everyone’s excited. Hopefully the fans come out and it’s sold out every night and they’re loud and it’s a good atmosphere for us and for the team.”

Both Schneider and an NHLPA spokesperson made it very clear at the draft that they are not viewing this situation as an adversarial one with the Coyotes.

“The methodology, or being in Tempe with that location, I don’t think anyone has any issues with that,” Schneider said. “The fact that it’s been a situation that’s gone on for so long is probably the most frustrating thing for players to live through. The average NHL career is still five years so by the time this thing is built those guys aren’t going to be there, so when you tell your guys in the dressing room, ‘Wait ‘til this is done,’ it really doesn’t impact most of them.”  

Schneider said that NHLPA representative Joe Reekie, a former player, will be in the Valley this week to check in on the temporary arena, the progress of the annex that the Coyotes are building to house all team spaces, and the temporary team areas that will be set up for the team in the adjacent community rink while the annex is under construction until December.

“The Oakview Group is running the building, they have a really, really good history with the league and I know (CEO) Tim Leiweke pretty well,” Schneider said. “It’s something that we’re keeping our eye on. I don’t think it’s been any secret that the overall situation has been disappointing to us, but players are going to make the best of a tough situation. From our perspective, we just want to make sure that the facilities are up to standards and make sure that they have NHL quality dressing rooms and practice rinks, etcetera.”

Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez said the team is in constant communication with the PA about the situation and is maintaining transparency. He also addressed one of the PA’s main concerns; that playing in a much smaller arena would impact hockey-related revenue and therefore cut NHL players’ slice of the overall league revenue pie.

“This isn’t something where we’re trying to hide the ball,” Gutierrez said. “We are making significant investments. I really tip my hat to Alex Meruelo. It’s gonna be over $30 million of investments we’re gonna make on a temporary solution. We’re not taking anything with us. We’re building the facility to NHL standards. We made that clear to the Players Association that this would be to NHL standards and quite frankly, from a revenue perspective, it’s going to be at the same if not better than where we were before.”

Schneider played the final 11 games of his NHL career in a Coyotes uniform during the 2009-10 season when the Coyotes snapped a six-season playoff drought. Then-GM Don Maloney acquired him at the trade deadline from Vancouver. He appeared in three of the team’s playoff games against Detroit in the first round.

“I remember playing there as an opposing player, too, when the team was downtown with a wonderful fan base and had some great teams with Rick Tocchet, Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick,” he said. “Even when I was there at the end of my career and we played Detroit in the playoffs, the place was packed so I think we all have our fingers crossed that it’s going to end up being a great market one day, but getting there has been a long road.”

Gutierrez fields questions

Gutierrrez met with the media one hour before the NHL Draft began on Thursday. Among those in attendance were Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

When asked how the four-game homestand at ASU’s multi-purpose from Oct. 28-Nov. 3 came about:

Part of it had to do with the construction timeline and our desire to play games, even if our annex wasn’t fully prepared. So we are making arrangements with ASU to have temporary facilities to allow us to play games in October. We’re excited about that. We think it’s going to be a great environment and again, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be intimate, it’s going to be very unique.

When asked how ticket sales at the multi-purpose facility were progressing:

“Right now, we’re about two-thirds sold in terms of not even going yet to the public. We had a multiple desire of not only creating as much revenue, but also creating enough opportunity for people in the East Valley, people who have never been to a Coyotes game and ASU students. We’re going to have a student section. It’s coming out to be a little bit smaller. Initially we had around 600. It’s going to be closer to 350, 400, just because of all of the broadcast movements where we’re going to put all the cameras and what have you. It’s going incredibly well. It’s the middle of the summer, the population dwindles a bit in the East Valley when it gets to 110 (degrees), but we are very excited about it. We never thought that there were going to be any issues on tickets.”

On the optics of playing 20 of the first 24 games on the road: 

“We’ve been honest about the fact that we knew this was going to be a challenge because it’s not our facility. We don’t own it, we have to accommodate it. We did make it very clear that we wanted games before that annex was completed and so what you see is two weeks (on the road), then a week there where everybody can get their bearings; everybody can be a part of it. 

“We’re on the road quite a bit. If you see it on the back end, it definitely has that home-heavy schedule. So that’s how we present it. We say, ‘We’re in this together.’ We’re already looking at opportunities to maybe take some time off, bring the players back… and that way people can at least sleep in their own homes, but we’re in it together. We’ve told the players transparency is going to be our motto. And also we’re going to be mindful of taking care of them.”

If you look at the 14-game road trip after the four-game homestand, there are four-day gaps between a road game in Las Vegas on Nov. 17 and the next road game, and then again after a road game in Minnesota on Nov. 27 and the next road game. The Coyotes will likely fly home in both of those gaps.

Tempe swore in new council members Berdetta Hodge and Arlene Chin on July 1. I asked Gutierrez if he had met with both:

“I was actually at the swearing in on July 1, and yes, we’ve had conversations with them. Again, it’s all about us being transparent, us being committed to being there, us showing them that we’re committed to not only a great project and iconic project, but a never-done-before deal in which this would be a privately financed sports and entertainment district in Arizona. We will continue to have conversations with the staff and with the council, but we feel quite confident, given what we’ve discussed with them.”

RFA update

The deadline for qualifying offers being sent to restricted free agents is Monday.

Goalie Josef Kořenář signed a two-year contract with HC Sparta in Czechia, but the Coyotes are expected to qualify him to maintain his rights. Arizona has six other RFAs: forward Lawson Crouse, forward Christian Fischer, center Barrett Hayton, defenseman Kyle Capobianco, defenseman Cam Dineen, and Tucson defenseman Cole Hults. Hayton is the only one of the six who is not arbitration eligible.

Per sources, it is unlikely that the Coyotes will tender offers to Hults and Capobianco.

The deadline for players with arbitration rights to file for arbitration is July 17. Qualifying offers expire on July 22. Arbitration hearings are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 11.

Loose pucks

  • Shane Doan’s contract with the Coyotes has expired. It would be a shock to see the Coyotes icon walk away from the only organization he has known, but there has been no word on his future to this point.
  • Coyotes development camp begins on Monday. Here is the list of prospects expected to attend. Forwards: Dylan Guenther (not skating while rehabbing a knee injury), Nathan Smith, Logan Cooley, Jack McBain, Adam Zlnka, Conor Geekie, Julian Lutz, Reece Vitelli, Miko Matikka, Kaden Bohlsen, Ben McCartney, Bradley Marek, Valentin Nüssbaumer, Sam Lipkin, Filip Barklund, Sean Chisholm, Manix Landry, Carson Bantle, Elliot Ekefjärd, Aku Räty, Anthony Romano, Ilya Fedotov, John Farinacci, Josh Doan, Liam Kirk, Reed Lebster, Ethan Whitcomb. Defensemen: Matthew Morden, Maveric Lamoureux, David Breazeale, Grigori Dronov, Chris Jandric, Justin Lee, Ty Emberson, Maksymilian Szuber, Lleyton Moore, Cal Thomas, Jeremy Langlois, Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, Axel Bergkvist. Goaltenders: Ben Kraws (from ASU), Seth Eisele, Thibault Fatton, Austin Roden, Anson Thornton.

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