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The March 21 NHL trade deadline is four weeks away. You might have thought that it was much closer based on all of the breathless tweets and reports suggesting that trade talks were heating up on a number of Arizona Coyotes.
The truth? The talks have been pretty steady, but to suggest that a certain trade is imminent would be misrepresenting the situation.
“The market looks a little different right now because there’s a lot of teams in the East specifically that are completely out of the playoff picture,” Arizona Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said.
In fact, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has been decided ever since the Boston Bruins heated up in January. The next closest team to the Bruins is ninth-place Detroit, which is 10 points behind Boston for the final wild card. At this stage of the season, no team is making up that kind of ground.
“It’s a strange year when you factor that in,” Armstrong continued. “There’s a lot of teams moving bodies that are completely out so the market’s a little bit flooded. We’ll see how it moves, but it’s definitely a situation where teams know whether they’re in or out. There’s not a lot of teams hanging around thinking they’re gonna get in.”
When the market is flooded, teams have options. Options mean multiple negotiations with multiple GMs. Multiple negotiations require more time and even more negotiations. And as is generally the case in the NHL, deadlines spur action, whether that means the trade deadline or the NHL Draft.
“Everybody wants to get it done real early, but it never happens,” Armstrong said, chuckling.
The Coyotes have made a couple of deals already. They sent defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and forward Ryan Dzingel (who was immediately waived and claimed by San Jose) to Toronto on Saturday for buried-in-the-minors forward Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft pick, but that deal materialized at the last minute. On Monday, they also traded goalie Carter Hutton to the Leafs for future considerations, but that trade was so outside the box that it doesn’t feel like a deadline deal.
Armstrong declined to discuss the state of negotiations on other players, but some of the names are well known at this point. Here’s a look at nine Coyotes who could be traded by the deadline, and some players who will not be traded.
Possible trade chips
D Jakob Chychrun
Chychrun’s name has been the focus of trade rumors for the past two months. Everybody knows by now that the Coyotes’ asking price for Chychrun is very high. That’s because the 23-year-old defenseman is on a team-friendly contract through the 2024-2025 season with a cap hit of $4.6 million.
Despite his early struggles this season, Chychrun has shown he can be an elite point producer (18 goals last season) and he has played much better of late. After some alarming plus-minus numbers over the first three months of the season, Chychrun is a plus-one since the new year dawned.
All Armstrong would say about the Chychrun rumors is something that he has repeated multiple times: “I know it’s the boring answer, but as a GM I have to always be open to bettering our team.”
Despite what you may have read thus far, the Coyotes have not received an offer for Chychrun that Armstrong feels would better the team. If they had, the deal would be done. I have always viewed a potential Chycnrun trade as the type of move that gets made in the summer at the draft, rather than at the deadline. That may be off base, but with the aforementioned flooded market of possibilities on defense, GMs may choose a safer and more temporary route at the deadline.
Remember, the Coyotes are not looking to move Chychrun and they don’t have to move him. Somebody will have to pay dearly or Armstrong won’t move such a valuable asset.
F Phil Kessel
I have had multiple sources tell me that the Coyotes asking price for Kessel has been a second-round pick but that offer has not materialized. They may have to settle for a third-round pick but I do not expect Kessel to return.
Keep in mind that Kessel has a modified (eight-team) no trade clause and a no-move clause so he has some control over his destination, but Kessel does not want to be a part of a rebuild. That’s understandable for a 34-year-old veteran who has won Cups. Kessel asked for a trade at the start of the season. At some point, the Coyotes will have to accept whatever offer they get for an impending unrestricted free agent (UFA) who will not be re-signing in Arizona.
Kessel is on pace for a career low in goals but he does have 27 assists and 33 points. He can still help a team’s power play and playoff Phil has been a wonder to watch in the past.
C Johan Larsson
I reported earlier this month that Larsson, 29, underwent surgery for a sports hernia. If there is a setback in his recovery, that could rule him out at the deadline, but the Coyotes think Larsson could be back by the deadline.
If that’s the case, there will be a rental market for a rugged, defensive-minded center who can sustain a forecheck, who will be a UFA after this season, and who has shown some offensive life this season with six goals and 10 points in his final 12 games before the surgery.
C Jay Beagle
I reported Sunday that Beagle is back on the ice about seven weeks after lower-body surgery. Armstrong now thinks that Beagle will be back in the lineup before the trade deadline. If that’s the case, he could be another player who draws interest.
Beagle, 36, has Cup-winning experience (Washington), teams are always looking for depth at center, he brings a responsible defensive game and a lot of leadership qualities to a dressing room. Like most players on this list, Beagle will be a UFA at the end of the season.
C Travis Boyd
Have we mentioned how much teams like to add center depth at the deadline? When Boyd, 28, signed in Arizona, he was viewed around the league as a guy whose upside was as a fourth-line center. That may still be where he fits if he moves to contender, but Boyd has proven this season that with opportunity he can be more than just a warm body.
He has a career-high 10 goals and a career-high 23 points in 42 games as he heads to free agency.
F Christian Fischer
Fischer, 24, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season; one with arbitration rights. It’s unclear if there is a market for the wing, but he brings energy, an infectious positive attitude, hard work and an ability to kill penalties and play a shutdown role.
Fischer hasn’t been able to recapture his rookie season magic when he had 15 goals and 33 points, but some of that is due to usage in the lineup.
C Riley Nash
When the Coyotes claimed Nash off waivers from Tampa Bay, The Athletic’s Lightning beat writer, Joe Smith, tweeted that Tampa didn’t want to lose Nash. They liked what he brought to the fourth line but they had to make room for Nikita Kucherov’s return so it was a cap-related move.
If a two-time Cup champ didn’t want to lose Nash, chances are good that another contender might want to add a big, responsible, 32-year-old UFA-to-be center on a league-minimum contract. Again, center depth is a valuable thing.
D Anton Strålman
The other thing that teams are always looking to add at the deadline? Defensive depth. Strålman, 35, has 113 games of playoff experience including some deep runs with the Rangers and Lightning.
He is not the most fleet of foot but he brings a lot of savvy and a calming presence to a room and to a defensive corps.
F Antoine Roussel
If a team wants to add a coarse brand of sandpaper, Roussel fits the bill. He plays bigger than his 5-feet-11, 200-pound frame and he is not afraid to mix it up with whomever comes his way.
At 32, there is mileage left in the tank and Roussel was part of a deep Vancouver playoff run in 2019-20.
The no-trade list
G Karel Vejmelka: I reported on Sunday that the Coyotes had opened preliminary talks on a contract extension with the rookie.
F Clayton Keller: In the midst of Keller’s breakout season, Armstrong told me earlier this season that he now views Keller as a key piece of the Coyotes’ future.
F Lawson Crouse: Crouse fits the Armstrong mold perfectly. He’s big, he can skate, he plays a 200-foot game, he is a fantastic teammate and person, and he is on pace for career highs in every statistical category.
D Shayne Gostisbehere: If the Coyotes end up moving Gostisbehere, it will be at next year’s deadline. His $4.5-million cap hit is a tough one for teams to absorb and the Coyotes already have two retained salaries (three is the limit). Gostisbehere has helped his market value this season. He is in the top 10 among NHL defensemen in goals (eight) and the top 20 in points (33).
F Nick Schmaltz: This may have as much to do with Schmaltz’s contract (four more years at an AAV of $5.85 million) as it does with his game. The Coyotes would like to see more consistent production from Schmaltz and a few more pounds of lean muscle mass on that frame, but there are few players who can make plays with speed through middle ice like Schmaltz.
D Janis Moser: The staff loves Moser’s early returns. He is the type of find that could end up being a key complementary piece down the road.
Top photo: Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel (Getty Images)