Despite the heartbreak of falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final, the Phoenix Coyotes can look back upon this season with justifiable pride.
Ignoring the ongoing distraction over their future in Arizona, the Coyotes surprised the hockey world by winning their first division title in franchise history, advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1987 and upsetting the favored Nashville Predators to reach the conference final.
Credit the combination of Don Maloney’s shrewd management, Dave Tippett’s strong coaching, Mike Smith’s superb goaltending, the emergence of promising players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker and veteran leadership from Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Keith Yandle for the Coyotes impressive playoff run.
Even though they’re the “feel-good” story of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Coyotes enter another off-season facing questions over their ownership situation. If not resolved soon, they could be moved to another city.
The NHL, which has owned the Coyotes since 2009, is currently pursuing a purchase agreement with an ownership group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
The Jamison group must also work out a lease agreement with the city of Glendale, which owns the club’s home arena. That agreement, for all intents and purposes, must receive the blessing of the local taxpayer watchdog Goldwater Institute before the sale of the franchise can be completed.
Whether the Coyotes remain in Glendale or relocate could affect their roster, especially efforts to retain key unrestricted free agents like Doan, Whitney, Daymond Langkow and Adrian Aucoin.
Though long in the tooth – Doan and Langkow are in their mid-30s, Aucoin is 38 and Whitney is 40 – they played significant roles for the Coyotes.
Doan and Maloney agreed to put contract extension talks on hold earlier this season, but the face of the franchise is likely to receive a multi-year deal. Langkow, Aucoin and Whitney are apt to see one-year offers for roughly the same salaries as they earned this season. If the Coyotes move, however, the veteran foursome could decide to move on via the free agent market.
Adding to the uncertainty is what next season’s salary cap levels will be under a new CBA. If all stays the same, the cap is expected to increase to $69 million for 2012-13, which would also raise the cap minimum to $53 million.
Currently, the Coyotes have nearly $35 million invested in 17 players, meaning Maloney would have to spend approximately $20 million to get above the cap minimum.
He would certainly have more than enough to re-sign his key players, as well as add more veteran experience via free agency or trade.
On the other hand, it’s possible the cap levels could decrease, especially the minimum. Currently a spread of $16 million between the cap maximum and minimum is mandated, but that could widen, perhaps to $20 million, if the cap minimum is lowered to make it easier for struggling teams – like the Coyotes – to become compliant.
Assuming the sale of the club to the Jamison group goes through, it remains to be seen just how much above the cap minimum they’d be willing to go.
Of course, if the sale falls through and the Coyotes end up sold and relocated to another market, it’s anyone’s guess if the current management and coaching staff remain in place, let alone if their key free agents decide to follow the team to their new city.
Needless to say, it’s shaping up to be an interesting summer for the Coyotes.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.