The Phoenix Coyotes elimination from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs will not only ramp up speculation over the club’s future, but also regarding what their lineup will look like next season.
Prior to the start of the Coyotes-Red Wings series there were suggestions claiming the potential deal with the City of Glendale to sell the franchise to businessman Matthew Hulsizer was all but dead, followed by reports the league was merely awaiting the end of the playoffs before announcing the team would be sold to True North Sports & Entertainment and moved back to Winnipeg.
League commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have issued denials on nearly a daily basis, but the fact remains whatever happens with the club’s ownership will have an impact on management’s ability to maintain or improve its current roster.
The Arizona Republic reported a lack of money hampered Coyotes GM Don Maloney’s attempt to bring in help at the trade deadline, forcing him to weaken his depth at forward in a trade with Columbus to bring in defenseman Rostislav Klesla as a short-term replacement for then-sidelined Ed Jovanovski.
The paper also noted management hasn’t had an easy time of late re-signing key players and adding others, but suggested that would change once the ownership situation is resolved one way or the other.
One player up for a new contract is goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whose stellar play in the regular season was a significant reason the Coyotes made the playoffs. His poor performance against Detroit could have an adverse impact on his value as an unrestricted free agent this summer, however.
Bryzgalov had a cap hit of $4.25 million per season on his current deal and could seek a multi-year deal worth well over $5 million per season, either with the Coyotes or another team if he opts to test the market.
Earlier in the season it was believed there was mutual interest between himself and Coyotes management to discuss a contract extension. It remains to be seen if his sub-par playoff performance will impact that possibility and what role a potential move north will have.
Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reported the Russian netminder had a low opinion of Winnipeg after visiting there during his American League years, suggesting ‘Cool Bryz’ would prefer to return to Russia than follow the Coyotes back to the Manitoba capital.
Uncertainty over the future of the current collective bargaining agreement will also be a factor.
The Coyotes and other clubs may be leery about committing an expensive, multi-year contract to Bryzgalov, or others in this summer’s pool of unrestricted free agents.
Other notable Coyotes free agents include UFAs Radim Vrbata, Ed Jovanovski, Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger and Jason LaBarbera and RFAs Keith Yandle, Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker.
Next to Bryzgalov, Yandle and Turris are considered Maloney’s priorities to re-sign this summer.
Given the lack of quality depth in this summer’s UFA market, Yandle will be a tempting target for an offer sheet from another club if he remains unsigned by July 1.
The Chicago Blackhawks can point to last summer’s depth-gutting trades in order to become salary cap compliant as the prime reason they struggled to make the 2011 post-season and why they fell behind early in their opening round series against Vancouver.
The Hawks won’t be subject to a similar purge this off-season, however, having around $51 million committed to next season’s payroll and, apart from goalie Corey Crawford, few troublesome contracts to sort out this summer.
With the salary cap expected to increase to $62 million, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star believes Chicago GM Stan Bowman has sufficient cap space to bolster his lineup.
While it’s true Bowman won’t have to dump salary, he’s not going to have enough room to be a significant player in this summer’s free agent market.
Besides Crawford, Bowman must consider re-signing Tomas Kopecky, Viktor Stalberg, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, and Chris Campoli.
Bowman will need to bring in a decent backup for Crawford as he’s unlikely to re-sign Marty Turco. If the GM manages to re-sign all his key free agents he won’t have enough left to dip into the UFA pool, unless he opts to once again make a salary-dumping deal or two.
BLUES BECKON FOR BACKUP
The St. Louis Post Dispatch earlier this week reported Blues backup and unrestricted free agent Ty Conklin may not return. If he departs, management will have to consider either calling up one of their young netminders or signing an experienced backup capable of playing 20 games and pushing starter Jaroslav Halak.
Fortunately for Blues GM Doug Armstrong, this summer’s free agent market is loaded with experienced backups, leaving him with plenty of options if he decides to go that route to replace Conklin.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.