Life as a budget team hasn’t been bad for the Arizona Coyotes this summer.
At the draft in June, the Coyotes swung a deal to land a prospect they were targeting — defenseman Jakob Chychrun — and all that was required of Arizona GM John Chayka was ensuring he had room to store Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million salary for the coming campaign. That was no problem for the Coyotes, who had a mountain of cap space, and Chayka was at it again Thursday, utilizing his club’s cap space to further bolster his prospect stock.
The Coyotes used the team’s nearly $8 million of wiggle room under the cap to take on Dave Bolland’s awful five-year, $27.5-million contract from the Panthers, but Chayka wasn’t doing Florida any favors. In exchange for taking on the Bolland deal, Arizona also landed the Panthers’ top prospect, Lawson Crouse. And outside of taking on the salary, all it took for Chayka to land one of the 20-best prospects in the league was one second-round and one third-round pick.
The deal itself is a complicated one. According to ESPN’s Craig Custance, there are a lot of moving parts, one of which could actually make the deal look even better for the Coyotes. The second-round pick sent to Florida is a conditional pick, Custance reported, with the condition being that the pick will become a third-rounder if Crouse doesn’t burn a year of his entry-level deal this season. However, if the Coyotes ship Crouse elsewhere before the campaign is through, the pick remains a second-round selection.
In Crouse, the Coyotes land a power forward who possesses scoring ability, and at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Crouse could be a physically imposing force as he ages. Over his past two seasons with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, Crouse has netted 67 goals and 140 points in 168 games.
Crouse could realistically battle for a roster spot this coming season and could immediately fill a role in the middle-six of the roster. That’s especially true as uncertainty continues to swirl around the status of Tobias Rieder, who has yet to sign a contract and remains a restricted free agent with less than a month to go before training camp. Putting Crouse alongside one of the young centers, such as Dylan Strome or Christian Dvorak, could give him a linemate with whom he really clicks.
With the Crouse acquisition, the Coyotes now possess three of the top 17 prospects in the league, as judged by a panel of scouts in THN’s 2016 Future Watch. That’s not to mention Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, already two of the most talked about young players in the league.
This deal isn’t all about the Coyotes, though. It was an important move for a Panthers team that desperately needed some breathing room under the cap and was very clearly wanting to move the Bolland contract at nearly any cost.
With the move, Florida now has roughly $9.8 million in cap space this season and even more down the line. Another two years of Bolland’s cap hit would have been incredibly difficult for the Panthers to work around, especially with raises set to kick in for Aaron Ekblad, Reilly Smith and Derek MacKenzie next season. In addition, each of Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk will be up for new contracts as restricted free agents come July 2017 and it would have been hard to stomach three more raises while still forking over $5.5 million per year to Bolland.
The trade also gives Florida some roster flexibility. The Panthers had 49 of a maximum 50 players signed up before the deal. Thursday’s trade frees up two spots and now the Panthers can potentially look at depth free agent options to further bolster their roster. Using the cap space that’s now available to improve the club, even if those signees are on one-year deals, would show Florida is committed to making a serious push following one of the best seasons in the history of the franchise.
But regardless of the Panthers’ success in the short-term, the Coyotes’ ability to turn their cap space into an asset and then use that asset to land top-tier prospects should have them laughing in the long-term.
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