The Arizona Coyotes made their first trade of the deadline season on Monday, but it likely will not be their last. Defenseman Michael Stone went to Calgary for a third-round pick in 2017 and a conditional fifth in 2018, which Arizona receives if Stone re-signs with the Flames this summer. Arizona also retains half of the defenseman’s salary. Arizona is in the midst of a rebuild and for GM John Chayka, action is the name of the game right now.
“I’m always looking to get better,” he said. “That’s my job.”
And that’s where the intrigue lies with Arizona from now until the March 1 deadline. Just how stripped down can this squad get for the remainder of the campaign? The Coyotes are suffering through another down year in the standings, but there is plenty of hope on the near horizon thanks to the prospects they’ve accumulated lately. With Stone gone, the Coyotes called up right-shot defenseman Anthony DeAngelo from AHL Tucson in order to get the youngster another look. DeAngelo has already played 20 NHL games for Arizona this season and while the last stint ended with a three-game suspension for abuse of an official, the Coyotes want to give him another chance.
Another benefactor for Chayka is Jakob Chychrun, who has already exceeded expectations by breaking into the NHL as a defenseman straight from the draft. With Stone gone, Chychrun can now be given a crack at more special teams duty. The teen has averaged 16 minutes of ice time this season, but now has a chance to earn more (as does Kevin Connauton, whom Chayka also mentioned).
But for fans of contending teams, the juicy names in Arizona are the veterans. Martin Hanzal is the most coveted, while captain Shane Doan’s name has been floated as a trade candidate, despite his no-move clause. Leading scorer and pending unrestricted free agent Radim Vrbata has “rental” written all over him too. As far as Chayka’s concerned, the Coyotes’ yard sale is open for business.
“I don't deal with ‘untouchables,’ ” he said. “Practically speaking, there are players who are difficult to move because then you have to find someone to replace them for a role. I’d move anyone for the right deal.”
In terms of what Doan means to the Coyotes, that’s leadership and loyalty. But if Doan had a chance to win a Stanley Cup elsewhere, it’s hard to see anyone in Arizona holding him back. Hanzal, on the other hand, still has a lot of NHL years ahead of him and big, responsible centers aren't easy to find. Chayka mused that any number of avenues are available here – the Coyotes could trade Hanzal, or re-sign the pending UFA if they can figure out the right term and price. He certainly sounds like one of those players who are difficult to replace that the GM spoke of.
“He’s one of our most impactful players,” Chayka said.
While Cup contending GMs may not want to hear that, there’s definite logic in having a veteran pivot who can play against top lines on the squad next season. Either Dylan Strome or Clayton Keller (heck, maybe both) will make serious runs for roster spots in 2017-18 and being able to shelter an elite youngster at the start of the season can be quite valuable – just look at how Toronto turned Nazem Kadri into a shutdown guy while Auston Matthews ran rampant on offense.
On the other hand, your best trade return comes from Hanzal.
Looking to the future, the Coyotes have a ton of young talent. Bounce-back seasons from Max Domi and Anthony Duclair would really help next year, while Christian Fischer is ahead of schedule and brings great size and scoring touch up front. Though Keller is just a freshman at Boston University, I believe he is good enough to make the jump to the NHL next year. His ascent may be crucial, because a number of Coyote kids – Strome, Fischer, Kyle Wood and Nick Merkley – still need to work on their skating. Keller is fast and his game is tailored for the current NHL. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the unquestioned No. 1 blueliner, while Connor Murphy, Chychrun and DeAngelo offer hope on the back end.
Of course, there are no guarantees in life, which is why Chayka’s asset management will be so crucial from now until next season and beyond. With four picks in the first three rounds of the 2017 draft already, the Coyotes can put themselves in a position where current needs are met by trading away some of the great assets the organization has already accrued. Pittsburgh did it with Ryan Whitney (for Chris Kunitz); Los Angeles did it with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds (for Mike Richards) and both franchises won Cups shortly thereafter.
Is Arizona at that point yet? Of course not. But the Coyotes have built up a solid pipeline already and with more chips likely coming before the trade deadline passes, they’re putting themselves in a good spot.