As the Arizona Coyotes continue to wallow near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, speculation is growing over potential roster moves leading up to the March 2 trade deadline. It's widely assumed management could dump salary once Andrew Barroway receives league approval to become the Coyotes new majority owner.
The Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan reports Coyotes GM Don Maloney isn't preparing for a roster fire sale, but he's also not looking for rental players. Given his club's current struggles, Maloney admits he's not waiting until March to make the changes his club needs. McLellan notes the Coyotes are struggling in goal, on defense and in scoring.
Versatile center Antoine Vermette is considered most likely to be dealt. He's an unrestricted free agent in July and could bolt for greener pastures. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch claims the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils have looked into acquiring the 32-year-old forward. Garrioch believes Maloney's asking price could be “a top prospect and a No. 1 pick”.
Maloney could hang onto Vermette until the trade deadline hoping to drive up his trade value, but it's unlikely the center will fetch Garrioch's speculated bounty. For all Vermette's versatility and skills, he's a pending free agent approaching his mid-30s whose best years are behind him. His career-best performance (27 goals, 65 points) came with Columbus in 2009-10. The best Maloney can hope to land is a promising young roster player and perhaps a second-round pick.
Of the clubs Garrioch listed, only the Devils have sufficient cap space ($5.115 million) to take on Vermette's $3.75-million cap hit. Unless he's willing to re-sign with the Devils, acquiring him will do little to help their pop-gun offense over the long term.
Defenseman Keith Yandle has frequently appeared in trade rumors over the past two seasons, but there's a sense among NHL insiders Maloney could be willing to move the blueliner this season. Yandle has one season remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million. At 28, the puck-moving rearguard should fetch a far better return than Vermette.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance recently noted a Yandle-for-Ryan O'Reilly swap with the Colorado Avalanche has made the rounds. O'Reilly could make a good replacement for Vermette, as he's younger, can play center or wing, possesses a better skill set and would be a fair return for Yandle. Though he carries an annual cap hit of $6 million, it's only slightly more expensive than Yandle's salary, and would be offset by the expected departure of Vermette.
The problem, however, is O'Reilly – like Yandle – is also eligible for UFA status in 2016. He also has a history of contentious contract negotiations. It could take a lengthy deal worth well over $7 million per season to re-sign him, as well as a major sell job to convince him to stake his long-term future with the rebuilding Coyotes.
If Maloney deals Yandle it'll likely be for a good young forward who's either under contract beyond next season or one whose eligibility for unrestricted free agency is years away. Bear in mind, Maloney doesn't have to move Yandle this season. He could wait until the off-season, when there will be more teams with available cap space willing to pay Maloney's asking price.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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