Coyotes Coming Moves May Sting

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 22: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #41 of the Colorado Avalanche skates with the puck ahead of Conor Garland #83 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 22, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Avalanche defeated the Coyotes 5-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes are largely floundering of late with stifled offense and goalie injuries plaguing the team as we roll into the second half of the season. Deja vu anyone? Before the start of this campaign, I wrote a three part series on the Coyotes (you can read here) and how in many ways this season would be one of curiosity and uncertainty for the future. Mentioned in the 3rd part of the series was some of the likely moves and how there may be some surprise ones made up front.

With that said, one name that has popped up out of left field that will be a tough pill to swallow for Coyotes fans is the thought of trading Conor Garland. Garland has quickly become a fan favorite and is well deserved of all the praise and love from the fanbase. Unfortunately, with Garland there is very little left behind him that would garner significant value or trade return to help refill the depleted draft pick or prospect pool that the Coyotes desperately need to replenish in order to become a playoff caliber team. Pair with the fact that Garland is deserved of a handsome raise in salary (currently at $775K) at the end of the season and will likely be looking to cash in finally on a large contract to take him over into his 30’s, the Coyotes may be forced to pull the trigger if an offer is just too good to refuse. Thankfully the Coyotes brass has reportedly made it known they will not move him for a meager return which should calm some nerves but if a trade was to occur, it’s one that will sting hard and for a while.

When looking at the rest of the roster, there is not much that jumps out and screams excitement like Garland to other teams. Sure there are the veterans on defense like Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers that may generate interest from teams like the Edmonton Oilers or Winnipeg Jets who need help on the backend to bolster their playoff runs. You could have added Nicklas Hjalmarsson to that list but not only is his NMC in play but he is also out indefinitely on IR due to injury so it looks unlikely he would be on the move before his contract expires. None of these will generate a high draft pick return or high level prospect other than padding picks.

Phil Kessel is one that may be of intrigue to teams looking to make a Stanley Cup push that have cap flexibility on hand. For any trade, Kessel does own a Modified No Trade/No Movement Clause where he would be required to submit 8 teams he would be willing to move to. If a team like the Carolina Hurricanes or Florida Panthers would be on that list, they could possibly look to make a deal and add the Stanley Cup champion to the roster. After Kessel, Derick Brassard is another that may garner interest from a variety of teams looking to add playoff depth to their roster. While Brassard has not been exactly lighting the lamp outside of his hat-trick game, Brassard has had a plethora of big postseason moments that adds value for any team needing that experience in the bottom six.

Clayton Keller who carries a hefty price tag with a cap hit of $7,150,000 is having his second best point production season of his career with 0.73 P/GP. That puts him among the likes of Mathew Barzal, Matthew Tkachuk, Anders Lee and Kris Letang as far as players with close cap hits which is not too shabby of a list to be in. He’s besting players like Kevin Hayes and David Krejci and trails only Joe Pavelksi, Kyle Connor, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk and Evander Kane yet trails all of them besides JVR in Average TOI. One would have to wonder though that if they move on from Garland would Keller continue to have the success he is having this season? With that, you also have to project and think Garland may be looking at a contract similar to Keller so would locking potentially $14+MIL between the two make sense for the club?

If I were playing GM, I would steer away from trading Conor Garland and lock him up long term to play alongside Keller unless you are going to go full blow up mode and move both which will be damn near impossible. I would move Antti Raanta or work a deal with Seattle to take him at the expansion draft to protect Darcy Keumper and Adin Hill which would require them re-signing him on a short deal. I would move all mountains to trade away the defensive veterans that are on expiring contracts and grab as many draft picks or prospects as possible in return, then use those to possibly package on other deals or to get back into the first round of the upcoming draft. There is just about no reason to keep a player like Phil Kessel on the roster if value in a return is there so you find a way to move him either before the season is out or after. Players like Christian Fischer who has had an abysmal season should be moved and I would go the Vinnie Hinostroza route on Dryden Hunt and John Hayden to open up spots on the roster for the future.

One sidebar move that may potentially bring in a big return is the trading of team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. There are a few variables at play with a potential move here but the possibility is likely being explored. OEL is having his best point production season (.565/gm) since 2015-16 but is now falling behind in most advanced stat categories of late from the rest of the team. While the trade partners were severely limited last season, with Vancouver and Boston, it would seem that only Boston is in a position cap-wise to make a possible move with deadline space they’ll have available. General Manager Bill Armstrong has to decide if OEL is part of moving forward or if Rick Tocchet is going to return as coach. While I think the return of Tocchet is unlikely, if he was to be retained, there is just about no sense in having OEL on the roster. For me, I would shocked if Tocchet and the majority of this coaching staff outside of Jay Varady return to the bench next season.

The likelihood of a flurry of moves by the trade deadline and into the draft seems evident. With the Coyotes being sure fire sellers at this point, now is the time for GM Bill Armstrong to start to make his mark on the club from top to bottom. He’s already started with adding solid depth pieces in Tyler Pitlick and Drake Caggiula to the roster. Now he needs to bring in a coach with a system that fits the offensive makeup or design of what he sees the roster being in the future. With that said, there is no quick or easy fix for this Coyotes team and the moves that may come will sting for a while.

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