(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
The 2019-2020 season is what the Arizona Coyotes were building to. A rebuild that seemingly never ended finally found the end of the tunnel, and roster upgrades both in the past offseason and in mid-season showed the team was committed to winning now.
While it may have been through extremely different circumstances, the Arizona Coyotes officially broke its eight-year postseason drought. They picked up an inspiring series win over the Nashville Predators, and then faced a team that, from the mouth of its head coach Rick Tocchet, was “a team built to win a Stanley Cup.”
A quick five games showed why the Colorado Avalanche are ready to win the Stanley Cup now. It also showed that the Coyotes are not as far along as originally thought, and brings on a bevy of concerns for a team that has waited to officially close the door on its half-decade reconstruction.
Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan mentioned the possibility of another rebuild, and that might be the next best step for the organization. The next moves the Coyotes make ultimately surround the unrestricted free agency of Taylor Hall.
Just like most NHL teams, the past six months have thrown a large 32mm wrench into this offseason’s plans. The salary cap will not be going up, putting an interesting quirk into negotiating contracts around the league. In what feels like a normal occurrence every season, the Coyotes have an additional issue that they must navigate through.
This situation surrounding the departure of then-general manager John Chayka has left a huge hole in Arizona’s front office. Luckily, assistant GM and former Coyote player Steve Sullivan was promoted, and his hands-on production has made things feel a little more stable heading into the most important offseason and draft maybe ever in the Valley.
Even though Sullivan worked directly with Chayka, maybe he has a different feeling about the roster. Sullivan got a front row seat to a team that reach exciting highs in the Edmonton bubble, but ultimately ending the run in consecutive 7-1 defeats. Hall did put up six points in nine game, second most on the team behind Clayton Keller, but the Coyotes issues are not fixed with one superstar player.
The problem with potentially letting Hall hit the market is whether Arizona feels they gave up too much not to resign him. That trade saw the Coyotes part ways with its first and third round picks this upcoming draft, rising defenseman Kevin Bahl and emerging center Nick Merkley. Arizona are already without this years’ first and third round picks, and resigning Hall would leave them without a second round pick next year.
Arizona has two draft selections in the first 111 picks, with the first one coming at 49th overall. An option in the Taylor Hall situation could be to trade his negotiation rights away. The Coyotes were on the other end of this type of deal in the 2016 offseason when they acquired Alex Goligoski’s negotiation rights for a fifth-round pick.
Unfortunately, these types of trades do not bring back high draft picks. When Ben Bishop was ready to hit the free agent market back in the summer of 2017, his rights were acquired by the Dallas Stars for a fourth round pick. If the Coyotes were to trade out Hall’s negotiation rights, they most likely will not be able to get anything higher than the 49th pick.
During the season’s final media availability, Hall admitted that he most likely won’t be able to get the money he once originally thought due to the shutdown, so he is prioritizing signing with a team that is in a position to win for a long time. If he deems Arizona that spot, there are a lot of contracts that will have to get moved around.
The Devils retained half of Hall’s $6 million cap hit, lessening the burden on the Coyotes already tight cap. That luxury will not be available, and Arizona has to be prepared for a cap hit well north of Hall’s previous contract if they want to bring him back.
This will most likely means veterans such as Brad Richardson and Carl Soderberg will not find their way back to the desert. Even if the Coyotes are trying to resign Hall, they still have two large extensions kicking in for the 2020-2021 season – Clayton Keller at a cap hit of $7.15M/year and Kuemper at a cap hit of 4.5M/year.
Talks of current Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s future popped into the NHL landscape when Sportsnet’s Elliote Friedman mentioned it on live television this past Saturday. Ekman-Larsson was given the captaincy prior to the past season, but he really could grab the most value if Arizona is looking to gain more NHL-ready players in return.
The netminder situation may be looking up as well. When healthy, Kuemper and Antti Raanta are statistically the best goaltending tandem in the league. The key issue is having them both in uniform at the same time. With Kuemper emerging as the clear number 1, Adin Hill proving as a formidable backup and Ivan Provetsov in the pipeline, Raanta may be able to get the Coyotes immediate roster help elsewhere on the trade market.
Of course, just like the start of any offseason, this is all speculation and guessing. For the Coyotes this offseason, it feels different. The team finally made the postseason for the first time in eight years, and instead of it feeling like the breakthrough year to set up a string of successful seasons, it feels like the end of the road.
Being outscored 14-2 in the final two games of the season no less than a week ago is still very fresh, and may contribute to any negative feeling surrounding where Arizona is at for the next couple of years. But, there are some truths to the current roster construction reaching its potential. The Coyotes still are a couple of players away from becoming a true playoff contender but the current cap situation may keep them from retaining its best player currently on the roster. This past season deserves to be celebrated, but it also produced a murkier future, one that may take a couple of years to clear up.