A theme we’re going to see this off-season is a handful of teams actively looking to shed salary due to the revenue lost in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Penguins just traded Nick Bjudgstad for a seventh-round pick to save some cash, the Bruins are reportedly considering selling from their roster if there isn’t an 82-game season with fans in the seats in 2020-21, and many other teams will be in the same boat.
An obvious team that comes to mind who could host a garage sale this fall will be the Arizona Coyotes, an organization perenially in financial turmoil.
The Arizona Coyotes are looking to slash about $10 million in payroll, don't have a pick in the first three rounds this year, no first round pick next year, and recently missed bonus payments to a bunch of players. John Chayka's decision to walk makes more sense every day.
— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) September 11, 2020
The Coyotes are in an ugly situation. They have roughly $80-million tied into a fairly mediocre roster heading into 2020-21 and they reportedly want to keep Taylor Hall around long-term. They’ll already need to clear out some players in order to open up the room necessary to re-sign Hall and they could be looking to dump even more players so that owner Alex Meruelo can limit the losses to his new investment.
As Conor McKenna points out in the Tweet I linked above, it isn’t really that much of a mystery why John Chayka packed up and left the organization not long after signing an extension. He’d been spending to the cap ceiling in recent years and having to scale back would make it very difficult for him to ice a contending team.
Given their financial turmoil and the fact they’re moving forward with a rookie general manager in Steve Sullivan, the Coyotes are a prime team for a savvy general manager to swoop in and pull off a favourable deal. Could that be the Oilers? Who might Ken Holland be interested in acquiring from Arizona?
The first name that stands out to me is goaltender Antti Raanta. Darcy Kuemper is the better of Arizona’s two goalies and they have Adin Hill waiting in the wings ready to take on an NHL backup role. That would leave Raanta and his $4,250,000 cap hit (which lasts for one more season) a prime trade candidate.
Raanta is a good goalie, but he’s struggled with injuries. He posted a .930 save percentage in his first season in Arizona in 2017-18 and then was limited to just 12 games in 2018-19 due to injury. In 2019-20, he posted a .921 save percentage in 33 games but, again, had his season cut short because of injury.
Given the fact he’s signed for only one more season, Raanta is a fairly easy risk for the Oilers to take. If he can stay healthy, Raanta and fellow Finn Mikko Koskinen would be a very solid goaltending duo. Arizona’s desire to shed salary coupled with the wealth of goalie options on the free-agent market suggests he also likely wouldn’t cost all that much to acquire.
If the Oilers strike out on 1A/1B goalie options like Robin Lehner (there are reports he and the Golden Knights have agreed on an extension already), Anton Khudobin, and Thomas Greiss, going the trade route for a goalie on a short-term deal makes a lot of sense.
Beyond the obvious hole of adding another goaltender to split the net with Koskinen, Edmonton also has some major needs up front. The biggest one is a centre who can drive a quality third line. A few weeks back, I took a look at how the free-agent market isn’t exactly loaded with quality options for the third-line centre gig, so Holland might have to look for a trade.
Like Raanta, Derek Stepan has one more year left on his contract with a pretty fat cap hit of $6,500,000 that the Coyotes would surely like to move. Stepan, who’s now 30 years of age, isn’t the same 20-goal, second-line centre he was in New York, but he’s still a quality player.
He scored only 10 goals and 28 points this season, but it’s important to remember that nobody produced at a high level on the defensively-oriented Coyotes. The Coyotes got outscored 40-to-35 with Stepan on the ice at even strength in 2019-20 and outshot opponents 593-to-536.
If the Oilers could get Arizona to retain some of Stepan’s salary, he would be a perfectly fine addition to fill the third-line centre role. Otherwise, they’re looking at trying to sign somebody like the soon-to-be 35-year-old Carl Soderberg to a multi-year deal in free agency. And again, just like with Raanta, Stepan’s contract would mean he likely comes very cheap in a trade.
Another creative off-the-board option for Edmonton to flex some financial muscle in this situation would be to take Marian Hossa‘s contract off of the Coyotes’ books.
Hossa was acquired from the Blackhawks a couple of years ago in a deal that helped Arizona acquire Jordan Oesterle, Vinne Hinostroza, and a third-round pick. The play here for Arizona was to take on the salary of a player who would cost them nothing against the cap because he would be on the Long-Term Injured Reserve.
Now, with one more year left at a cost of $5,275,000, the Coyotes could be in the opposite situation, looking to unload dead money. Taking on Hossa could possibly be a sweetener in a deal involving Raanta or it could be a deal of its own that nets Edmonton a prospect or two.
There are also other names like Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, and Jakob Chychrun, but I would guess the Coyotes are less inclined to sell off their quality young talent. Though, you never know when you have a team in a situation like this. Ken Holland should absolutely be on the phone with Steve Sullivan looking to capitalize.