GLENDALE, Ariz. — As the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline approached, Coyotes general manager John Chayka talked about the importance of getting an existing player in return for center Martin Hanzal, his greatest trade chip.
When the Coyotes finally pulled the trigger on that trade on Sunday evening, they got neither an existing NHL player nor a significant prospect. They got draft picks, albeit lots of them.
Minnesota sent a first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2018, a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick and minor leaguer Grayson Downing to Arizona for Hanzal and right winger Ryan White. The conditional pick becomes a third-round pick if Minnesota wins one playoff round; a second-round pick if the Wild wins two rounds, provided Hanzal plays 50 percent of the games. The Coyotes will retain half of Hanzal’s salary.
“I’m not always the most truthful in my discussions with the media,” Chayka said, in explaining the shift in philosophy. “You’re not the only one that reads my quotes.”
Misdirection aside, it’s fair to question whether the Chayka should have landed an existing player for a matchup center who brought a lot to the table for Arizona over the last 10 seasons, durability issues aside.
“You can search for a long time before you find a 6-foot-6 centerman that’s kind of mean, really can be grumpy and can be effective in both ends of the ice,” captain Shane Doan said. “When you do get one you try to hold onto them.”
Arizona knew it wasn’t going to re-sign Hanzal after it tested Hanzal’s demands this summer through his agent, Craig Oster. Hanzal’s middling production, his history of missed games, his age (30) and the money and term he was seeking all played roles in that decision, but Chayka said several times that there comes a time when a franchise has to stop stockpiling draft picks and start moving forward.
So why not get a player that could accelerate that process? How much longer should Coyotes fans wait for a promised future from a team that will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season?
The Coyotes like the progress center Christian Dvorak has made, and they are hopeful that Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller can make the NHL leap next season, but no reasonable evaluation would consider the center position better off next season without Hanzal, even if veteran Brad Richardson returns.
“It’s all about alternatives. You have preferences and then when you get down to the deals you make a decision. My decision was that this was the best value for our organization now and into the future,” Chayka said. “Whether or not my preference is one or the other, this is the deal we ended up taking. With or without Marty, that’s a position we need to continue to address and I think if you look at teams that have had success addressing that position, the very, very vast majority of them draft and develop these players. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
The irony in that statement is that the Coyotes drafted and developed Hanzal.
Maybe Arizona can use these picks to pry a center loose in the trade market this summer. Maybe they’ll get in on the Matt Duchene sweepstakes, if the Avalanche doesn’t trade Duchene in the next three days. Or maybe the Coyotes will just take repeated cracks at drafting the franchise center they have lacked since Jeremy Roenick left town.
All of those are unknowns, however — potential that may or may not be realized. The Wild had four players compete at the World Championship last summer: Joel Eriksson Ek (Sweden), whom the team may have scouted, Luke Kunin (USA), Kirill Kaprizov (Russia) and Jordan Greenway (USA). The first three were team captains. The Coyotes didn’t land any of those players, or any others in Minnesota’s stable of talented prospects such as Alex Tuch. What they got was a first-round pick this summer that at the moment will be the 30th overall pick (factoring in Vegas), plus what could amount to two second-round picks. They got chips for the craps table.
When a proven commodity like Hanzal walks out the door, you hope for a little more. You hope that the long-promised future will finally get a little closer to the present.
“I can assure you this was the top price on the market for Martin Hanzal,” Chayka said. “You can wait until the deadline and hope you get better but realistically it could get worse, too.
“I think I did the right thing and that’s all I can do.”
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