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Meet Kevin Epp, the agent with the keys to the Coyotes’ kingdom

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes players are represented by a host of different agents. Kevin Epp may be the most influential.

As the agent for defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta, you might say Epp holds the keys to the Coyotes’ kingdom.

“It can feel like that sometimes,” Epp said, laughing. “When I talk to [Coyotes general manager] John [Chayka] I always have to ask, ‘who are we talking about today?'”

All three of Epp’s Coyotes clients are entering significant summers. Raanta can become an unrestricted free agent, Ekman-Larsson is eligible to sign a contract extension and Hjalmarsson will be entering the last season of the five-year, $20.5 million contract extension he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in September 2013 that began in the 2014-15 season.

Epp declined to discuss specifics of each player’s planned or current negotiations, but here is a look at each player’s prospects for remaining with the Coyotes long term.

Goalie Antti Raanta
Age: 28
Stats: 15-15-6, 2.36 goals against average, .924 save percentage, (sixth among goalies who have played at least 30 games)
Last contract: Two years, $2 million (signed with New York Rangers on May 2, 2016)
Status: The Coyotes want to keep Raanta and that is why they did not attempt to trade him at the Feb. 26 deadline where general manager John Chayka acknowledged there was some interest from teams. Once the Feb. 26 trade deadline passed, Chayka expected talks to heat up.

A pair of lower-body injuries and a concussion limited Raanta to 21 of the Coyotes’ first 42 games and delayed the team’s ability to evaluate him. Raanta is currently out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, but it is not considered serious (he is officially listed as day-to-day).

Since the new year began, Raanta has stopped 544 of 582 shots for a .935 save percentage. Chayka said recently that Raanta’s body of work the past two months was large enough to prove he could be a No. 1 goalie. Epp said last week there was interest on both sides to get a deal done rather than test the market.

“When they traded for him it was to be the No. 1 and then obviously the injury and the setback was difficult for everyone,” Epp said. “It’s easy for teams and organizations to sour on a guy because they are not getting the results but it’s not really based on merit. Getting injured, I don’t think anybody planned that. It’s great that they stuck with him and it’s even better that he’s come back strong and healthy and almost started like it was a new season.”

Epp said Chayka just wanted to be sure Raanta wanted to stay in Arizona before pursuing a deal.

“He wanted to make sure that Antti wanted to stay a part of the Coyotes and do what they’re doing and build with them,” Epp said. “I said ‘yeah, nothing has changed from our end.’ He wanted to make sure we were on the same page. He didn’t want to try and keep a guy and then he signs somewhere else.”

Epp acknowledged how few opportunities there are for goalies to become starters.

“Especially on a young team where you feel like it’s your team,” Epp said. “For him, ‘they got me to be the guy and I’m going to grow with this team.”

The devil will be in the details of a deal. Epp declined to talk numbers, term or comparables, but a few recent contracts may serve as comparables that Epp and Chayka could be using in negotiations.

Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom: Three years, $3.67 million average annual value (AAV).
Carolina’s Scott Darling: Four years, $4.150 million AAV.
Edmonton’s Cam Talbot: Three years, $4.167 million AAV.
St. Louis’ Jake Allen: Four years, $4.35 million AAV.
Toronto’s Frederik Andersen: Five years, $5 million AAV.

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
Age: 30
Stats: One goal, seven points, 2.41 blocked shots per game
Last contract: Five years, $4.1 million AAV
Status: Hjalmarsson is viewing his career on an annual basis at age 30, and with so many games (790) logged in his career between the regular season and playoffs, but the sense is if he keeps playing it will be in Arizona.

Again, Epp and Chayka have declined to talk specifics but the belief is that both sides are interested in extending Hjalmarsson this summer. It makes sense. Chayka constructed an effective blue in two summers, selecting Jakob Chychrun at the 2016 NHL Draft (No. 16) after a trade with Detroit, and Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers via trades last summer to add to Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski. The Coyotes feel good about their back end’s play so why not keep it in intact?

Chayka said Hjalmarsson also drew interest at the NHL Trade Deadline, but short of a mind-blowing offer, he had no interest in moving him or Raanta.

“In order for us to move them, it had to exceed the value that they were going to provide for our young players and what we’ve got going on here,” Chayka said.

Hjalmarsson said he has taken to his new team and teammates.

“Especially when I’m 30, I’m not looking too far ahead, but it’s a lot more fun to play when you have that feeling in your body and you have you have that step you had before and you’re starting to get back to your old routines,” said Hjalmarsson, who missed 26 games with injuries earlier this season. “Even though we had a rough start to the season we’ve made some progress with the group, but there is still some time to show the league and show ourselves what we can do. I like it here, my family likes it here so we’ll see what happens.”

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Age: 26
Stats: Nine goals, 33 points, 50.85 Corsi For percentage
Last contract: Six years, $5.5 million AAV
Status: Ekman-Larsson may be the trickiest of the negotiations, as Epp told Craig Custance of The Athletic in December.

“There’s a lot going on. It’s a tough organization, they’ve had ownership change a number of times now,” Epp said. “Oliver does see the vision but still, at some point, you have to see the results. You have to see things going in the right direction.”

This isn’t the first time an agent has used the Coyotes’ ownership, arena or financial situation in negotiations. Ultimately, this will come down to money. Make no mistake, Ekman-Larsson is the most coveted asset on the Coyotes roster. That fact is easily gleaned by talking to other teams’ executives.

Chayka understands just how difficult it is to find a player like Ekman-Larsson and coach Rick Tocchet seems to have gained a better sense of how to relate to his best player than he had earlier this season.

Ekman-Larsson has repeatedly said how much he likes his life in the Valley. If the Coyotes can make a fair offer that includes significant term, while also improving the roster as Chayka did last summer, Ekman-Larsson could be a Coyote for a long time. If the two sides can’t reach a deal by the NHL Draft, the Coyotes may be forced to trade Ekman-Larsson rather than risk losing him for nothing in the summer of 2019.

That, however, is not what Chayka wants.


Coyotes at Canucks

When: 8 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Records: Canucks — 25-32-9. Coyotes — 20-34-11.
Season series: Canucks lead 1-0.
Injury report: Canucks — Fs Sven Baertschi (shoulder), Loui Eriksson (fractured rib) and Markus Granlund (ankle) are out the rest of the season. F Brock Boeser (back) is out 4-6 weeks. Fs Brendan Gaunce (foot), and D Christopher Tanev (lower body) are on IR. Coyotes — F Zac Rinaldo (upper body) is day to day. G Antti Raanta (lower body) is day to day. D Alex Goligoski (expecting second child) is away from the team indefinitely.

Canucks scouting report: The Canucks have been decimated by injuries recently, the latest when Calder Trophy candidate Brock Boeser collided with the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and fell awkwardly into an open door to the Canucks’ bench. … Vancouver is eight points ahead of the Coyotes for last place in the Western Conference. … Boeser led the team with 29 goals and 55 points. Henrik Sedin leads the team with 41 assists.

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