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With Nick Schmaltz signed, Coyotes have another piece in place for future

Nick Schmaltz #8 of the Arizona Coyotes forechecks against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There seems to be a recurring theme with the way Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka is handling a rebuild.

He has identified the players he believes in — whether that be players who were on his club already or players he had to go acquire — and has secured those players into contracts that give the club long-term stability and cost certainty.

That theme continued this year when Chayka traded forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Blackhawks for forward Nick Schmaltz, who then received a seven-year contract extension that was announced on Saturday.

“Yeah, exciting news. You know, getting a core player, get him locked up through his prime years, give us that stability through the middle of the ice,” Chayka said. “The last 12 months, we’ve been able to sign [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson, [Jakob] Chychrun, two core defensemen; and [Christian] Dvorak and Schmaltz, two core centermen.

“In my opinion, you’re looking at the organization, to have this type of stability and talent at premium positions is something we haven’t had, maybe ever. But to certainly have that for the next six-plus years is a good step and a really important step for us as we continue to kind of gain momentum in our rebuild.”

One name Chayka didn’t mention is goaltender Antti Raanta, who received a three-year contract extension almost exactly one year ago. That deal, though, is shorter-term than the aforementioned skaters, as was the two-year deal for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Meanwhile, the extensions were eight years in length for Ekman-Larsson, six years for Dvorak, six years for Chychrun and, most recently, seven for Schmaltz.

And even in the short term, Schmaltz’s extension means the Coyotes now have just four restricted free agents on the NHL roster to make a decision on this offseason.

But why give a seven-year extension (worth $5.85 million per year as reported by The Athletic’s Craig Morgan) to a player who played only 17 games for your franchise — before suffering a long-term injury that’s kept Schmaltz out since then — and has played only 179 total NHL games?

“We had a large sample size in terms of scouting him in his draft year, through college, his transition to pro. Obviously saw him in Chicago, what he did there, and then, again just part of evaluation, as part of it, you look at what he did here in Arizona,” Chayka said. “The success our power play had with him on it versus without him, just his impact on some of the players he played with.”

Schmaltz has a particular acumen for puck-handling and speed. He scored 5-9-14 in 17 games in Arizona before getting hurt, and four of those goals were on the man advantage.

The Coyotes, who rank 23rd in the NHL with a 16.8 percent power play, had a 19.6 percent power play when Schmaltz was on the team’s active roster.

“His speed through the middle of the ice — obviously we’re in a playoff hunt right now, and this time of year it’s tough to generate offense,” Chayka said. “Nick’s a very, very talented offensive player. The stuff he does with the puck and his mind, the creativity, those are very valuable assets and they’re tough to find. And excited to lock that up long term.”

Other players who have a comparable cap hit to that which was reported for Schmaltz include Columbus’ Cam Atkinson (an All-Star this year), Washington’s T.J Oshie (100 goals the last four seasons, Stanley Cup champion) and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl (34 goals this season).

But consider two things:

• Schmaltz’s deal is only beginning, while NHL contracts are getting bigger

• The Coyotes project Schmaltz to produce at a higher rate than he has already

In other words, by the time Schmaltz is on the back half of this deal, a $5.85 million cap hit will be a smaller percentage of the team’s cap than it would be in 2019, and Arizona believes in Schmaltz’s ability to hold up his end of the deal, anyway.

“I think the deal’s a bit of a projection deal. Obviously, that’s what you get when you go long-term, you’re projecting the player,” Chayka said. “You’re also projecting the cap, where the cap’s headed, you’re projecting how the market’s reacting to some of these RFAs and where they’re allocating their dollars and quite frankly, we didn’t want to wait around to see what the rest of the market was going to do.

“We get a player locked up, our players locked up long-term, and that’s what we’ve done.”

In the meantime, Schmaltz has been recovering from the lower-body injury and hopes to be back as soon as possible.

“It feels good,” Schmaltz said. “It’s definitely slow process and you’ve got to stick with it, but the guys here have done a great job of balancing when to get on the ice and when to do off-ice training. So I can’t thank them enough and I’m getting closer every day and feel more comfortable on the ice. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I feel 100 percent.”

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