GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mikkel Boedker rarely acknowledges the contract negotiations that have become an annual part of his NHL existence. Thursday night was no different.
When Boedker was asked again about his impending unrestricted free agency and the current state of discussions on a new deal to keep him with the Coyotes, he deftly deflected the question.
“It’s part of my job to block it out, right?” he said. “My agent and the team, they’ve got a handle on it. It’s between them. I’m just a bystander. All I can do is play hockey and do the best I can.”
Bystander was an apt choice of words. Boedker is caught in the crossfire of a negotiation that is not going well. With 24 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline, there has been no movement on a new deal and nothing is imminent, raising the very real possibility that Boedker will not be with the team next season — or even next month.
In an interview one month ago, Coyotes GM Don Maloney told Arizona Sports it would be the last time he discussed Boedker’s situation publicly, but he gave a hint this week of what might be happening behind the scenes when he addressed the greater NHL trade market.
“The union and the players and the agents have the ability to talk and script who gets signed when and for how much,” Maloney said. “You can’t do that on the team side because it’s collusion.
“There are teams trying to sign players but it seems like the (length of the) term is the issue with everybody now. You can’t blame the players, but everybody is looking for six-, seven- or eight-year deals. That’s where it gets dicey.”
Boedker’s agent, Jarrett Bousquet, is no longer talking publicly about the deal either, but here’s what he said one month ago when asked why Boedker would sign now instead of waiting until July 1 to test his worth on the open market.
“That’s a great question,” Bousquet said. “That is the million-dollar question.”
Rest assured, Boedker would sign right now if the Coyotes made him the offer he wants, which is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of a six-year deal at an average annual value of $5.5 million, but that is clearly not happening. Despite his insistence that he is blocking it out, it would be naive to think it is not affecting his play. It’s human nature.
Boedker scored his first goal since Dec. 27 in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at Gila River Arena — a span of 16 games. He has just five points since the New Year.
“There’s been lots of try and lots of hard work and lots of push to get it,” he said when discussing his goal drought. “The bounces seem to have gone the other way. That’s the way it goes sometimes but it’s definitely nice to see it hit the back of the net.”
If the two sides remain at an impasse for another two weeks, Maloney will face a difficult decision. If he doesn’t trade Boedker at the trade deadline, he’ll risk losing him for nothing in free agency, or for less in a Draft-day deal where fewer teams could be certain they could re-sign him.
If Maloney does trade Boedker and the Coyotes are still within striking distance of the playoffs (or even if they aren’t), how will that play in the locker room and with the coaching staff?
“It would be incredibly disappointing to be in that room and see a player like that shipped out,” said former Coyote and current analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, Mike Johnson. “That’s a homegrown player who kind of epitomizes where the game is going.”
It’s important to consider the possibility that both sides are still posturing as the trade deadline looms. This is, after all, a negotiation. The problem with that thinking is the history between the two sides. Boedker has been through negotiations with the Coyotes three times. Three times, it hasn’t gone his way. He probably owes it to himself to see if he can find more suitable terms this time around.
You can bet that more than the fan base is watching this situation intently. The players, the coaches and team’s ownership group will be watching as well. However it plays out, judgments will be made.
A few seasons ago, the Coyotes had the chance to sign Boedker for five years at an average annual value of $3.25 million. You understood Maloney’s hesitation at the time because Boedker hadn’t yet established himself as a consistent NHL point-producer and the team’s finances were still in limbo.
But how would that deal look right now? How will it feel to have passed on that deal if Boedker ends up playing for another team?