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Should Coyotes’ Hanzal be in play at trade deadline?

Arizona Coyotes' Martin Hanzal, left, of the Czech Republic, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, bottom right, celebrate a goal by Michael Stone as Dallas Stars' Jason Demers (4) and goalie Antti Niemi, back right, look for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PITTSBURGH — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said two weeks ago that he didn’t expect there to be a mass trade-deadline exodus like last season when he sent veterans Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek out the door.

A trade of impending free-agent forward Mikkel Boedker is expected by Monday at 1 p.m. Arizona time (assuming the Coyotes get requisite value) after he turned down what two sources said was an offer for five years at an average annual value of $5.5 million.

With few other expiring Coyotes contracts that might be of value to contending teams, the prevailing thought has been that the Coyotes would do nothing else, but Maloney did couch his comments to Arizona Sports recently when he said he was also discussing some “bigger deals that are pretty interesting.”

One name that might be interesting other teams is center Martin Hanzal.

There is an argument to be made that Hanzal’s trade value will never be higher than it is now. He has one year left on a reasonable deal that will pay him $3.5 million next season and carries a $3.1 million cap hit this season and next, so teams wouldn’t just be getting him as a rental.

The same thinking worked in the Keith Yandle deal last summer. The New York Rangers got an extra season out of Yandle; the Coyotes got Anthony Duclair and a first-round pick (there were other minor parts that also changed hands).

If the Coyotes wait until next season when Hanzal is approaching unrestricted free agency, he might command less as a rental. When that season ends, he’ll be looking for a bigger deal when he is 30 years old. A history of back problems and games missed might give teams pause. Hanzal hasn’t played more than 65 games in a full season since 2009-10. Over the past five-plus seasons he has missed 123 games.

If the Coyotes trade him this year when he still has time left on his deal, they might be able to help a blue line that still lacks a true second pairing, acquire more center depth in spite of the oft-hyped pipeline of talented but unproven prospects that includes Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Ryan MacInnis, or simply get NHL talent in return, instead of stockpiling more picks or prospects.

Hanzal has enormous value when he’s healthy. He regularly matches up with other teams’ top centers, he wins 56.8 percent of his faceoffs, he creates valuable net presence on the power play and coach Dave Tippett has often mentioned the space he creates for wings Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder to operate.

The problem for the Coyotes is the short-term void Hanzal’s departure would create. Even though they added three centers in the offseason, the Coyotes still entered the season short on skill at the most vital forward position. Hanzal’s departure would further accentuate that deficiency while also robbing them of a critical matchup man.

It’s unlikely the Coyotes will re-sign Boyd Gordon this offseason with Tyler Gaudet waiting in the wings to fill the fourth-line center position. Brad Richardson has been an excellent fit between Shane Doan and Jordan Martinook on one line, but there is no predicting what Strome and Dvorak will bring next season, or even if both will make the team. Neither one of them is suited to matching up against opponents’ top talent.

From that perspective, it would be unwise to lose such an important player (again, when healthy) at the most important forward position. If the Coyotes truly want to rebuild rather than just tread water, however, Hanzal may be their most marketable chip.

The move wouldn’t sit well with coach Dave Tippett, who has the win-now mentality a coach must have, but it might benefit the franchise more in the long run, provided Maloney gets the appropriate return.

It’s an interesting conundrum to ponder as the deadline approaches. Hanzal’s name has remained largely out of trade rumors and speculation, but two sources said Sunday that there is at least some level of interest, with the Washington Capitals as one potential suitor.

The next day will show whether that interest was legitimate enough for Maloney to bite, or just an example of the exploratory conversations GMs have this time of year.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter

Coyotes at Penguins

When: Monday, 5 p.m.

Where: Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

Probable goalies: Penguins — Matt Murray. Coyotes — Louis Domingue.

Injury report: Penguins — LW Conor Sheary (upper body) is questionable. RW Beau Bennett (right shoulder), RW Pascal Dupuis (blood clots), D Ben Lovejoy (upper body) and C Eric Fehr (lower body) are on injured reserve. Coyotes — G Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) is likely to return in early March. C Boyd Gordon (upper body) is week to week. G Anders Lindback (Achilles) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out for the season.

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