GLENDALE, Ariz. — As the NHL enters the final three weeks of the regular season, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney is focusing on the future as much he is on his team’s fading playoff hopes.
Arizona has just nine players on the current active roster under contract for next season, and just four signed beyond the 2016-17 campaign.
“I think it’s a tremendous advantage for us,” Maloney said Wednesday. “In a cap world, flexibility is so important. At the GM meetings when we talked about where the cap was going, it looks like it’s going to be relatively flat at around $74 million, which benefits us because of how many players are signed and the crunch that these commitments other teams have is going to create. We should be able to take advantage of some opportunities.”
It would be dramatic to expect a wholesale roster makeover in one season. The Coyotes do expect at least a couple of their young prospects to make the roster next season, however, with centers Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak topping that list of hopefuls.
Maloney said that restricted free-agent defensemen Connor Murphy, Michael Stone, RFA goalie Louis Domingue and RFA forward Tobias Rieder are priorities to re-sign in the offseason. Maloney has already begun preliminary talks with Rieder’s camp on a new deal. The Coyotes also still like the potential of RFA defenseman Klas Dahlbeck.
Forward Joe Vitale’s future is still cloudy as he continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms, but he is under contract for next season. Maloney would also like to re-sign captain and leading goal-scorer Shane Doan (an unrestricted free agent) and he would like to open talks on a contract extension for center Martin Hanzal, who has one year remaining on his deal.
“I don’t want to be in the same situation with Marty as we were this time around with Mikkel Boedker so we’ll see if we can work out an extension that makes sense,” Maloney said.
Beyond that, the picture is murky. Defenseman Kevin Connauton has shown some promise since the Coyotes claimed him off waivers, but Maloney put RFA defenseman Jarred Tinordi, RFA forwards Jiri Sekac and Sergei Plotnikov and UFA forwards Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipchura and Viktor Tikhonov in the same boat.
“At the end of the year we have to decide who fits and where do they fit in our team,” Maloney said. “We also have to look at what do we have coming from our system and what are our needs.”
If other NHL teams are forced to shed attractive players, Maloney won’t rule out using some of his young prospects, young players or draft picks as trade bait.
“We are in a situation where we can go decide who we might want from teams that are vulnerable and need to move players,” Maloney said. “We know we have some young players coming into our system that we know are good players, but flexibility allows us a chance to look at any or all free agents and we have the flexibility to do that.”
Lightning at Coyotes
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Season series: Tampa Bay leads, 1-0
Probable goalies: Tampa — Ben Bishop. Coyotes — Louis Domingue
Injury report: Tampa — F Valtteri Filppula (upper body) and F Cedric Paquette (lower body) missed Tuesday’s game in Dallas. Coyotes — D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (upper body) is doubtful. G Anders Lindback (Achilles) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out for the season.
Scouting the Bolts: Tampa is 1-4-1 in its last six games and has fallen into third place in the Atlantic Division after temporarily pulling into a tie with Florida for first. The Lightning’s inexplicable early-season issue of scoring goals has resurfaced. Tampa has 11 goals during this six-game stretch. … F Steven Stamkos leads the team with 33 goals and is tied for the team lead in points with Nikita Kucherov at 57. … G Ben Bishop is leads the NHL in goals against average at 2.06 and is tied for second in save percentage at .927.
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