The National Hockey League’s offseason has been a dizzying series of deadlines and events in the two weeks since the Penguins raised the Stanley Cup. The league announced expansion with the addition of a Las Vegas team, it held its annual awards show in Las Vegas, it held the draft in Buffalo and the interviewing period for free agents began on Saturday.
Another deadline arrived at 2 p.m. Arizona time on Monday, when teams were required to tender qualifying offers to all restricted free agents they want to keep. Players who didn’t receive qualifying offers can become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The Coyotes had eight RFAs on their NHL roster and five more in their minor league system, necessitating a whole lot of evaluation, but they settled on six players for now. The first domino to fall was backup goalie Louis Domingue, who agreed to a two-year, one-way $2.1 million deal that was well above the $665,500 qualifying offer the team was required to give.
In addition, the Coyotes tendered qualifying offers to several key players whose minimum offers are in parentheses: forwards Tobias Rieder ($874,125), Tyler Gaudet ($874,125), Stefan Fournier ($632,500), and defensemen Connor Murphy ($874,125) and Michael Stone ($1.45 million).
The Coyotes did not tender offers to defensemen Klas Dahlbeck ($665,500) and Kevin Connauton ($840,000) and Jarred Tinordi allowing them to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, but general manager John Chayka said the team will continue to talk with those players because “we still think highly of them.”
The Coyotes also did not tender offers to forward Sergei Plotnikov and minor league players Philip Samuelsson, Christian Thomas and Niklas Treutle, making those players unrestricted free agents on July 1. They are not expected to return.
Domingue went 15-18-5 last season, with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 39 games. He was thrust into a starting role when Mike Smith underwent abdomen surgery and backup Anders Lindback struggled. Domingue posted two shutouts and was named NHL Rookie of the Month honors in January after posting a 6-3-2 record with a .925 save percentage. Domingue, a fifth-round (138th) pick in 2010, set the franchise record for wins by a rookie goalie with 15.
Chayka said Domingue’s performance has all but assured him the backup spot next season.
“It was performance based, 100 percent,” Chayka said of Domingue’s new deal. “With Mike Smith back in the fold and healthy, it allows Louis to come in and continue to fight for games. Last year was a big step for him.”
Domingue said the Coyotes first approached him with an offer in May.
“It made for a great change from what happened last year and it made everything smoother as far as getting ready for next year,” Domingue said. “It’s a great feeling to have the organization behind me.”
With Smith and Domingue locking down the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, the Coyotes expect to sign a veteran free-agent with NHL experience to lock down the starting job in Tucson (AHL) next season, while top prospect Adin Hill will serve as the Roadrunners’ backup. Chayka said the team is already “well down the road” in talks with free-agent goalies.
Of the players to which the Coyotes tendered qualifying offers on Monday, only Stone and Fournier are arbitration eligible. The deadline for player-elected salary arbitration is July 5 (club-elected salary arbitration is July 6). If salary arbitration is chosen, a player and team can continue to negotiate until the date of the hearing to agree on a contract and avoiding arbitration.
Per CBA rules, teams can only take a player to arbitration once in his career and can never pay less than 85 percent of his previous year’s salary. There are no restrictions on how many times a player can ask for arbitration or the size of the salary awarded.
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