ARIZONA COYOTES

‘Yotes Notes: A patient free-agency approach, coaching search update

Jun 30, 2017, 8:44 AM | Updated: Jul 1, 2017, 6:01 am
Arizona Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata (17) celebrates with Oliver Ekman-Larsson after scoring a t...

Arizona Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata (17) celebrates with Oliver Ekman-Larsson after scoring a third period goal against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Arizona defeated Buffalo 3-2. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The past two weeks have been so tumultuous for the Coyotes that free agency may feel like the eye of a storm.

With trades already consummated for top-six center Derek Stepan, top-pairing defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta, general manager John Chayka was preaching patience with the free-agent period set to open at 9 a.m. Arizona time on Saturday.

“I don’t see any glaring holes,” Chayka said of his current roster. “Now is this a Stanley Cup roster as I look at it today? No, but again I think we’re still looking to improve upon it and build upon it and if we can address some areas that could be better then that’s what we’re going to look to do.”

Last summer, the Coyotes signed defenseman Alex Goligoski to a five-year, $27.375 million deal, and left wing Jamie McGinn to a three-year, $10 million deal, but Chayka does not expect to be a major player this summer, instead opting for depth moves.

“I could characterize our approach to free agency as patient,” he said. “We’re not going to be overly aggressive this year based off of our current team and the roster, the way it projects out and also the depth that we have of prospects that are showing pretty well here at development camp.”

Chayka does not view this as a strong free-agent class. Although he said there are players that could improve teams, the bidding war required to land them may not be prudent.

“It’s the nature of free agency,” he said. “You have to be the highest bidder and you’re bidding up against, now 30 other teams and kind of by definition, in order to get the player, you have to pay above what the rest of the market is willing to pay and that’s typically an overpayment both in term and dollars. It’s effective to fill some holes and fill some gaps you might have, but certainly not the preferred method of building a team.”

That means the Coyotes won’t likely be in on wing Alex Radulov or right-handed defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who could command hefty prices. Shattenkirk was once thought to be a shoo-in for the New York Rangers, but New York may not be able to give him the money he is seeking, per reports. The Coyotes have long been interested in Shattenkirk. It will be interesting to see if his availability will change Chayka’s mind on his free agency approach.

Here is look at some of the Coyotes’ own free agents.

UFA RADIM VRBATA

Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, has fielded “serious interest” from a number of teams. Vrbata’s preference was still to remain in Arizona to provide stability for his family, but with coach Dave Tippett and Czech countryman Martin Hanzal gone, there is less certainty about him re-signing. Vrbata will not wait around as he did last season when he signed on Aug. 15. He expects to make a decision quickly.

“We have some interest,” Chayka said of Vrbata. “We’ve got an understanding of where he’s at. I think his agent’s approach is to see where the market sets again, which is OK by us. He had a great year but we’re in the business of paying for future performance, not past performance. There’s a lot of good young players that we have for options, there’s some other free agents that we’re looking at and the trade market is still extremely active.”

At right wing, the Coyotes have converted left wing Tobias Rieder under contract, they have tendered an offer to restricted free agent Anthony Duclair, and prospect Christian Fischer is expected to make the roster next season. Arizona would like to add another right-handed right wing, but there is also the possibility that another of its surplus of left wings could move to that side. Clayton Keller, Jamie McGinn and Jordan Martinook have all played the right side.

UFA SHANE DOAN

Doan’s agent, Terry Bross, has fielded calls from four teams, but Doan does not expect to make a decision quickly, preferring to take his time to talk it over with his family, evaluate the offers and the roles he might have with another team.

Doan said he has not even decided if he wants to play another season with another team.

UFA CHAD JOHNSON

Johnson has already been linked to the Buffalo Sabres and Chayka confirmed that the Coyotes do not expect to re-sign the goalie that came over in the Mike Smith trade with Calgary.

“We acquired Chad as a need to fill an expansion protection void,” Chayka said. “That was the intent. My guess is he’s going somewhere else.”

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Chayka said he is “pretty close” to working out deals with NHL restricted free agents Duclair, Martinook and Nick Cousins, as well as minor-league RFAs Tyler Gaudet and Marek Langhamer.

Duclair is not arbitration eligible. Both Martinook and Cousins are arbitration eligible. The deadline for players to elect salary arbitration is 2 p.m., Arizona time, on July 5, with the deadline for team-elected salary arbitration the next day.

The Coyotes did not tender offers to RFAs Alex Burmistrov, Josh Jooris and Peter Holland (or minor leaguers Branden Troock, Mitchell Moroz, Grayson Downing and Jeremy Morin), making them UFAs on July 1. The Coyotes do not expect to re-sign them, but Chayka said he would remain in contact if things change.

As expected, the Coyotes will not re-sign UFA defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who played most of last season with Tucson of the AHL. Chayka said assistant GM Steve Sullivan is evaluating the Roadrunners’ needs.

COACHING SEARCH UPDATE

Chayka said Thursday that the search for a new coach would likely extend at least until the end of next week. That is when he expects to conclude his interviews with the three candidates in contention, one of whom is believed to be Grand Rapids (AHL) coach Todd Nelson.

“Everyone has been pretty good so far about allowing us permission but at the same time if we’re taking a coach from another organization then they’ve got to replace them and you’ve got to be quick at this juncture,” Chayka said. “It’s not ideal. It’s tough to do what you’d like to do in three months in three weeks, but that’s where we’re at.”

Chayka said he would have some input on the assistants a new coach hires, and he has some ideas on personnel, but he said it would be a collaboration and he feels it is important for a new coach to be able to construct his own staff.

While the recent upheaval created doubts about the Coyotes’ ability to attract coaching candidates or free agents, Chayka said he has not experienced that feeling in the market.

“Whether it’s the coaching search or the UFA discussions, I think Arizona is a very attractive place to play,” he said. “People have kind of liked the way we’re moving things forward right now and the group of prospects we have. If they’re signing as a UFA and looking for term, they want a place that they know is going to be a good team year after year. That starts with having a good prospects system.

“There’s a lot of good coaches out there. I was surprised even at the number of people that are very, very intrigued and interested by our situation and our group here; some experienced and accomplished coaches that are excited about what we’ve got going here in Arizona.”

Check back for updates to this story as the day progresses.

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