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Coyotes’ NHL Draft headlined by 14th pick, cap space and more

(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Arizona Coyotes fans may have bemoaned their favorite team getting the 14th pick in the NHL Draft lottery this year. General manager John Chayka didn’t seem to feel that way on Wednesday, two days prior to the first round of selections.

“I think it’s one of those years where the first two seem pretty obvious, and after that, there’s a large grouping,” Chayka said. “We anticipate that we’re going to get a player that’s a lot higher on our list than 14, and it feels like that secondary grouping is a strong group.”

When asked to clarify if he thought a talented player would “fall” to 14 where the Coyotes sit, Chayka hinted that when you look around at mock drafts and draft analysis, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on where certain players are “supposed” to go, to begin with.

“Just looking at everything that’s been said, written about — and sometimes you never know — but it appears that there’s a lot of different opinion on a lot of different players,” Chayka said. “Time will tell. But we’ll certainly be sitting there at 14 waiting for what we expect to be a good player, either way.” 

Indeed, different mock drafts have linked the Coyotes to Vasili Podkolzin, Peyton Krebs, Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev or even trading the pick. It’s not clear that Arizona will draft in a position where a player is heavily favored to be selected, as would be the case with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko at No. 1 and 2.

Even if there were, think back to the last draft.

The Coyotes, selecting fifth overall, were seen as likely to select one of a handful of players that included Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and a few others, but they took Barrett Hayton, a player that received a wide variety of opinion from draft analysts and was mostly mocked to go a little later.

Needless to say, the Coyotes will stick by their own analysis.

It should also be noted that Chayka plans to, more-or-less, go with a best player available approach.

“There are positional values and there’s some values on centermen and right shot defensemen, those types of things,” he said. “So as it evolves, it’s a variable that we consider as we’re making the greater decision, but ultimately, we’ll take the best player available.”

TRADE THE PICK?

The 2019 NHL Draft will be Chayka’s fourth. In his three previous drafts, he has made eight trades. In 2017, he traded the team’s first pick — seventh overall — and Anthony DeAngelo for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, now two key pieces of the Coyotes.

The Athletic‘s Craig Custance suggested that as far as trades go in this year’s draft, the Coyotes could be a team to watch:

“It’s been made clear to many NHL teams that the Coyotes are willing to move this pick in return for a front line offensive player. The Coyotes are another team of interest leading up to the draft.”

Chayka acknowledged Wednesday that a trade was at least possible.

“With any asset, we’re wide open,” he said. “If there’s a chance to improve our team and achieve our goals and be a good team in the short term and the long term, then it’s something that there’s a value on every asset.

“Certainly, the 14th overall pick would have a value, it’d be high. But at the same time, just my philosophy is to explore everything and have discussions to the point where the external value is greater than the internal value and we make a decision.”

The Coyotes should and will be looking to bolster an offense that was among the bottom of the NHL last year. Teams looking to move scoring forwards could be a fit for Arizona to complete deal.

CAP UNCERTAINTY

Part of the trouble with making a trade is that the Coyotes could benefit from teams who are trying to get large contracts off their books, but things are uncertain when it comes to next year’s salary cap. That could bring movement via trade to a standstill.

A report from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston stated Wednesday that next year’ salary floor and ceiling may not be in place until Saturday. That means that through the draft, team’s won’t know how much cap space they have to work with.

The salary cap in 2019-20 could reportedly be as low as $81.5 million, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. That’s a good deal lower than than the $83 million that had been previously projected.

Chayka said he wasn’t sure whether that would affect how many deals get done at the draft.

“I think there is some uncertainty over the cap, some uncertainty over some RFAs. So those variables are real,” he said. “But some of those things might cause teams to have to make some moves, as well. … I anticipate there will be movement. Is it going to be greater or less than years past? Until it happens, I would just be guessing.”

However, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was recently quoted as saying that there has been an unprecedented amount of conversation among league GMs. Chayka seemed to reflect a similar feeling on Wednesday.

NEW SCOUTS GUIDE COYOTES AT DRAFT

The 2019 NHL Draft will be the first draft since the Coyotes replaced former director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt. That position is now held by Lindsay Hofford, whose title is officially assistant general manager, director of scouting.

The team also decided not to renew the contracts of a handful of scouts, as they announced in March.

“It’s been an enjoyable experience, obviously not to see some guys go but just the process of getting better and looking to improve in that ever-evolving process and trying to go 7-for-7 in the draft if we have the seven picks that we’re given,” Chayka said. “We’re trying to just modernize our infrastructure, modernize our process of evaluation and get as many people aligned as possible together to achieve that common goal.

“So as a manager, it’s been a really enjoyable process, a really enlightening process as well as we go through and continue to learn new things and work towards, like I said, trying to be that elusive perfection.”

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Speaking of the salary cap, the Coyotes had three NHL regulars on their roster last season that are set to become restricted free agents: forwards Lawson Crouse, Nick Cousins and Josh Archibald.

Chayka provided an update Wednesday on how discussions with the RFAs is going. That list also would include minor-league players Hudson Fasching, Michael Bunting, Dysin Mayo and Adin Hill.

“A lot of good conversations to date,” Chayka said. “I think you see league-wide, there haven’t been a lot of RFAs that are signed yet. I don’t know if that’s strategy or just players being willing to be a little more patient. But ultimately we’ve got a pretty good history of being able to get deals done.

“We want to be reasonable, we want to be fair, we want to pay players what they’ve earned. But again, we’re trying to build out a great team here and in order to do that, you’ve got to make things fit, make things work. So we’re looking for that true partnership, and to find that middle ground that both sides are maybe a little uneasy, but ultimately that’s what it takes to get it done and get players signed, get them to camp and get them playing.”

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