The Coyotes’ newly-constructed hockey operations staff vowed to be aggressive this offseason in an attempt to make Arizona a playoff team. John Chayka’s first trade as general manager walked the walk.
The Coyotes and free agent Alex Goligoski finalized a five-year contract on Wednesday morning worth $27.375 million that will bring the 5-foot-11, 185-pound, left-handed defenseman to Arizona this season. Goligoski visited the Valley on Monday and met with Chayka, coach Dave Tippett and captain Shane Doan. He knew quickly that he would sign with the Coyotes instead of testing his value on the open market.
“It was almost immediate,” said Goligoski, who got a ride from the airport from Tippett and his wife, Wendy. “It felt right and it felt like home.”
Goligoski said that in addition to talking to Doan about playing for Tippett, he also consulted defenseman Kevin Connauton and former Coyote and current Dallas forward Vern Fiddler.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him and I’ve talked to a lot of people,” Goligoski said.
The Coyotes acquired the negotiating rights to Goligoski from Dallas less than a week ago in exchange for a 2016 fifth-round pick (128th overall), giving Arizona exclusive negotiating rights until June 25 and making the Coyotes the only team that could sign him before July 1.
Chayka said Wednesday on a conference call that he had no inclination ahead of time that Goligoski would sign with Arizona before the free agency period began.
“This was a calculated risk,” Chayka said. “It’s a huge step forward for our organization. Alex was going to have a very competitive market out there for him if he decided to go to July 1.”
Chayka said the Coyotes were faced with a simple question when debating whether to give up the draft pick.
“If we feel we have something to sell here then we make the move. If we don’t we don’t make the move,” he said. “We felt we had something to sell. We’re pleased we’re able to have Alex agree that it’s a young and upcoming team with a chance to win in the near future.”
Goligoski will boast the third-highest cap hit on the team at $5.475 million, behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5.5 million) and goalie Mike Smith ($5.67 million).
Goligoski, who will turn 31 on July 30, was a second-round pick (61st overall) of the Penguins in 2004 and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. He played the last five-plus seasons with Dallas, appearing in all 82 games last season, scoring five goals and posting 37 points. He finished plus-21, logged an average of 23:50 in ice time and helped Dallas win hockey’s best division (Central) and advance to the Western Conference Division semifinals, where the Stars lost to St. Louis while playing without star center Tyler Seguin. In 13 playoff games, Goligoski scored four goals and had seven points.
“In an all-around basis he was a guy that we played in every situation — last minute of games, power play, penalty killing,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday from the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas. “The impact he had on our team was a veteran guy that when the game was on the line he was going to compete as hard as he could. Pound for pound, I think he’ll compete with some of the biggest guys in our league. He was a heck of an example for our players.”
At the end of last season, Chayka and members of the hockey operations staff identified the blue line as the greatest area of need for Arizona. Chayka and Tippett wanted a puck-moving defenseman and Goligoski fit the bill, but Goligoski is also viewed as a good defender despite Dallas’ struggles in that area last season.
“He’ll drive some of those fundamentals metrics,” Chayka said. “He’s a guy that when he’s on the ice his team performs better and he when plays against top competition he is able to suppress the offensive ability of the other team. He’s a good puck mover and is able to make the first pass to be a catalyst for offense.”
According to the websites generalfanager.com and capfriendly.com, the Coyotes are still about $14 million below the salary cap floor of $54 million, but Arizona intends to send qualifying offers to restricted free agents Tobias Rieder, Connor Murphy, Michael Stone, Klas Dahlbeck and Louis Domingue before the June 27 deadline, and the club still hasn’t signed soon-to-be unrestricted free-agent captain Shane Doan.
The Coyotes still could be in the trade market for a right-handed defenseman to play with Goligoski, or he could end up playing with Michael Stone, who is rehabbing after surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. The Coyotes could also be exploring the free agent or trade markets for a scoring forward, but a source said the team expects to be quiet until the NHL Draft begins on Friday in Buffalo.
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