Free agency a significant but fluid part of Coyotes’ plan

Jun 30, 2016, 11:14 AM | Updated: Jul 1, 2016, 7:32 am
Detroit Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist (14) tries to steal the puck from Minnesota Wild's Matt Dumba (24...
Detroit Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist (14) tries to steal the puck from Minnesota Wild's Matt Dumba (24) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Friday, April 1, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Wild 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes are still pursuing trade possibilities, but the next phase of their ambitious summer begins Friday at 9 a.m. Arizona time when the NHL’s free agency period opens and unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign contracts.

Aside from re-signing their own restricted free agents and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Shane Doan, the Coyotes’ plans may be somewhat dependent on what they are able to accomplish, or hope to accomplish, in trades. If they can’t land a right-handed defenseman such as St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Minnesota’s Matt Dumba or Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba via trade, they may be forced to explore a lesser player in what is considered a shallow (and aging) crop of free-agent defensemen, or they may choose to stand pat and allow Michael Stone to man the right side on the team’s second pairing with Alex Goligoski.

At the very least, the Coyotes are hoping to add some scoring punch up front and a veteran goaltender with NHL experience to be the starting goalie with their AHL affiliate in Tucson. The latter would give them insurance in the event of injuries to starter Mike Smith and/or backup Louis Domingue — an issue Arizona dealt with last season when both Smith and then-backup Anders Lindback were hurt.

The biggest forward name was removed from the free-agent board on Wednesday when center/wing Steven Stamkos signed an eight-year deal worth an average of $8.5 million to remain with Tampa. Stamkos was always going to be a longshot for Arizona, even if GM John Chayka did his due diligence in exploring that possibility.

That may also be true of wing Kyle Okposo, who could command a long-term deal with an average salary as high as $7 million a year on the open market, although the economics of the league could keep that number lower. The Coyotes will have to decide if tying up that much money in a wing makes sense for their salary structure. The 6-foot, 217-pound, 28-year-old forward had 22 goals and 64 points last season for the Islanders.

Some of the other top possibilities at forward include: Jamie McGinn, who will turn 28 in August and had 22 goals and 39 points for Buffalo and Anaheim last season; Troy Brouwer, who will turn 31 in August and had eight goals in 20 playoff games for St. Louis this spring but appears to be leaning elsewhere; Loui Eriksson, who turns 31 this month and had 30 goals and 63 points with Boston last season and has been tied to Vancouver; and Andrew Ladd (30), who had 25 goals and 46 points with Winnipeg and Chicago and could be leaning toward Calgary. Former Coyote Mikkel Boedker (26) and last season’s trade deadline acquisition, Alex Tanguay (36), are also unrestricted free agents.

If the Coyotes are interested in bringing in a center, St. Louis’ David Backes (21 goals, 45 points), the New York Islanders’ Frans Nielsen (20 goals, 52 points) and the Rangers’ Eric Staal (13 goals, 39 points) are currently available.

On defense, the top free-agent, right-handed defensemen aside from Trouba and Dumba (both restricted) are Jason Demers, Tyson Barrie (restricted, possible trade target), Justin Schultz and Luke Schenn.

It’s worth noting that Chayka’s background in analytics could play a major role in the evaluation of pro players and the ability to find a lesser-known diamond in the rough, based on deeper analysis.

One other area to keep an eye on is the attention the Coyotes will pay to European and college free agents. With college free agents, the time to sign is generally in April when they become available so that is something to watch in the future, but a source said the Coyotes have their eye on at least a couple players in Europe.

The KHL, the Swedish and the Finnish leagues all produce a fair amount of talent. This current hockey operations department felt former general manager Don Maloney didn’t take advantage of the opportunities available in the European and college markets during his tenure.

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Free agency a significant but fluid part of Coyotes’ plan