GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager John Chayka said he would use all the tools at his disposal this offseason to improve a club that has missed the postseason the last four seasons. Cap space has proven to be one of Chayka’s most valuable assets.
Following a draft-day deal in which the Coyotes took on the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit to acquire defensive prospect Jakob Chychrun, Chayka relieved another NHL club of a massive burden when he sent a conditional third-round draft choice in 2017 and a conditional second-round draft choice in 2018 to the Florida Panthers in exchange for left wing prospect Lawson Crouse and injury-riddled center Dave Bolland, who has three years left on his deal at an annual cap hit of $5.5 million.
If Crouse, 19, doesn’t play in Arizona this season and ends up going back to juniors (he’s not eligible for the AHL), the second-round pick becomes a third-round pick in 2017, but if he is traded this season it remains a second-round pick.
“This trade’s about Lawson Crouse,” Chayka said. “We just felt like by taking a broader look at our prospect pool, if there was one area where we could improve upon, it would be adding a power forward of Lawson’s ability.
“He’s a unique guy because usually when you add a guy with the type of size he has you usually give up a little bit in skating or you give up a little bit in skill. He’s a guy that you add the size and he actually enhances that for your entire group. In our opinion, it was a guy that’s rare to find; difficult to obtain.”
Bolland was once a key part of two Stanley Cup championships teams in Chicago (2010 and 2013). He scored the Cup-clinching goal against Boston in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, but ankle and back injuries, along with a concussion history, have made it unlikely he will ever play another game.
A league source told Arizona Sports that Bolland will head to long-term injured reserve after training camp, which would mean the Coyotes would only have to pay 20 percent of his $5.5 million salary over each of the next three seasons ($3.3 million total), while still absorbing his cap hit.
“Other teams have spent to the cap and they’ve acquired assets through free agency,” Chayka said. “We’re spending to the cap and we’re acquiring young players like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse that we feel can be core pieces. That’s what we’re after. As this stage of our organization right now we’re still trying to collect and identify and develop core pieces.
“There is the short-term loss of cap space and (assistant GM) Chris O’Hearn’s job gets a little more difficult, but otherwise not a whole lot of blood shed in that sense and we just continue to move forward with a good group of young players that are cost-controlled for a while so the cap space issue is really irrelevant.”
With Crouse in the fold, the Coyotes have Max Domi, Jamie McGinn and Jordan Martinook on the left side, along with two first-round prospects in Crouse and Brendan Perlini (2014, 12th overall). It gives the Coyotes an abundance of options — some of which could be used as assets for another trade — but Crouse’s arrival also muddies the future of still-unsigned restricted free agent Tobias Rieder, with whom there was no progress to report on a new deal as of Thursday.
The Coyotes currently have 46 contracts on the books (50 is the league maximum). According to generalfanager.com, they have about $2.3 million in cap space remaining.
Crouse was Florida’s first-round pick in 2015 (11th overall). He had 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League last season. Crouse earned the nickname “The Sheriff” following a Sportsnet interview, based on his penchant for protecting his teammates on the ice. He said that duty continues off the ice.
“When I did that interview I was still in high school,” he said. “I was one of the only guys with a car that was going to high school. I had to leave probably about 45 minutes before school every morning to pick some of the younger guys up and get them to class on time.”
When asked how many guys he’d have in the car at a time, Crouse was quick with a quip.
“The legal limit,” he said. “Five.”
Crouse understands there will plenty of competition for four spots on the left wing in Arizona, but Chayka said Crouse is close to NHL-ready, mentally and physically, and Crouse said he is looking forward to the new opportunity.
“Nothing’s really going to change,” he said. “I’m going to go there and try to earn a spot. I’m a very competitive guy and I love to win.
“However they want me to play, that’s the way I’m going to play. For me, I think that’s doing the little things right and being a good team guy. Like I said, I’m going to do whatever I can to make that team.”