Free agency is now a little more than a month away from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Arizona’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agent: F Max Domi – The 12th-overall pick from 2013 is an enigma for the Coyotes, who have received flashes of dominance and bouts of inconsistency from Domi throughout his young career. Few would argue with 135 points in 232 games for any forward before his age-23 season, but there is clearly more to get out of Domi as he heads out of his entry-level contract. After spending time at center this season his point totals were boosted by a late-season run, but he failed to eclipse the 10-goal mark for the second consecutive year. Perhaps because of that relatively disappointing total, trade rumors have popped up around Domi with the Pittsburgh Penguins showing interest.
While nothing is certain for any NHL player, the future for Domi is particularly unclear. Does he sign a long-term deal with the Coyotes this season to be a core piece of their rebuild, anchoring the top-six alongside Clayton Keller and others? Is a short-term bridge deal a better option for a player who has yet to really show his full potential in the NHL? Do the Coyotes use this summer to cash in on their asset before he becomes too expensive, and try to acquire a more veteran presence to help them win in the near future? With GM John Chayka loathe to lose out on young inexpensive assets, trading Domi at this point seems like the opposite of the Coyotes model. Perhaps Arizona will show patience and accept his 6.0% shooting percentage in 2017-18 as more of a bargaining chip than reason to move him.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: D Kevin Connauton – The Coyotes face a much more difficult crop of unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2019, when Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson and others are scheduled to hit the free agent market. They also already dealt with Antti Raanta, their biggest question mark from this offseason, when they signed him to a new three-year extension. Still, Connauton has a pretty compelling case for a raise this summer from the $1MM he’s earned the last two years.
The 28-year old defenseman finished third on the Coyotes in scoring by defensemen with 21 points, and did so in limited minutes that included almost zero powerplay time. His 11 even-strength goals actually put him fourth on the entire team—not just among defensemen—and he tied for the lead with three game-winners. All that while playing just over 15 minutes a night, and getting relatively even zone starts (if not a little negative). There’s obviously an argument to be made to let Connauton walk, as the team will likely have Jakob Chychrun back and could get contributions from younger players—including perhaps one selected with the fifth-overall pick in the upcoming draft. His agent also recently told Craig Morgan of AZ Sports that like many other players, Connauton wants a bigger role. If that’s not possible in Arizona, perhaps he’ll find himself in a new sweater come October.
F Brad Richardson – Richardson’s fate may have been sealed when the Coyotes traded for Marcus Kruger in early May, as the former Carolina Hurricanes forward is expected to take over as the shutdown center for Arizona next season. The 33-year old Richardson then would be expendable, even if he has proven to be a big part of the leadership group for the club. His 15 points in 76 games this season were far from a career-high, but still represented a solid campaign for a player tasked with winning faceoffs and getting the puck out of his own end. Richardson had a whopping 66% defensive zone-start percentage, easily the highest on the Coyotes last season.
Centers are difficult to find on the open market, but there may be no room for Richardson any longer on a Coyotes team that is looking to contend for the playoffs in 2018-19. If Dylan Strome is truly ready to step into a full-time role in the NHL, it gives the team four—Derek Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Strome and Kruger—capable options down the middle with even more experience in other players on the roster. His market may lie elsewhere around the league as he’s proven himself a capable NHL option over the last decade.
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