The Arizona Coyotes have made a bit of a creative move. The team has acquired Bryan Little and the rights to prospect Nathan Smith from the Winnipeg Jets for a fourth-round pick. Both teams have announced the deal. Little, 34, has only played in seven games since 2018-19 and does not figure to play in the NHL again due to injuries. He was on long-term injured reserve for the Jets and has a contract worth $5.29MM against the cap through 2023-2024.
For the Jets, this move paves their path to being able to avoid the use of long-term injured reserve in the future. Long-term injured reserve (LTIR) is an incredibly complex area of the NHL’s salary cap and one that is difficult for many to wrap their heads around. One of the major reasons a team would want to avoid the use of LTIR is so they could accumulate cap space throughout a season. The Jets now only have Kristian Reichel and Cole Perfetti on LTIR, two players that are not going to be long-term fixtures on that list, so moving Little allows them to get away from relying on LTIR to be cap compliant.
For the Coyotes, this move is designed to help them navigate what should be a tricky financial situation for the foreseeable future. The team is set to move into an arena far smaller than NHL teams are typically used to, meaning their revenues will likely be hurt by the lower amount of tickets they can sell. The Coyotes have a significant amount of their team on expiring contracts, meaning they have very little money tied to their roster for next season. With that in mind, the team still needs to be able to clear the salary cap floor for next season. By acquiring Little, the Coyotes gain a contract of a player costing over $5MM against the cap, a decently large amount, who will also cost them a relatively minimal amount of actual dollars paid. Little’s contract, according to Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, is covered by insurance, meaning that the Coyotes will not be on the hook for paying Little most or even potentially all of the cash he is owed. As a result, the Coyotes can inch closer to the required cap floor while minimizing the number of dollars they themselves need to pay.
For their trouble, the Coyotes also receive an intriguing prospect in Smith. By getting Smith as part of the deal, GM Bill Armstrong adds another NCAA prospect on the back of yesterday’s trade for Jack McBain. Smith, 23, was the 91st overall pick in 2018 and has had an immensely productive season at Minnesota State University. He has 18 goals and 49 points in 34 games and is likely close to NHL-ready given his age and college production. Getting potentially NHL-ready NCAA prospects seems to be the strategy for Armstrong, whose team is set to share an NCAA arena as their home for the next few years.