The Arizona Coyotes have signed Juuso Valimaki to a one-year contract extension, avoiding restricted free agency this summer. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reports that the deal will be worth $1MM. Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong released a statement:
We are very pleased to sign Juuso to a one-year extension. He is a big, strong, two-way defenseman who has been a great addition to our defensive corps. We look forward to having him on our roster next season.
Valimaki, 24, was claimed off waivers from the Calgary Flames in October and has found a home in Arizona. Playing a depth role, he has 12 points in 43 games and looks to have put his injury troubles behind him. This extension is a nice piece of work by Armstrong and the Coyotes front office, given that Valimaki would have been due a qualifying offer substantially higher in the offseason, or else hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
Signed to a two-year deal by Calgary in 2021, he currently carries a $1.55MM cap hit. The qualifying offer would have been $1.86MM, and Valimaki has arbitration rights. With a $1MM deal in place, he’ll not only come in below that but remain under team control and on schedule to become an RFA in the summer of 2024 once again.
The 16th overall pick of 2017, Valimaki suffered a torn ACL in 2019 that cost him an entire season of development. The young defenseman has struggled to live up to the early hype since, and now looks more like he’ll settle into a bottom-pairing or seventh-defenseman role in the NHL. While that is still relatively valuable, the $1MM contract points to the lack of real upside that is present in his game today.
Valimaki becomes the fifth defenseman in Arizona signed to a one-way deal for 2023-24, joining Jakob Chychrun, Patrik Nemeth, Josh Brown, and Dysin Mayo (currently in the AHL). The team is likely going fill its ranks with youngsters in the years to come, as they start to turn from rebuilding to more competitive status. It remains to be seen whether Valimaki can continue to hold down a regular role once that transition takes place, but his age certainly fits into the timeline.