The regular season is about to begin and with it comes the regular season trade market, which can be both a continuation of long-term team building or more reactionary measures to combat injuries or a slow start. One team that seems likely to be included in early trade conversations are the Arizona Coyotes. The ’Yotes have the pieces, the motivation, and most importantly, the roster crunch that should make them a prime candidate to acquire one of the first major pieces to hit the trade block.
Entering the 2018-19 season, Arizona is the only NHL team that is at the league’s 50-contract limit. A handful of other teams sit at 48 or 49 players signed, but the Coyotes are the only club right up against it. In fact, the Coyotes actually have 52 players under contract, according to CapFriendly. The contracts of recent first-round picks Barrett Hayton and Pierre-Olivier Joseph won’t count against the limit, once both are returned to their respective junior teams, but as of now Hayton remains on the roster. Presumably, Hayton must be returned to juniors. The fact that the Coyotes cannot even make such a simple roster decision exemplifies the inflexibility that the team struggles with. Solving this dilemma ahead of NHL Trade Deadline or college free agent rush later in the season will be a task on the forefront for GM John Chayka and company.
Fortunately, Arizona is set up well to make an “all-for-one”-type deal. The Coyotes have one of the youngest rosters in the league, specifically up front, where the depth of talent in 25-and-under forwards runs well into the minor league ranks. Regardless of who makes the Opening Night roster for Arizona, the team will have two or three well-regarded forward prospects playing for their AHL team in Tuscon seemingly for much of the year. It’s a simple fact of life that not every promising player can see substantial NHL minutes, but can the Coyotes really afford to be wasting talent?
Arizona has not qualified for the playoffs since they went by the name “Phoenix”. The team last saw postseason action in 2011-12, the third-longest drought in the league. The Coyotes have only made the playoffs three times total in the post-lockout salary cap era. Fans are clamoring for a change in fortunes and while the ’Yotes have been considered an up-and-coming team for years now, the rebuild simply hasn’t panned out. The administration has shown more of a willingness to make changes recently, investing in contender-caliber tandem of Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, trading for veterans like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers, and Derek Stepan and even signing sought-after hired gun Michael Grabner. The Coyotes are starting to build a roster that structurally looks more like a contender than the past few seasons, while maintaining a low salary cap hit. However, they need to get out from under this roster limit issue and an easy way of doing so would be to package several of their minor league forwards for a veteran name on the rumor mill.
Some may still want to take the slow, cautious approach and see the rebuild through, but after seven years without a playoff game and a Chayka administration that has seen too few top prospects pan out, the pressure is on in the desert. A slow start, even if it caused by an Alex Galchenyuk injury absence or adjusting to game speed for players like Jakob Chychrun, Christian Dvorak, and several new faces, could be enough to pull the trigger on such a deal. Considering all the variables in favor of making a trade, it would be no surprise to see the Coyotes active on the trade market early this season.