NHL Free Agency: What Does Don Maloney Have to Work With?

Bruce Bennett

As we approach what is arguably the most exciting day in the offseason, what exactly can Don Maloney do to improve the team?

With the successful passage of the Jobing.com Arena lease agreement on July 2nd, the Phoenix Coyotes will no longer be operating under the NHL, and will also no longer have their roster decisions approved by the League offices in New York City. So what does that mean for General Manager Don Maloney?

When building the team, the Coyotes have quite a bit of room to work with, at least on paper. As of July 3rd, Capgeek estimates that the Coyotes have about $18.3M in cap space. That number is likely going to get smaller as restricted free agents like Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone, and Lauri Korpikoski sign contracts. The three combined for a $3.7M cap hit last season, and since all are RFAs, it's probably safe to assume that they will receive fairly modest increases in their contracts. So for now, we will operate under the assumption that they will combine for a $5M cap hit next season, which would bring the cap space down to about $13M. So that's the legal limit on how much Don Maloney can spend.

To figure out how much Don Maloney will actually spend, we should take a look at recent history. In 2011-12, the Coyotes spent just slightly over $55M on their roster, leaving cap space of about $9M. This paid for 23 forwards, 12 defensemen, four goaltenders, and two buyouts (Patrick O'Sullivan and Petteri Nokelainen). As of now, the team has only 7 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 1 goaltender under contract. So Maloney has a fair amount of work to do to fill out the roster.

All of this is nice, but what does it mean in terms of spending? As I've said before, the Coyotes are not going to be a cap team. The ownership group has limits on the amount of resources it can provide. I would not expect the Coyotes to spend much more than they have in recent years.

Where I believe the new ownership will make a substantial difference is not during free agency, but at the trade deadline. If GMDM feels the team needs to acquire a rental player, being able to work outside of the NHL's budget will likely permit him to make a one or two year gamble on a bigger name with a bigger contract. So Don Maloney will probably have to continue to be creative in constructing his roster, but Coyotes fans should take heart in knowing that he will likely have the flexibility to take a shot at acquiring players for a deep playoff run.

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