How much can the Arizona Coyotes afford to spend in free agency?

Christian Petersen

Every offseason brings about change. How much change depends on expiring contracts and the free agent market.

When the final horn sounds at the end of a season, only one thing is certain -- change is coming. The amount of change depends on the date of that final horn, but change is inevitable.

Roster turnover is nothing new for professional sports fans, particularly fans of the Phoenix Coyotes, who have seen plenty of free agents depart from the desert during the nearly half-decade ownerless odyssey. But this offseason feels different.

Free agents will walk, not because the team can not afford them or because the league would not approve a specific contract length, free agents will walk simply because the Coyotes feel they can improve those positions.

But change is still afoot. The Coyotes will change their name from Phoenix to Arizona, the front office will have a new assistant general manager and eight players on the season-ending roster are set to become free agents.

As the chart below illustrates, the Coyotes have plenty of holes to fill. Let's examine those voids and attempt to piece together what the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes might look like given the team's salary restrictions.

Boedker Vermette Doan
Korpikoski Hanzal ?
Erat Ribeiro ?
Klinkhammer ? Chipchura
Ekman-Larsson Michalek
Yandle Stone
? ?
Smith
?

Last season, the Coyotes spent roughly $56.2 million on NHL salaries. (Note: all numbers compiled from Cap Geek). Salary should be the focus as the team is not in cap trouble. Since the new owners have stated on numerous occasions that they will increase the team's payroll year-over-year, let's assume the payroll will go up an equal percentage as the NHL salary cap. The cap is supposed to increase to about $69 or $70 million next season according to Gary Bettman. Splitting the difference gets us to an 8.1 percent increase. Using that same increase, Arizona's payroll could rise to about $61 million.

The Coyotes already have $48.4 million committed to 15 players, meaning they have less than $13 million to spend on seven skaters and a back-up goaltender. While that is not a lot, an influx of inexpensive prospects will be very helpful to the bottom line.

Let's move from the net out. Odds are, Thomas Greiss has already played his last game in Sedona Red. The German goalie is seeking more playing time and probably a little more money, something the Coyotes can not afford to give him given the fact starting goaltender Mike Smith is set to make $6 million next season. Arizona needs to find a new back-up for around the same price they paid Greiss last season - $750,000. Options could include Al Montoya, Chad Johnson, Justin Peters or Alex Stalock.

The blueline is a prime destination for an influx of prospects as Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy are right on the cusp of becoming NHL regulars. Inserting those young defensemen into the everyday lineup leaves the Coyotes with about $10.2 million to spend.

At minimum, the Coyotes need three wings and a fourth line center. Looking at the center position, adding Marcel Goc or Vern Fiddler would help shore up the penalty kill and help make Arizona's fourth line into something more than just "energy" players. But, those guys come with a price tag likely around $2 million. A more cost efficient option would be Jesse Winchester, a right-handed, penalty-killing center with solid possession numbers and a career faceoff percentage of 54.8 percent. His price tag would be less than half of Goc's or Fiddler's.

After the Coyotes re-sign or call-up another bench player, they are still in need of three wings with about $8.6 million to spend.

The Coyotes' most valuable UFA is Radim Vrbata. Coming off back-to-back three-year, $9 million contacts, the soon-to-be 33-year-old is likely seeking a pay raise in what is likely to be his last big-money contract. It is fair to expect Vrbata to be a 20-25 goal, 50-point player, not the 35-goal, 60-point player he was in 2011-12. Given those parameters, a three-year, $11.25 million contact would be fair. Assuming Vrbata signs on to a $3.75 million AAV deal, the Coyotes are left with $4.9 million to spend on two more forwards.

If Max Domi is ready to play at the NHL level, it makes it much easier for the Coyotes to stay within their budget. The 19-year-old was the 12th overall selection in last year's draft and impressed at training camp. The London Knight will be given every opportunity to make the main club out of camp this season, as the Coyotes need his playmaking ability and cheap cost.

Arizona needs one more forward and Jussi Jokinen would be a great addition. If the Coyotes are able to sign the 31-year-old to a deal with an AAV in the $4 million range, they would add an instant 20-goal, 50-point player to a team in desperate need of offense.

So that's it -- $61 million spent on the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes.

Boedker Vermette Doan
Domi Hanzal Vrbata
Jokinen Ribeiro Erat
Korpikoski Winchester Chipchura

Bench: Klinkhammer, McMillan/Lessio

Ekman-Larsson Michalek
Yandle Stone
Gormley Murphy

Bench: Schlemko

Smith
Peters

***

How does that team look to you? Let us know in the comment section below.

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