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Depth vs. Waste: What to Do with Nine Defensemen

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The Phoenix Coyotes have an abundance of NHL caliber defensemen in their system. What should they do with them?

USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Coyotes suffer from an embarrassment of riches; they may not be a cap spending team, and their top-line talent has always been sub par at best, but the blueline corps for the Desert Dogs is arguably deeper than anybody's in the NHL. To give you a better idea, here's a breakdown of the number of NHL games played by Coyotes defensemen:

  • Keith Yandle - 413 GP
  • Derek Morris - 1044 GP
  • Zbynek Michalek - 584 GP
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 178 GP
  • Rostislav Klesla - 634 GP
  • David Schlemko - 139 GP
  • Michael Stone - 53 GP
  • David Rundblad - 38 GP
  • Chris Summers - 29 GP
The Coyotes have nine defensemen on their roster who have seen NHL action, and only seven slots to fill. While this isn't necessarily a huge concern by itself, when considered in context of the franchise as a whole it becomes a bigger issue. And that's because of two names who aren't on here: Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy.

Gormley was the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and spent all of last season with the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates. In 68 regular season games with the Pirates, Gormley put up 5 goals and 24 assists. Although he's still young (he will turn 22 in February of 2014), he is rapidly approaching the stage of development where he will need to see NHL ice.

Connor Murphy is two years younger than Gormley, luckily, which means he still has more time to develop. He spent last season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League after being dogged with injuries for the past few years. He is also a highly talented defenseman who turned a lot of heads at the Coyotes prospect development camp in July.

Which brings back the question of what to do with the defensemen the Coyotes have now. A common refrain for the past couple of seasons has been to trade Keith Yandle for a Top 6 Forward (if I had a nickel for every fan who suggested Yandle for Sean Couturier or David Krejci, I could've bought the team). While Yandle is likely to give the Coyotes the best value in return, I'm not so sure who would be willing to make a deal for him, especially since many teams with top talent also are at or over the cap, so the Coyotes would probably need to retain some of Yandle's $5.25M annual cap hit to deal him.

Derek Morris or Rostislav Klesla could also be on the block, as both are UFAs after this season ends. But if either were to go, it's likely they wouldn't move until around the trade deadline. Morris' play last season was substantially improved from years past, and Klesla has been a workhorse for the team ever since he arrived.

What seems more likely is a deal for one of the younger players. David Rundblad's most recent contract is a two-year deal with a $785K annual cap hit. He also would be a restricted free agent after that contract expired, which means any team that acquired him would have the ability to re-sign him for a long time. A deal involving Rundblad which sent back a high-end offensive prospect with a couple years still to develop would make sense.