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Arizona Coyotes content to play the long game with their prospects

With news of Max Domi's reassignment to major-junior, does Coyotes management have a plan for their young prospects?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

So this happened this morning:

Arizona Coyotes fans are understandably disappointed to hear that Max Domi will not be playing with the Coyotes this season, joining Tyler Gaudet, Henrik Samuelsson, and Brendan Perlini as recent top prospects to not earn a spot with the parent club this preseason (though in fairness, Perlini was a longshot even before his hand injury). The team will very likely be deciding between one or two of Lucas Lessio, Tobias Rieder, and Justin Hodgman to fill their remaining forward spots.

All of this begs the question, what is the Coyotes plan to be competitive? The answer appears to be, not this year.

The team was already going to be challenged to replace the offense lost with the departures of Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro. The hope this season appears to be that Sam Gagner will carry a lot of the load, while guys like Mikkel Boedker and Martin Erat will step up along with their younger guys. It will be a tall order just to replace their lost offense, which was not good enough to make the playoffs anyway, never mind add to it.

And guess what? That's OK.

The Coyotes will have five contracts off the books in the 2015 offseason once Antoine Vermette, Rob Klinkhammer, David MossB.J. Crombeen and Erat all become UFAs. Those are potentially five roster spots opened up, four if you assume the Coyotes go all-in on Vermette and get him re-signed. That means there is room for Domi, Samuelsson, Gaudet, and maybe even Perlini to earn NHL jobs next season.

That appears to be the gameplan. Delay being competitive long enough for a large quantity of young prospects to be ready on their first and second contracts, when the Coyotes have the most leverage over their salaries. That is how Los Angeles did it, that is how Chicago did it, and that is how Arizona wants to do it.

The immediate cost will likely be high. The team will continue to barely scrape their way into the playoff conversation, and will have a very hard time going toe-to-toe with the major teams in the Western Conference. For an ownership group that is already taxed to get the team's finances in order quickly, a non-playoff team in a market notorious for its bandwagon fans is not going to sell well, especially if the Suns and Cardinals remain good teams.

Additionally, the team runs the risk of having guys on defense like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson either price themselves out of Arizona or choose to compete for a Cup elsewhere. Mike Smith is not getting any younger, and it is very possible that the Coyotes will become a contender after Shane Doan retires from the NHL hockey. Don Maloney and Doan may very well have to make a tough call about whether franchise loyalty is worth passing up a shot at the Stanley Cup for.

But this is the only way championship teams in the NHL are built in the salary cap era. It isthe only way the Coyotes can afford to amass considerable offensive talent on the cheap. It is the only way to open the championship window when teams like Los Angeles, San Jose, and Chicago are watching theirs close. It is a long game, and depending how the next season or two go, it could feel even longer.

But in that context, sending Max Domi down may be the best possible move the Coyotes could make.