Free agency day is like Christmas morning for hockey fans around North America. Fans gather around their TVs and social media accounts eagerly waiting to find out what new toys their favorite team gets to play with this season.
For years, Arizona Coyotes fans were one of the poor kids in the neighborhood. They would get their essentials, but never one of those shiny new presents with the big red bow those other kids got. But in the end, they were happy. As the other kids later grew tired of those July 1 toys and could not wait to replace them, the Coyotes played with what they had without any regrets.
But for one year, their parents wanted to do something special. IceArizona saved up their money and bought one of those shiny, red-bowed presents for Coyotes fans, the top scoring free agent on the market.
For a while, life was grand. Yotes fans showed that present off to all their friends and even looked at the gift as a sign of change, for the better. Alas, like so many other neighborhood children, Coyotes fans realized that you cannot always buy happiness and success.
That shiny new toy quickly lost most of its luster, not performing up to expectation. As the disappointment grew, a mix of waning hopefulness and resigned disappointment consumed Coyotes fans.
When that toy finally broke, any residual sadness had already evaporated as Christmas was coming once again.
But, Coyotes fans remained one of the poorer kids in the neighborhood and their parents were still recovering from the expenses of Christmas past. It was back to the essentials once again.
Arizona spent frugally on the first day of free agency, bringing in a fourth line center, back-up goalie and a minor leaguer.
Joe Vitale signed a three-year, $3.35 million contract to replace Jeff Halpern as the team's fourth line center and right-handed penalty killer. Outside of their 10-year age difference, Vitale and Halpern are similar -- under 20-point faceoff specialists that are poor possession players. One major difference is that Vitale was not assigned a lot of penalty killing time as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, while Halpern has been a PK mainstay everywhere he has been.
The 28-year-old scored one goal and 14 points in 53 games with Pittsburgh last season. He has a total of eight goals and 35 points in his 163-game NHL career.
Arizona filled another hole when they brought in Devan Dubnyk to replace Thomas Greiss as back-up goaltender, signing him to a one-year, $800,00 contract on Tuesday.
The 6' 6" goaltender is yet to find his groove in the NHL, but his strong, lockout-shortened 2013 season (.921 save percentage) provides hope for the future.
Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke has had success working with big goalies (see Smith, Mike) and will attempt to shore up the 28-year-old's game and turn him into a quality back-up. Dubnyk has a career .909 save percentage and eight shutouts in 173 games played.
In a smaller move, the Coyotes signed defenseman Dylan Reese to a two-way contract and will likely assign him to the Portland Pirates of the AHL. The 29-year-old was with the Coyotes organization from 2007-09 and scored seven points in 45 games with the Amur Khabarovsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. (Arizona also signed Alexandre Bolduc, Andrew Campbell, Justin Hodgman and Mike McKenna to one-year, two-way deals.)
So, Coyotes fans are back to being the poor kid on Christmas morning, but that is OK.
Throughout the years, they have learned the value of a dollar and kept prized possessions close to them. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Shane Doan sit safely behind glass, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Mike Smith occupy the top shelf of the cabinet, a slightly-used Sam Gagner sits inside the toy chest and cheaper toys with a lot of potential, like Max Domi, Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy, are just about to be taken out of their boxes.
They may not have the shiniest toys to play with, but they may have enough good pieces to enjoy themselves anyway.