For once, it's a good thing that the Arizona Coyotes were short-sighted.
The Coyotes have a cap hit of just under $60 million, one of the lowest in the NHL. That actually means good things for Arizona's efforts to retool their franchise in the coming years. But more important than the relatively low amount of money committed to players is the relatively little amount of time committed to players. This should give the Coyotes the roster flexibility necessary to fix what's broken and make it back to the postseason.
Low Cost, Low Hassle
The Arizona Coyotes have largely been able to avoid the massive salary raises that players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have commanded in the past couple of seasons. The two highest paid players on the roster going forward are Oliver Ekman-Larsson at $6 million in 2015-16, and Mike Smith at $6.5 million in 2015-16.
This is only a good thing for the Coyotes, especially considering their salary constraints are more challenging than a team like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Toronto Maple Leafs. The only other player who will be making more than $5 million next year is Keith Yandle, which should give the Coyotes plenty of room to find complementing players to plug holes.
It also helps to have a low salary with lots of cap space during the season, as teams looking to offload assets can more readily do so when the destination has space to spare. Arizona's ownership group may be willing to stomach a short-term spike in player costs if it means the difference between a first round exit and a deep playoff run.
It's All About the Term
But as important as salary space is, term is absolutely essential in guaranteeing roster flexibility in the future. The Coyotes only have eight forwards and five defensemen under contract next season, and only OEL's and Smith's contract extend beyond 2017-18.
While normally teams like to lock up their players long-term, this is actually extremely beneficial for where the Coyotes are at right now. Having relatively few contracts means that General Manager Don Maloney and Head Coach Dave Tippett can more readily plug in younger players on cheaper contracts in parts of the lineup most suitable for their development.
This is partially the mindset that caused Arizona to send Max Domi back to major-junior; management wants Domi playing Top Six minutes, but at the start of this season the team already had commitments to Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, Mikkel Boedker, Sam Gagner, Martin Hanzal, and Martin Erat. With each of those contracts expiring in the next two years, Maloney has the flexibility to re-sign the players he needs, and allow the other players to walk. David Clarkson continues to play for the Maple Leafs in large part due to his gargantuan contract. Arizona does not have that problem.
Of course, having roster flexibility is entirely different than using it effectively. There are obviously young players who will need raises in the immediate future, and there are seasoned veterans of the Coyotes that Maloney is going to target for new deals. It is up to the GM to ensure that the mix of old and new is good enough to make the playoffs. But for a team looking for a quick turnaround, having plenty of roster space and lots of short-term deals makes becoming a competitive team just a little bit easier.