Forget the Summer of George. This year is the Summer of Matt.
Matt Beleskey is the latest beneficiary of a career season right as he is about to hit free agency; the Anaheim Ducks forward doubled his best NHL season in goals (22 this year compared to 11 in 2009-10), and scored more goals during the playoffs than every prior postseason he's played in combined.
With relatively slim pickings on the free agent market this summer, Beleskey is almost certainly going to be overpaid by some NHL team. Could the Arizona Coyotes be that team?
The Case For Beleskey
On the one hand, Arizona does need to reach the salary floor. Beleskey's output as a forward, while not exactly spectacular, is certainly respectable, per Domenic Galamini:
Overall, Beleskey has done an excellent job scoring goals with the ice time he receives, while generating shot attempts towards the net. His offensive abilities are quite good compared to his peers in the NHL.
Beleskey's performance during the Ducks' playoff run suggests that he can play with top six wingers. Though the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames were not expected to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup, their top six included players like Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Matt Stajan, and Sean Monahan. And in the Western Conference Final he's played against the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa.
With the exception of Toews, none of those players are bona fide NHL superstars. But all of them are highly competent players who can play both ways. If Beleskey can hold his own against them (two goals versus Chicago and five versus Calgary), he can hold his own against most lines in the NHL.
The Case Against Beleskey
On the other hand, Beleskey has not demonstrated much skill in preventing shot attempts against, which became a large problem for the Coyotes last season. Additionally, Beleskey's regular season shooting percentage this season is nearly double his total from last year (15.7% in 2014-15 vs. 8.8% in 2013-14). It would not be terribly surprising if Beleskey's point totals decreased next year.
It's also worth remembering that Beleskey is currently playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler as his primary centers. Both are highly skilled playmakers that demand a lot of attention from the opposing team. The Coyotes do not have the same kind of dynamic centers down the middle - at least not yet - which could hamper his production.
Finally, any free agent the Coyotes sign is likely buyout proof. Arizona is already burning money by paying Mike Ribeiro to not play for them. Unlike teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs - which can basically print their own money -the Coyotes do not have much in the way of salary flexibility. While buying out another player would be disastrous, even overpaying for middling production could severely hamper the Coyotes' ability to be competitive.
A Good Contract
If the Coyotes are going to overpay Beleskey, it is best that they go for a shorter contract with an inflated average annual value. If Beleskey performs like he has this past season, then he would be an excellent stopgap forward to play in the top six while the team's younger players develop. If he regresses or struggles in the Valley, then the team is not encumbered by his deal for very long.
Beleskey recorded 32 points in the regular season this year, which is exactly the same number that oft-maligned Coyotes forward Martin Erat recorded. Erat's cap hit this year was $4.5 million (though his salary was only $2.25M thanks to a front loaded deal). That number would more than triple Beleskey's current cap hit of $1.4 million.
The Coyotes could do worse by giving Beleskey a relatively short-term deal that pays more than what he's worth. A two-year contract worth $7 million total or a three-year contract worth $9 million total would be reasonable compromises between rewarding Beleskey's most recent performances while not putting too much money into a relatively unproven asset.
Given this is his first UFA contract, Matt Beleskey is likely going to look for the best deal possible. Salary cap constraints among many of the league's top spenders might restrict the market somewhat, but there are still plenty of teams out there with space to sign a free agent coming off a career season.
The Coyotes are in need of another veteran center and a veteran defenseman. Matt Beleskey is neither of those. Though he could prove to be a worthy addition, it makes no sense for Don Maloney to get into a bidding war for Beleskey's services and end up saddling himself with a long-term deal that precludes him from fixing other weak points in Arizona's roster.