The trade that sent Mikkel Boedker to the Colorado Avalanche from the Arizona Coyotes was barely completed when reactions from around the Coyotes universe started pouring in. Not all of them were positive:
That is an awful trade. A guy headed back to the draft, a defenseman we'll probably never use, and Alex Tanguay. Seriously? #Coyotes— Daniel Rodriguez (@hidaniel) February 29, 2016
At some level, it's understandable; it's far easier to believe in the value of a player that you see night in and night out, and nobody coming back to Arizona is exactly an all-world prospect. Additionally, the Boedker trade is not going to do much to change the perception that the Coyotes are not capable of holding on to their best players.
But in the Year of Our Rebuild 1.5, Don Maloney ultimately felt the downsides of giving Boedker what he wanted were greater than the benefit of retaining him. And those downsides are less about Boedker's worth relative to his contract and more about what his deal does to future contracts.
An Eye On the Future
Tobias Rieder will be a 24 year old RFA by the end of the 2016-17 season. Jordan Martinook's contract will come up the year after Rieder's. So will Anthony Duclair's. Max Domi's contract won't expire until the 2018-19 season is over. Domi, Duclair, and Rieder have all already beat Boedker's rookie year numbers, and Martinook isn't far behind.
The point is that General Manager Don Maloney is going to have several very good players to re-sign at roughly the exact same time. And for a non-salary cap team like the Coyotes, that's going to be a major challenge.
Giving Mikkel Boedker a $6 million deal automatically sets a baseline for Domi and Duclair, as well as a ballpark figure for Rieder and Martinook. If Domi and Duclair outpace Boedker's career trajectory, then their asking price goes up too.
That may not matter as much when the Coyotes' young forwards hit the UFA market, but it does if the Coyotes try to sign any of the four to a deal that eats into their UFA eligibility. After all, if a guy who only cracked 50 points once in his career could get a $6 million contract before going unrestricted, then who's to say Domi shouldn't get $8 million? Or $9 million? And what does that do to Duclair's contract? Or Dylan Strome's?
Making the Rebuild Work
There are two different paths the Coyotes can take. They can be like the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings, who cost controlled their best players for just long enough to win multiple championships. Or they can be like the Minnesota Wild or New York Rangers, who are now stuck with some very expensive contracts and no Cups to show for it.
If Arizona wants to win a championship, they will have to pay for it. There's no doubt about that. Don Maloney's resolve will be tested against agents who know their players are worth a lot of money, just as Boedker's agent did this year.
But Don Maloney is gambling that not spending money on Mikkel Boedker now will pay off when Arizona's Stanley Cup window is wide open. The next few years will determine if he is right.