The Arizona Coyotes' defense is in serious need of improvement. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an excellent defenseman, but he can't support the blue-line all by himself. Connor Murphy, Klas Dahlbeck, and former Coyote Brandon Gormley did not become the all-around #2 guy Arizona have been looking for, and Michael Stone appears to have hit his ceiling as a middle pairing defender and second unit power play specialist.
Arizona has an incredibly bright future with Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, and Christian Dvorak in the mix among many other excellent forward prospects. To avoid the fate of the Colorado Avalanche or Edmonton Oilers, Arizona needs its blue-line to come into its own at the same time as their forwards are at their most productive.
While Arizona is in good position at this moment to draft a solid defensive prospect in this year's NHL Draft, it is a very open question as to how long it will take that player - be it Olli Juolevi, Jakub Chychrun, or Mikhail Sergachev - to realize his full potential.
So looking at the trade market is not a bad idea for the Coyotes brass. And there are quite a few intriguing options available. Which established NHL defensemen would the Coyotes benefit from making a run at?
Possible Trade Targets
Kevin Shattenkirk - St. Louis Blues
If St. Louis suffers yet another early playoff exit (which is definitely possible given they will have to go through at least one of the Dallas Stars or Chicago Blackhawks before the conference finals), big changes might be in store.
Kevin Shattenkirk would be a piece St. Louis could justify parting with. He will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, which given St. Louis' current cap demands, might mean they have to lose him anyways.
Arizona could afford to give Shattenkirk the raise he will undoubtedly be seeking, and at just 27 he's not tremendously older than Oliver Ekman-Larsson. If Arizona's window opens within the next few seasons, Shattenkirk should still be a highly productive NHL defenseman.
Any deal for Shattenkirk makes no sense absent some sort of guarantee that Shattenkirk would re-up long-term with the Coyotes. If St. Louis cannot provide that assurance, then maybe Kevin Shattenkirk's teammate, Alex Pietrangelo, should earn some attention from the Coyotes' staff.
Travis Hamonic - New York Islanders
Travis Hamonic is something of an enigma. He undoubtedly has a high ceiling, but has not particularly shone in his time with the Isles.
And yet Hamonic is intriguing for many reasons. It's no secret that he desires to be closer to his home in Manitoba, and Arizona plays in Winnipeg more often than the Islanders do (plus there are regular flights from Phoenix to Winnipeg during the NHL season).
Additionally, Hamonic has been behind Johnny Boychuk on New York's depth chart, which is absolutely not going to be the case in Arizona. And his cap hit of $3.857M runs through 2019-20, with his salary maxing out at $4.875M. Arizona would be getting some of the best years of his career for relatively cheap. And he's only a year older than OEL.
Despite the fraught relationship between Hamonic and the Isles, GM Garth Snow has not been able to swing a deal. Arizona could soften the potential losses of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen by dipping into its glut of forward prospects. Hamonic might not be the first choice for Coyotes fans, but he's not a bad choice either.
Ryan Ellis - Nashville Predators
The trade of Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets removed one of the more intriguing defensive trade targets for Arizona. But whatever is in the water in Nashville continues to produce solid defensemen. Ryan Ellis would be the cheapest option of all the players on the list, but also the riskiest.
Ellis' main issue is that he is relatively unproven compared to some of the other options here. 2015-16 was just Ellis' third full NHL season, and because of Nashville's depth on the blue-line, he's been stuck behind Roman Josi on the second pairing. But even with those limitations, it's hard not to like his underlying numbers.
Obviously Ellis would be playing against significantly better competition if he were paired with OEL, so a dip in his performance would be expected. Still, Ellis is signed at an insanely cheap $2.5M AAV, with a salary maximum of $3.5M in the final year of his contract. He is only six months older than OEL, and is signed through the the 2018-19 season. Coming off his third consecutive year of 25+ points, he would be a gamble, but the payoff might be worth it.
Anton Stralman - Tampa Bay Lightning
So rumor has it Tampa Bay has a highly coveted player about to become an unrestricted free agent. The problem for the Lightning is that they have no other major contracts coming off the books; the largest is RFA Alex Killorn's $2.55M hit, and Tampa would be understandably reluctant to let him leave for nothing.
On top of that, Tampa will have some other crucial restricted free agents to sign. Nikita Kucherov will need a new contract, as will Vladislav Namestikov, Nikita Nesterov, and Cedric Paquette. Steve Yzerman would be extremely hard pressed to get all of his RFAs under contract even with Steven Stamkos leaving. Something has to give.
Unlike a lot of teams however, the Lightning happen to have two excellent defensemen: Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman. See for yourself:
If Yzerman were to try and move one of these two, Stralman would make the most sense. He is older than Hedman (29 vs. 25), carries a more expensive cap hit ($4.5M AAV vs. $4M), is less integral to Tampa's offense (34 points versus 48 points this season) and is signed for longer (signed through 2018-19 vs. 2016-17).
Meanwhile Stralman addresses practically every need the Coyotes have. He's a veteran defenseman still playing at an elite level, is a right-handed shot, is excellent at shot suppression, and would immediately replace some of the salary that Arizona will likely lose with the departures of Alex Tanguay, Nicklas Grossmann, and the expiration of Shane Doan's contract.
Trading Stralman or Hedman should be a deal of last resort for Steve Yzerman. But if it were to happen, the Coyotes should be very interested.
Make no mistake: any of these trades would cost the Coyotes quite a bit. And the better the defenseman, the higher the price. If Arizona is going to induce any of these teams to trade a defenseman, they are going to have to offer some of their higher end prospects, and perhaps a first rounder or two.
But Arizona's prospect pool is not going to get much better than it already is, and nothing drives the price of a trade higher than perceived necessity. Don Maloney has done an excellent job carefully acquiring assets over the past couple of years; now with a new guard on its way in, there may not be a better time to make a bold move.