Michael Stone is expected to miss at least six months with an ACL/MCL injury. Assuming all goes well, that would mean he returns towards the end of Arizona Coyotes' training camp. And even then, it's unlikely he would begin the season at 100%.
Yet Stone's injury may highlight how substantial Arizona's problem on defense is in a way that even the loss of Oliver Ekman-Larsson couldn't.
What is Michael Stone Worth?
It may not be totally fair, but saying Stone is a poor man's Keith Yandle is not entirely inaccurate:
Your outlook on Stone's value is likely related to your gut feelings about what it means to be good at defense. If you believe the hallmark of a good defenseman is a guy who doesn't make many mistakes in his own zone, than Stone is probably as frustrating as Keith Yandle was. Conversely, if you think good defenseman are good by keeping the puck in the offensive zone, than Stone is the kind of middle to bottom pairing defenseman you want.
Most people likely end up somewhere in between, believing that a good balance of puck-movers and stay-at-home guys is the key to success. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, that balance doesn't really exist.
Top End Talent Needed
Arizona's other restricted free agents on defense are Connor Murphy, Jarred Tinordi, Kevin Connauton, and Klas Dahlbeck. Those four have combined for 32 points this season. In fact, every defenseman to dress for the Coyotes this year not named Ekman-Larsson or Stone has combined for 45 points.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has 52 points. Michael Stone has 36. Therein lies the problem.
It's no real surprise that some of the best teams in the league get significant contributions on defense. Defensemen are a staple of every team's power play, and at even-strength defensemen are often the ones leading the rush out of the defensive zone.
Right now, Arizona simply doesn't have enough talent to be that consistently dangerous on their back-end. There's a reason Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle finished #1 and #2 in scoring on last season's team; generally less capable defenders like forwards simply don't match up well against highly talented puck moving defensemen.
If Arizona is going to improve on defense in the immediate future, it will have to do so via trade. That will likely be incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive to do. The less expensive but longer-term option will be via prospect development.
The Coyotes are already trying to address the issue. Kyle Wood was brought over in the Mikkel Boedker trade because of his OHL scoring acumen. And assuming the Coyotes do not win any of the three Draft Lottery spots, they would be in perfect position to select one of Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachyov, or Jakob Chychrun at #8 overall.
But Michael Stone's injury illustrates how little depth Arizona currently has on defense. And addressing that issue needs to be a top priority this summer if the Coyotes want to take the next step towards playoff contention.