The Arizona Coyotes need two things this summer. They need a right-handed shot on defense, and they need to replace the first line wing spot left vacant following the departure of Mikkel Boedker and his successor, Alex Tanguay.
If Arizona is going to find someone to play defense on the right side, it's almost certainly going to be via trade. There just aren't a whole lot of defensemen on the open market on the right side that can play the kind of minutes Arizona needs.
But the forward pool for Arizona is much more promising, with several different options for the Coyotes to consider. Who should they target? I break down possible free agent targets into tiers based on the fit, price range, and likelihood that Arizona would be competitive against other bidders.
Tier 1 Forward Targets
Tier 1 players are players that have a proven track record of production in top six roles, at prices that are reasonably affordable, and who could have interest in signing with the Coyotes. These are the forwards that Arizona should most aggressively pursue.
Jiri Hudler - Calgary Flames/Florida Panthers
Hudler has very quietly amassed a solid NHL resume. He cracked the 20+ goal plateau three times in eight seasons, including a 31 goal campaign in 2014-15. And he's scored at least ten goals in every season where he has played at least 42 games. After a mid-season trade to the Florida Panthers, Hudler had six goals and five assists in nineteen games. But he had only one assist in the Panthers' six postseason contests.
From an advanced stats perspective, Hudler is a highly competent forward, and perhaps the most well-rounded talent in the free agent pool, which is undoubtedly a plus for a more analytics minded front office:
At 32, Hudler would be a mature presence in the locker room, but would also remain a productive forward too. And as a natural right wing, he would slot in perfectly to the spot vacated by Boedker. He made $4 million last season, which would make him a bit more expensive than other options. But given how cost-controlled the bulk of Arizona's forwards are, the Coyotes could afford to pay a little bit more for Hudler's services.
P.A. Parenteau - Toronto Maple Leafs
If the Coyotes were to opt for P.A. Parenteau, they would be buying high; Parenteau put up 20 goals and 21 assists this season, which was his best year since 2011-12 with the New York Islanders.
Like Hudler, Parenteau is an extremely well-balanced forward on both sides of the puck, though his numbers are not quite as good over the past three seasons as Hudler's.
Part of the reason why Parenteau's numbers don't look as good as Hudler's is because Parenteau missed about 25 games in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. The time lost due to injury/Patrick Roy/Michel Therrien results in a slightly smaller sample size and less favorable stats, but he could still flourish in a top six role.
And perhaps more importantly, Parenteau only earned $1.5 million last season with Toronto. Arizona could easily offer more than that with a two or three year term without creating a major dent in their budget. For the value Parenteau has given his teams, it would likely be worth it.
Tier 2 Forward Targets
Tier 2 players are players that are missing one of the three elements mentioned above. They might command more money than the Coyotes would be willing/wise to pay, have a less definitive track record of production to rely on, or might otherwise be less than willing to sign in Arizona.
Brandon Pirri - Florida Panthers/Anaheim Ducks
Brandon Pirri's entry on this list came just yesterday as the Anaheim Ducks decided not to extend him a qualifying offer. In Pirri's relatively short NHL career, the young forward managed to demonstrate incredible scoring flair in limited action.
After leaving the Chicago Blackhawks for the Florida Panthers, Pirri scored an impressive 22 goals in just 49 games. And last season between Florida and Anaheim, Pirri scored 14 times in 61 games.
Pirri has steadily developed a reputation for being one-dimensional, which is not entirely inaccurate. His 22 goal season featured just two assists, and his ability to suppress shots is minimal:
But at 25, Pirri is the youngest person on this list. And with players like Max Domi, Antoine Vermette, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the roster, Pirri wouldn't have to pass much. If he could be a consistent finisher, that might be good enough for Arizona to take a risk on him.
Lee Stempniak - New Jersey Devils/Boston Bruins
What does Lee Stempniak have to do to get a permanent job in the NHL?
So far, Stempniak has played for the St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, then-Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils, and Boston Bruins. If he signs with another team, he will have played for a third of the league.
Perhaps even more baffling is the fact that Stempniak has been nothing but a cheap contributor for every single team he's been to. Stempniak has made no more than $2.5 million at any point in his career, and has been paid less than $1 million in each of his past two seasons.
For a guy that's recorded 10+ goals and 13+ assists in all 10 non-lockout shortened seasons he's played in the NHL, he certainly doesn't seem to be that hot of a commodity. And his possession numbers, while not great, are certainly better than many NHL regulars:
His time in Arizona was largely a success; he lit up Western Conference opponents after he was traded in 2010 by scoring 14 times in 18 games. The next season, he scored 19 times and recorded 19 assists while playing all 82 games. And with extremely fast, young forwards complementing him, there's no reason his numbers wouldn't improve.
But the inability to find a permanent home is perplexing. Absent some off-ice issues that have eluded the public spotlight, the Coyotes' brass may want to look a little deeper. But if there's nothing wrong with Stempniak, and he's amenable to signing in Arizona, the Coyotes could get a productive winger for next to nothing.
Kyle Okposo - New York Islanders
Next to a certain player from Tampa Bay, Kyle Okposo might be the prize of the UFA class this summer. He's had three consecutive season of 33+ assists, and would have 20+ goals all three years as well were it not for some bad injury luck in 2014-15.
He's only 28, which means he still has several years of productivity left. And he is extremely good at driving possession, generating shots, and putting up points. It's no wonder the Coyotes have been linked to him.
There are two important issues to consider before going all-in on Okposo. For one, he spent much of his time at even-strength this year with John Tavares (492:37 out of 1125:05 total time on ice), more than any other forward except for Frans Nielsen. Tavares is not only one of the NHL's elite players, he also commands a significant amount of attention as a result. That potentially gives Okposo more room to thrive.
Additionally, Okposo is rumored to be asking for $8 million per year. That would make him the most expensive player on the Coyotes' roster by a longshot, and the 13th most expensive deal in the league, right behind Ryan Getzlaf, Jakub Voracek, and Claude Giroux.
Is Okposo good? Undoubtedly. Is he great? Possibly. Is he $8 million a year great? That's a dicier proposition.
Tier 3 Forward Targets
Tier 3 targets represent players with two or more lingering concerns that nonetheless merit a look. The Coyotes should not pin their offseason plans on landing one of these players, but should either make a run at them or consider them as a potential back-up plan.
Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay Lightning
rizona doesn't really need a center. And they would be paying extraordinarily good money for a contract that would decline in value quite substantially towards the end of it. But this is Steven Stamkos. Players like Stamkos rarely, if ever, make their way to the free agent market. Stamkos has never scored less than 23 goals in a year. He scored 25 times in a season in which he only played 37 contests. He's cracked the 90 point barrier three times, and 55 points six times. His shot suppression is not great, but that's not what he's getting paid to do. There are a rumored 11-12 teams seriously interested in Stamkos, which is about 18-19 fewer teams than there should be. Stamkos is a world-class player that would automatically make any team better. So how likely is it that Stamkos would come to Arizona? Very slim. Stamkos would probably break the bank, as his rumored asking price is somewhere in the range of $11-12 million per year. The Coyotes might have difficulty bringing all of their RFAs back, let alone at long-term deals. And there would be precious little else the Coyotes could do on the free agent market. Still, it wouldn't hurt to at least put in a serious offer. If the Coyotes don't get him, then so be it. But if somehow the fates aligned to give Arizona one of the best scoring forwards in his generation, it would immediately make the Coyotes much better.
UPDATE: 5:25 PM - So much for that.
Loui Eriksson - Boston Bruins
One of the other coveted options on the free agent market behind Stamkos, Loui Eriksson is already drawing serious interest from the Vancouver Canucks. For once, Jim Benning actually seems to know what he's doing here.
Eriksson has recorded 60+ points five times, and is just coming off of a 30 goal campaign with the B's. His time in Boston was inexorably attached to the man he was traded for: Tyler Seguin. Though Seguin blossomed as one of the best players in the NHL, Eriksson has been a very productive player in all areas of the ice.
There are a couple of reasons that Arizona may want to pass on him though. Like Okposo and Stamkos, Eriksson is going to be expensive. And his production nearly fell in half from his time in Dallas to his time in Boston. He will be 31 starting next season, and for a guy with a worrying decline in production, his contract could become very problematic very quickly.
Radim Vrbata - Vancouver Canucks
Speaking of players whose production fell off a cliff: Radim Vrbata. After a very promising 2014-15 season with the Canucks in which he scored 31 times, Vrbata lit the lamp only 13 times last season.
That isn't entirely his fault. Vrbata spent the bulk of his time last season with Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat, who aren't exactly Henrik and Daniel Sedin. As a result, his numbers took a major step back last season, and his deployment projections for next season aren't a whole lot better.
And would Vrbata want to return to the desert? He didn't seem particularly eager to leave last time, and part of the reason he departed for Vancouver was then General Manager Don Maloney's unwillingness to give out no-trade/no-move clauses. On balance, that's probably not a bad idea, but if it alienated Vrbata, it may impact his willingness to return.
Yet Martin Hanzal remains with the team, and reuniting the two Czechs who produced big numbers for the Coyotes in the past might be enough to convince Hanzal to stick around after this season. If the price is right, and Vrbata is willing to trust new GM John Chayka, then maybe a match can be found. But Vrbata as a player should not be the first choice Arizona targets in free agency.
Thomas Vanek - Minnesota Wild
Vanek's tenure with the Wild was not exactly disastrous. He scored 39 goals and recorded 54 assists in 154 games. Those aren't terrible numbers, all things considered.
What made them terrible was the fact that Vanek was paid an average of $6.5 million by a team already tight against the salary cap. If the Wild were paying Vanek as much as Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Karlsson were making, they needed more than just "not terrible" production.
As a result, Vanek is now being paid $4 million over the next two years to not play for the Wild. Which could make him a cheaper option for the Coyotes. And his offensive numbers are pretty decent:
The first issue with signing Vanek is that he is a natural left-winger, which is not what the Coyotes really need. Signing Vanek would mean playing somebody out of their preferred position.
Additionally, Vanek will turn 33 during the 2016-17 season. That isn't too old, but it also means his production should begin to decline relatively soon. And having gone between four NHL teams over the last three seasons, Vanek has struggled to meet expectations and find a permanent home.
Arizona might be a lower-pressure environment for Vanek. But if the playoff window starts opening soon for the Coyotes, it won't be for long.
The Coyotes need $6.4 million in contracts to reach the salary floor, which won't be a problem. The bigger question is where their internal budget is going to be set, and what happens with Shane Doan's contract (which is taking unreasonably long to hammer out).
Michael Stone needs a long-term deal if the Coyotes want him to avoid free agency. And Arizona's depth on the right side of its defensive corps will need to be addressed somehow,.
That might prevent the Coyotes from being big spenders at the forward position on July 1st. But they don't have to be to find a player to fit their needs. There are enough players on the open market that won't require huge paychecks that can fit Arizona's needs on the top six to make the free agency period worthwhile, even without hitting the jackpot on one of this summer's prize targets.