Take a bow, Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The decision to send Martin Hanzal - Arizona’s first round selection in 2005 - to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for several draft choices means that the Coyotes have almost completely exhausted their previous first round draft choices. Of the 28 players selected by the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes in the first round, just eight remain with the franchise. And OEL is the only first rounder from the pre-Dave Tippett Era to still be with the team.
Attrition is a fact of life for any NHL organization. Franchise players don’t come around very often, and it is far from unusual for players to chase a big payday when they first hit free agency.
But looking over the roster currently, only seven players for Arizona were born before 1990. And of those, Radim Vrbata (born 1981) and Jamie McGinn (born 1988), could garner some interest as the Trade Deadline approaches.
That’s not a ton of experience on the roster, especially if Shane Doan retires as expected this offseason. Brad Richardson and McGinn (should he stay) will be two of the go-to guys up front, while OEL and Alex Goligoski will carry the leadership load on the back-end. All four are stand-up guys, which is good news.
And it’s not even out of the realm of possibility that Hanzal or Vrbata could return in the offseason. It is worth noting however that both are possible trade assets this year in large part due to Arizona’s long-term commitments at both the center and the wing to younger forwards, so whether or not either would get the kind of deal from Arizona that persuades them to stay is a very open question.
As I’m sure long-time readers have figured out, I’m not big on “intangibles” in weighing the relative value of a player to the team. I think qualities like “leadership” and “toughness” are useful attributes that can separate out otherwise comparable players, but I am not a proponent of signing somebody to a long-term deal just because they are “good in the room”. I’m sure Matt Martin is highly popular in the Leafs room and he seems like a nice guy, but I would not have given him $10 million over four-years.
But at the same time, they aren’t meaningless. Part of the reason Dylan Strome remained with the Coyotes for so long this season despite only dressing in seven games was that the Coyotes wanted him to work on his off-ice habits. Veteran players can be the most useful with those kinds of issues, because they lead by example when the coaches are focusing on other matters. And of course, off-ice issues have surrounded the Coyotes for almost a decade now, and veteran players know a thing or two about filtering out the noise and getting to work.
Arizona should not have a ton of difficulty bringing in veteran free agents. But unless someone like Vrbata or Hanzal returns, they’re going to ice a roster with very little longevity in the Valley. Players like OEL, Tobias Rieder, and Connor Murphy are going to have to step up over the next few years and help Arizona’s younger players adjust to life in the NHL.