The NHL Expansion Draft has come and gone. The event added a dimension of intrigue to the annual NHL Awards Show, and when all was said and done, the Arizona Coyotes lost restricted free agent forward Teemu Pulkkinen to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. From this move, the next steps regarding the franchise seem more clear now. After the expansion draft, the team knows that:
1. The Coyotes’ NHL Roster is Unscathed
Unlike the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, or Florida Panthers, the Coyotes retained their core of talent throughout the expansion draft. The Golden Knights’ selection of Pulkkinen must have been a pleasant surprise for GM John Chayka and company, saving them from losing any proven top level talent. Pulkkinen could potentially have made the team out of training camp after a productive AHL campaign in 2016-17 (36 points in 47 games), but the Finnish winger is far down the list of promising Coyotes prospects.
In 83 career NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, and Coyotes, Pulkkinen has scored 13 goals and 9 assists, not exactly eye popping numbers from a player who is supposed to be offensively creative.
Acquired in the Martin Hanzal trade to the Wild, Pulkkinen’s departure ensures the Coyotes will retain two tested veteran forwards in Brad Richardson and Jamie McGinn. While neither Richardson or McGinn are perfect—Richardson is coming off a major injury, while McGinn just suffered through a career-worst year—their presence on what will be a young 2017-18 squad is important.
With Shane Doan’s departure, and the uncertain future of Radim Vrbata, losing Richardson or McGinn would have made life that much more difficult for a team already built of players mostly in their early 20s.
The moves, or lack thereof, the Coyotes make in the coming weeks will dictate how competitive they are next season, but keeping two experienced forwards is a step in the right direction.
2. There Will Be No Trade for a Young Goalie
When Petr Mrazek, Antti Raanta, and Philipp Grubauer were all left unprotected by their clubs for the expansion draft, there were some in the hockey world who thought Vegas might load up on the promising goalies to flip them for a boatload of assets. Seeing as how the Coyotes are in the market for a starting goalie, preferably of a younger age, a potential deal seemed possible.
However, on expansion draft night, Vegas curiously picked Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard (74 NHL starts, 2.77 GAA, .914 save percentage) and New York Islanders net minder Jean-Francois Berube (13 NHL starts, 3.11 GAA, .900 save percentage) as supplements to their headline selection of Marc-Andre Fleury. Neither Pickard nor Berube are goalies the Coyotes seem to be interested in, if Vegas were to even shop them at all.
As such, it looks like the free agent market will be Arizona’s best bet in their search for Mike Smith’s replacement. With names like Steve Mason, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Brian Elliott and others hitting the open market this summer, there is plenty of experience out there for Chayka to pursue, leaving the possibility of a goalie trade with the NHL’s newest franchise virtually nonexistent.
3. Coyotes Still Capable of Pulling Off a Big Trade
After a series of expansion draft trades, George McPhee’s Golden Knights now hold five of the first 45 picks in this weekend’s NHL entry draft. The Coyotes and Dallas Stars are tied for the second most top 45 picks, with each club currently possessing three.
Add in a deep pool of prospects, and John Chayka will have plenty of ammunition to pull off a blockbuster deal in the next week. Derek Stepan has been rumored as a potential target capable of filling the team’s glaring need for a top-line center. A right handed defenseman would also be welcomed to pair with Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Alex Goligoski.
Whatever the case, Chayka will need to move those picks for NHL-ready talent to justify the Mike Smith trade and Shane Doan exit; after three years of early draft picks, the time has come for the team to quit stockpiling assets, and cash them in for some influential players.
With so many quality picks concentrated among so few teams, the Coyotes will be one of the most asset-rich teams on the draft floor in Chicago on Friday, not to mention the oceans of cap space they still have to utilize. All of the ingredients are there for Chayka to pull the trigger on a franchise-altering deal, one that could escalate the Coyotes back into playoff contention next year.
Five years without the postseason is too long. Falling woefully short of it for a sixth time, without the saving grace of Shane Doan or the always entertaining Mike Smith, could cause long lasting damage to an already reeling fan base.
Things broke Arizona’s way throughout the Vegas-expansion process, giving the franchise a perfect opportunity to cash in their chips and return to relevancy in the Pacific division.