Sometimes, change can be painful.
For the Coyotes, however, this week has seen hammer-blow after hammer-blow of news as new owner Andrew Barroway appears to be unleashing a tornado of change in Arizona's front office.
Last Saturday, the Coyotes traded starting goaltender Mike Smith to Calgary. Then, shortly afterward, the team announced they were cutting ties with the captain and longest-tenured franchise player Shane Doan. Those two moves alone would have caused enough comment to keep the hockey community in the desert going for the next week or so, especially leading up to the draft.
However, we once again saw validation of the phrase "bad news comes in threes". Not content with just cutting ties with their captain, the Coyotes announced on Thursday night that they were parting company with head coach Dave Tippett, the current longest-tenured coach in the NHL.
The confusion caused by this move cannot be understated. It seems that new sole owner Andrew Barroway was the main driver of this change as his vision for the team didn't match up with Tippett's, when reading between the lines of the official statement.
This led to confusion in the NHL media, particularly those who cover the team, with Craig Morgan, one of the Coyotes' top beat writers, expressing discomfort at the situation that was no doubt shared by many in Arizona on draft day morning.
On eve of NHL Draft, Coyotes have no coach, no captain (yet), no president/CEO, no starting G, no No. 1 C (still), no prez of hockey ops.— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) June 23, 2017
Indeed, things looked worrying as the sun rose over the desert on Friday, with some even questioning who was in control of team decisions, mulling the potential of a front-office struggle between ownership and GM over the direction of the team (including your writer).
However, it appears that none of this talk affected John Chayka, who, with his moves this weekend, has signaled that whatever the conditions might be after a perplexing week, he at least has a clear plan of how to move forward and is executing it without any consideration or holding back based on outside influences. Here's an analysis of the draft day trade activity, piece by piece. The brackets show what was given up by Arizona.
Make no mistake, Hjalmarsson is a needed piece for a Coyotes team that will have to adjust to a new name in net this season and the Swedish defenseman might have been acquired at least partly with that very situation in mind as he's one of the top shot-suppressors in the NHL. A calm, steady, two-way player who is close to flawless in his own zone and provides the kind of rock-solid foundation that offensive defensemen like Oliver Ekman-Larsson dream of having as their partner. He's also experienced in the NHL, knows what it's like to be around a winning team from his time in Chicago, and can add a much-needed physical presence in the top pairings without forcing the Coyotes to sacrifice mobility.
Early indications on the trade already have Chayka very clear about where he views Hjalmarsson's fit on the team, as a top-pair, minute-munching defenseman and partner for Ekman-Larsson.
More importantly, the price for Hjalmarsson is not overly expensive. In fact, when you consider that Edmonton gave up Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, the trade of Connor Murphy (younger but nowhere near as effective thus far) and Laurent Dauphin (a player stuck in a logjam who the Coyotes could easily afford to lose) makes it look almost a bargain.
But, what do I base that argument on, you ask? Well, here's a direct comparison of Murphy and Hjalmarsson:
What the image above shows is that while already playing more than Murphy, Hjalmarsson is comparably effective on offense but over twice as effective defensively. It's a huge upgrade for the Coyotes for not a major price, except for some easily-absorbed cap space impact, and that's what makes it a tremendous trade to start the draft weekend.
DEREK STEPAN AND ANTTI RAANTA ACQUIRED FROM NYR (for Anthony DeAngelo, 2017 1st round pick [7th overall])
Mere minutes after the Hjalmarsson news was announced, it seemed that news was breaking once again of needs being filled, those of top line C and starting netminder, this time with New York Rangers being the trade partners in a move that sought to address two glaring needs at once.
We discussed last week how draft picks were often overvalued by NHL GMs when it comes to trades and the Coyotes should use that to their advantage in negotiations, even floating a hypothetical Stepan trade, as below:
For example, the chatter over Derek Stepan recently in Arizona is interesting because it's likely that a first round pick will be in the conversation. Would you trade a one-in-three chance of getting a legitimate NHLer in the future for a center who is 27 years old (just coming into his prime) and has averaged nearly 60 points in the NHL for the past four seasons?
Of course you would, from a "buying" standpoint. Put as baldly as that, though, you'd probably balk a little at selling one for the same price. However in the NHL, many do not, which means the imagined premium placed on first rounders could likely get the Coyotes their top line center for a (relatively) cheap price.
We were referring to the 23rd overall pick there rather than the 7th, but the argument remains the same, as the chances of getting a legit NHLer with the 7th pick are 49%. Even odds.
Now, I ask the above question again, modified. Derek Stepan has four years left on his contract, meaning that he's signed through age 31 in Arizona, essentially his prime years. Would you trade even odds at a legitimate NHLer for 4 years of a 60 point NHL center who's already a very good two-way forward with room to improve, especially when sharing a line with players like Max Domi or Clayton Keller?
Of course you would. Whether you'd sell them or not is a different question, but again, we're dealing with knowns and unknowns here. There's an argument that the Coyotes needed to move on from merely stacking young prospects for another year and make real progression, and for that, you need quality talent now which Derek Stepan is. As a skilled two-way center who was acknowledged by many to be part of the core for NYR, he's cheap at the price.
Then there's the second half of the deal: Antti Raanta. Based on our logic above that the pick is for Stepan, the Coyotes have effectively acquired Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo.
Raanta, at 28 and with a cap hit of around $1 million a year, is what many teams would consider a backup, but bear in mind that in New York he was playing behind one of the greatest goalies in the modern era in Henrik Lundqvist. In his appearances last year, he obtained the ninth-best GAA (2.36) and one of the better SV% in the NHL, at 92.6.
Crucially, though, he's an upgrade on Louis Domingue while actually being CHEAPER. Here's a comparison of the two, courtesy of Corsica Hockey.
Above is a comparison of how many shots are saved from high-scoring areas (a player open in the slot, close-range-rebounds, breakaways, and the like), medium-scoring areas (shots through traffic, challenged shots, deflections), and low-scoring areas (unobstructed-view point shots, clean shots from poor angles, etc).
It shows that despite being a backup, Raanta is far more likely than average to stop shots in all three situations, but is far less prone to giving up "soft" goals than Domingue is, making him far more solid a netminder.
He's also a player immensely keen to come to Arizona:
At $1 million a year with the chance to prove himself in the NHL, too, there'll be no question of motivation for Raanta. This is a netminder who has everything to lose and everything to gain this season, which couldn't be better for the Coyotes, especially when giving up a prospect who has had personality issues in the past and was struggling to crack the roster as the price.
In taking Joseph, who likes to be known as PO, the Coyotes have added another skilled, smooth-skating defenseman capable of driving an offense. With 39 points in 62 games in his age-17 season, Joseph is a long-term project for the Coyotes, which at this stage of the game is not necessarily a bad thing. He's also a clear sign of the type of defense Chayka wants to build, and a complement to Jakob Chychrun and Cam Dineen from last season's draft.
In fact, the whole draft saw much more of a focus on the blueline, as our editor Sarah discusses here in her draft recap, but there were also interesting forward prospects taken, particularly Tyler Steenburgen, who for my money could turn out to be an absolute steal in the fifth round. Again, it seems that the Chayka plan is proceeding apace in a draft which was more about gaining maximum value than finding superstars for most teams.
REDESIGN, REBUILD, RECLAIM
Friday, June 23rd, 2017 could be a key moment in the next few years of the Arizona Coyotes. In the space of a few hours, they've gained a genuine number 2 defenseman to pair with OEL, solved their top-line center problem, and filled the hole currently sitting in net with a relatively young, hungry goalie with everything to prove - an outlook that perfectly fits the team. After the earthquake changes of this week so far, the weekend as a whole saw John Chayka begin to rebuild from the ground up, and well and truly signal that these Coyotes are going in a different direction and breaking with the past few years.
It's a change that the team knew deep down was needed. They knew that with Shane Doan and Mike Smith both reaching the end of their careers, this would have to happen sooner or later.
John Chayka has kicked off the new era in Arizona into overdrive this weekend and set the scene for a very interesting offseason indeed, starting tomorrow.