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Looking at the Coyotes’ upcoming RFAs

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Next season will have a major impact on the four Coyotes players set to be RFAs next offseason.

Arizona Coyotes v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2019 offseason is full of restricted free agent controversy. Whether it is Mitch Marner trying to get an Auston Matthews deal in Toronto or the Vegas Golden Knights trying to keep Nikita Gusev despite not having the cap space, teams are making some tough decisions.

Thankfully the Arizona Coyotes didn’t have to deal with RFA drama this year. They were able to sign Lawson Crouse to a very team friendly three-year, $4.6 million deal, and they didn’t make qualifying offers to Josh Archibald or Nick Cousins along with some minor league deals.

Unfortunately things won’t be the same next offseason. The Coyotes are a young team full of skilled players who are set to become restricted free agents at the same time. The team may try to lock up a few of their pending restricted free agents before the next offseason coughClaytonKellercough, but for some the next season may be one of the most important of their career. Luckily some players seem to play their best hockey during contract years.

It should also be noted that General Manager John Chayka has shown a desire to lock up players long term rather then sign them to bridge deals. Jakob Chychrun and Christian Dvorak both signed six-year deals for north of $4 million per year and Nick Schmaltz signed a seven-year deal for $40.95 million. If Chayka can get term and a decent price he seems willing to take a chance on younger players.

Clayton Keller

Restricted Free Agent

167 Games Played

37-77-114

The Coyotes have a lot riding on Keller. Being drafted seventh overall comes with a lot of expectations, and Keller has mostly lived up to them. He was stellar his first season with 23 goals and 42 assists, but last he took a step back this past season finishing 14-33-47. If he can return to form this upcoming season, which seems like a strong possibility if he gets paired with either Phil Kessel or Nick Schmaltz, he will be looking at a good raise from the $885,833 he made last season. Keller will be a big priority for the team, and hopefully they will be able to lock him up during the season.

Vinnie Hinostroza

Restricted Free Agent - Arbitration Eligible

178 Games Played

16-23-39

Hinostroza was the center piece in the trade that brought Marian Hossa’s contract to Arizona, although Jordan Oesterle would prove to be a key addition as well. In his first season in the desert he was good, but a bit inconsistent. Like most of the lineup he struggled to score, although he would double his goal scoring output from the previous season. If he can continue to improve and crack 20 goals next season he can probably earn himself a good extension, otherwise he may be looking at a bridge deal to get more time to prove himself. Hinostroza is the only player eligible for arbitration, which can be a difficult process that teams and players typically try to avoid.

Christian Fischer

Restricted Free Agent

157 Games Played

29-25-54

Unlike Hinostroza, Fischer seemed to take a bit of a step back last season. His goals dropped to 11 and his assists to 7, but considering the entire team struggled to score it’s hard to place all the blame on him. Despite scoring fewer goals his shooting percentage didn’t noticeably drop (9.5% in 2018-19 versus 9.7% in 2017-18) so his decrease seems to be in shots taken (116 compared to 154). Despite having more career goals and assists then Hinostroza, Fischer may have more to prove next season.

Ilya Lyubushkin

Restricted Free Agent

41 Games Played

0-4-4

In his first season with the Coyotes Lyubushkin didn’t see much action but he looked good in his limited appearance. He doesn’t have a particularly flashy game, but if he can continue to improve as a solid shut down defenseman he will definitely prove to be a useful player. Unfortunately with the talent on the Coyotes’ blue line Lyubushkin may have some difficulty separating himself from the pack. If he has a good season he will keep himself in the conversation, but if he slows down he may see someone from the Tucson Roadrunners or Victor Soderstrom looking to take his spot in 2020-21.