There might not be any hockey happening at present but there are still plenty of decisions the Arizona Coyotes will need to make in the near future.
The 2019/20 NHL season is currently up in the air, with the league currently paused due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world, and no one knows whether or not we’ll see teams back on the ice.
Whether or not the season resumes, the Coyotes have several key free agency decisions that need to be made before July 1st.
These decisions could be impacted by the status of the current season and could be an opportunity to give the team a bit of a makeover after failing to live up to lofty expectations during pre-season and up to Christmas when they looked certain to be reaching the playoffs.
The Coyotes have 20 impending restricted and unrestricted free agents, but these are arguably the most important ones that will impact the team the most moving forward.
Unsurprisingly, Taylor Hall is the first player listed here. The saga of who would acquire the former Hart Trophy winner gripped many across the NHL before he ultimately landed in the desert in exchange for high draft picks and three prospects.
Hall has been one of the most consistent players since linking up with Rick Tocchet’s side, scoring ten goals and registering 27 total points in 35 games with the Coyotes.
He will be hoping for a big payday come July 1st and this particular free agent is one that the Coyotes have arguably the least control over, with Hall easily being one of the top names available in the summer.
The season being cut short has prevented the Coyotes from solving things and pushing for the post-season, but the team’s results before the pause will not have had the most positive influence on Hall’s decision.
If the Coyotes could bring him back, then this is an absolute must, but this is likely to be one player that opts to find a spot somewhere else in the league.
Soderberg arrived in the desert in exchange for Kevin Connauton during the pre-season and has settled in extremely well, fitting Tocchet’s system almost perfectly considering his skill set.
In 70 games played with the Arizona Coyotes, Soderberg has scored the second-highest single-season goals total with 17, with 35 total points while averaging just 15:54 in ice time.
He has been a steady defensive presence while being one of the top goalscorers on the team, a great return for a player that has spent the majority of the season in the AHL.
Approaching his mid-30s, Soderberg isn’t likely to offer the Coyotes anything in the long-term, but he would be worth bringing back on a one-year deal to keep the team’s depth down the middle, while still showing that he is capable of competing.
The 2018/19 season saw Richardson smash his career-high single-season goalscoring record when he earned 19 in just 66 regular-season games, whereas this season has seen the veteran center revert to his career average rather rapidly.
Richardson has never been a points producer in the NHL, relying more on his impressive face-off skills and defensive capabilities to forge a career that saw him lift the Stanley Cup in 2012.
This year, however, the 35-year-old is starting to look past it and could be one of the first casualties when free agency opens.
He still wins the majority (54%) of face-offs he lines up for, but his role on the team is beginning to become replaceable, with plenty of veterans available every year that can play a defensive bottom line role.
He has been a great soldier for the Coyotes over the past five years, but it is time for general manager John Chayka to look at bringing in someone younger that can contribute to more areas of the ice.
Hinostroza had a ‘breakout’ season in 2018/19 for the Arizona Coyotes, scoring 16 goals and registering 39 total points in 72 regular-season games after arriving in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks.
This year, however, he has seen his offensive production drop quite significantly, with just five goals and 22 total points, with just four fewer appearances from last season.
This drop off is a concern for a player that looked to be destined for a top-six role on the team this year. He has found himself playing two minutes less per game on average from last season, with just 13:06 average ice time.
As a restricted free agent, Hinostroza doesn’t have much bargaining power and his production this year will likely see him earn a low cost, one-year deal from the Coyotes to see if he can recapture his form.
While he’ll likely earn a deal this year, next year will be heavily dependant on how he steps up or doesn’t.
Christian Fischer is a polarizing figure within the Arizona Coyotes organization, showing great potential in his rookie season, scoring 15 goals and earning 33 points in 79 regular-season games.
His offensive production has declined rapidly over the past two seasons, from 18 points (11G, 7A) in 18/19 to just nine points (6G, 3A) this season, but he has carved out a role on the team as a great physical agitator.
Over the past three seasons, Fischer has consistently increased the number of hits he puts in (109, 124 and 140 respectively) and perhaps has found his calling on the team’s fourth line.
As an RFA, he will most likely receive a qualifying offer from the team but won’t be expecting to earn much more than he currently does despite originally being selected in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2015 Draft.
Ilya Lyubushkin has provided the Coyotes with some much-needed depth along the blueline over the past two seasons, with injuries forcing the team to call up more AHL players than desired.
His physical presence (301 combined hits in two seasons) makes him an interesting seventh option when things are tight or injuries creep in, but the Boosh isn’t likely to be much of a long-term option.
As an RFA he’ll be qualified by the team once again and will likely earn just another one-year contract. His familiarity with the team and Tocchet’s system helps keep him around, even if there are many seventh defencemen options in free agency.
There are a number of players in the AHL or minor/junior leagues that the Coyotes need to make some decisions on, but the biggest names are easily defenceman Kyle Capobianco and goaltender Adin Hill.
Hill has shown great potential at times while playing in the NHL, with him certainly backup-worthy for many teams in the league.
The Coyotes should do what they can to keep him around, with them still retaining his rights this summer.
There were rumblings that Hill was somewhat discontented in the desert, believing he deserves to be playing regularly in the show now.
If that’s the case and he could pose a problem in negotiations, he may be a valuable trade piece to acquire a player or picks that help the team in other areas with Ivan Prosvetov looking extremely strong in his development.
Capobianco, meanwhile, could be the biggest threat to Lyubushkin’s status on the team, having developed well in the minors and looking good in his brief spells in the NHL.
He will undoubtedly be retained, as he is an RFA, but whether or not the team feels he is ready to be their seventh guy could be what impacts their decision of Lyubushkin and how long he is re-signed for.
The remaining free agents in the minors are largely negligible, with the majority of RFAs likely to be qualified and new UFAs being brought in to shake up the Tucson Roadrunners roster.