With the ongoing pandemic hitting professional sports hard, it’s expected that the NHL will have a flat cap next season, putting the Arizona Coyotes in a very difficult situation.
Due to the financial implications of the pandemic, it is generally believed that the 2020/21 season will stick with the existing $81.5 million salary cap and teams previously hoping for an increase will now need to work hard to fit a team under the cap.
One such team is the Arizona Coyotes, who have two crucial contract extensions kicking in at the start of next season, with Darcy Kuemper jumping up to a $4.5 million annual cap hit while Clayton Keller starts an eight-year deal paying him an AAV of $7.15 million.
At the time of writing, with these contracts being considered, the Coyotes will be spending $79,990,000 on their NHL roster, sitting $1.51 million under the cap.
This is a tight situation for any team to be in, but what makes the situation even more concerning for the Coyotes organization is the fact that there are six players currently on the NHL roster that are impending free agents, half of which are unrestricted.
Taylor Hall, Carl Soderberg, and Brad Richardson are all unrestricted free agents once the 2019/20 season officially ends while the Coyotes still retain the rights to RFAs Vinnie Hinostroza, Christian Fischer, and Ilya Lyubushkin.
Hinostroza and Lyubushkin are arbitration-eligible, however, meaning that the Coyotes could be drawn into a situation where the players’ cap hits are decided independently unless agreements are made well in advance.
With around $1.5 million available in cap space, it is going to be an almost impossible task to re-sign even half of these players without some other corresponding moves being made to free up some space.
Marian Hossa’s contract can still be used for LTIR relief for one more season, which is the biggest saving grace for general manager John Chayka, meaning the Coyotes could realistically spend around $6.75 million in total before they reach the maximum allowed ‘over’ the cap when taking this into account.
Hinostroza could be looking for a deal in the $2-3 million range, while the team may still want to attempt to lure Hall back for another season, meaning that some contracts may need to be traded away to do so.
This also does not include any potential free agent signings the club wants to make to improve the roster next season, with Hossa’s LTIR relief still not enough to help the team make all of the additions they realistically need to strengthen.
This could potentially present an opportunity for the likes of Barrett Hayton and Victor Soderstrom, who are both on their entry-level deals and fit comfortably under the cap, who may be given more playing time as a result of the financial constraints.
With the Coyotes still searching for a playoff berth for the first time since 2012, some players may depart the desert to allow the team more freedom to make additions, with goaltender Antti Raanta, unfortunately, one of the more logical players that could find himself with a new home before the trade deadline in 2021.
There will be plenty of questions surrounding how the Coyotes will fit their team under the salary cap, or whether they attempt to acquire another insured LTIR candidate to give them more flexibility.
This is an approach the Toronto Maple Leafs have been able to exploit due to their bargaining power and financial stability.
This might be something the Coyotes consider if they could acquire a fully, or at least majority, an insured contract that meant the team gained the cap flexibility but at no real financial cost.
Answers to these questions may not come for a number of months, but they will be worth looking for closely to see how the Arizona Coyotes can work their way around a difficult cap situation next season.