Having just begun what will likely be his second full NHL season, Conor Garland looks to be making a decent case for himself as the Arizona Coyotes’ top offensive player.
Through six games, Garland leads the Coyotes with six points (two goals, four assists). Last season, he finished third on the team with 39 points in 68 games and paced the club with 22 goals.
Garland has seen his value increase each year after the Coyotes made him their fifth-round selection in the 2015 Draft. He recorded an astounding 257 points in his final 129 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before turning professional to begin the 2016-17 season.
After two pedestrian campaigns with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, Garland received a promotion to the Coyotes midway through the 2018-19 season and immediately made an impact. Garland scored 13 goals in just 47 games, good for a rate of 1.30 goals per 60 minutes. For reference, 19-goal man Brad Richardson finished second, at 1.08 goals/60.
Richardson’s 2018-19 season came as a fun surprise but it was clearly an unsustainable pace for the 34-year-old depth center. He scored just three goals in 2017-18 and six in 2019-20.
Garland’s season was not an anomaly. He took another step in 2019-20 and scored at an even better rate, improving to 1.37 goals/60. This time, Garland was the only member of the Coyotes to score better than a goal every 60 minutes.
Despite leading the team in goal-scoring efficiency the past two seasons, Garland has seldom played for the Coyotes compared to many of his less effective teammates. In 2018-19, Mario Kempe (11:11 ATOI) was the only regular member of the Coyotes (20+ games played) to average less time on the ice than Garland (12:47).
The following year, Garland (14:09) ranked eighth among Coyotes forwards in average ice-time, behind Taylor Hall, Derek Stepan, Phil Kessel, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, Carl Söderberg, and Nick Schmaltz.
The 2019-20 Coyotes had very good forward depth. That said, there is a great case to be made that Garland was among the best forwards (and players) on the team.
With Garland on the ice at even strength, the Coyotes attempted 50.57% of all shots (the fourth-best mark on the team). Their expected goals percentage jumped to 52.91% with Garland present (second-best). The Coyotes generated 11.58 high-danger shot attempts per 60 with Garland on the ice (fifth-best) and allowed just 10.00 such attempts per 60 (fourth-best).
In short, Garland has consistently driven play in both directions. He’s a shifty winger who is tenacious on the forecheck and has great hockey IQ. Those types of players—particularly those with right-handedness—have a lot of value.
Garland earned just $750,000 last season, which is absurd, and he is owed a paltry $800,000 in 2020-21. He is set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights following this season.
Two things are for certain: if Garland makes it to the summer without a new contract, the Coyotes will tender him a one-year qualifying offer worth $840,000; and, if he receives that offer, he will reject it.
Garland’s arbitration-eligible status gives him considerable leverage, in that he can essentially set a deadline for an impartial judge to give the Coyotes a take-it-or-(sometimes)-leave-it dollar figure. In player-elected arbitration, the team can walk away from any ruling worth more than $4,538,958 per season.
Under the NHL’s unrestricted free-agency rules, a new two-year contract for Garland would take him directly to UFA without buying a single year of control beyond his RFA status. If the Coyotes want to retain Garland for longer than the bare minimum length of his Collective Bargaining Agreement-ascribed restricted status, they will have to aim at a term of three years or more (to a maximum of eight).
Primarily due to the impending UFA status of Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and Jason Demers, the Coyotes will likely have a lot of wiggle room underneath the salary cap in 2021-22. Beyond Garland, Bill Armstrong’s biggest priorities on the RFA front will be Adin Hill and John Hayden.
With nine forwards, four defensemen, one goalie, and one buyout on the books, the Coyotes currently have just $51,105,000 committed for 2020-21. Assuming the salary cap remains constant at $81.5 million, that gives Armstrong $30,395,000 to sign three forwards, two defensemen, another goalie, and up to three extra players.
That’s a ton of space, although it remains to be seen whether the Coyotes implement an internal ceiling after a few consecutive years of spending to the cap.
As the de facto top priority of the off-season, Garland will likely be the first Coyote to take a bite out of that $30.395 million chunk of cap space. If he signs a long-term deal, he will join three other young forwards on the team with hefty pacts:
- Clayton Keller (age 22) — $7.15 million AAV until 2027-28
- Nick Schmaltz (age 24) — $5.85 million AAV until 2025-26
- Christian Dvorak (age 24) — $4.45 million AAV until 2024-25
Where might Garland fit within that hierarchy? It’s tough to say. All of these deals were signed under the previous regime but with relatively similar salary cap structures in place. Based on production over the last three seasons, Schmaltz and Garland are decent comparables; plus, they’re linemates.
According to CapFriendly’s “Contract Comparables” tool, here are some other similar producers to Garland from around the league, along with their contracts:
- Alex Tuch (Vegas, age 24) — $4.75 million AAV until 2025-26. Signed in 2018
- Jonathan Drouin (Montreal, age 25) — $5.5 million AAV until 2022-23. Signed in 2017
- Viktor Arvidsson (Nashville, age 27) — $4.25 million AAV until 2023-24. Signed in 2017
- Colin White (Ottawa, age 23) — $4.75 million AAV until 2024-25. Signed in 2019
- Elias Lindholm (Calgary, age 26) — $4.85 million AAV until 2023-24. Signed in 2018
- Josh Anderson (Montreal, age 26) — $5.5 million AAV until 2026-27. Signed in 2020
- Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg, age 24) — $6 million AAV until 2024-25. Signed in 2017
Generally speaking, the market rate for a player of Garland’s caliber appears to be anywhere between $4.5 million and $5.5 million on a long-term deal.
To this point, Garland has shown himself to be a strong two-way NHL winger. He has already seen his average ice-time increase to 16:36 this season and has rewarded head coach Rick Tocchet by scoring at a point-per-game pace to begin the year.
Garland will continue to increase his value with every passing day he sits atop the Coyotes’ points leaderboard. Armstrong would be smart to explore extending his team’s top scorer before he prices himself into the stratosphere.