The Expansion Draft is just over the horizon, and the Arizona Coyotes have a difficult decision to make regarding their future in net.
When teams submit their list of protected players ahead of the Seattle Kraken making their picks, just one eligible goaltender can be protected. For the Arizona Coyotes, this puts them in a tough spot.
The Coyotes currently have two goaltenders to choose between for their protected list; incumbent starter Darcy Kuemper and impending restricted free agent Adin Hill.
With Antti Raanta hitting the open market, the previously mentioned pair likely would have entered the 2021/22 campaign as the Coyotes’ tandem between the pipes. Due to the expansion, however, it seems more than likely that Bill Armstrong and André Tourigny will be without at least one when all is said and done.
This raises the question of which of the two should be protected, with the established reliability of Kuemper potentially putting him right at the forefront of consideration to be protected - risking the Kraken snatching away the promising Hill. However, according to Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff, this may not be the case.
In his latest Ice Breakers piece, Seravalli reports that Kuemper has attracted the interests of both the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs in trade discussions, noting that talks have been held with the Coyotes.
This would make the decision far easier for Arizona, if they can acquire assets in return for Kuemper’s final year at a $4.5 million cap hit - with Seravalli also commenting on the Coyotes’ self-imposed internal budget as a factor in the organization potentially moving on from their established starter.
Kuemper has been a solid player in the desert, originally arriving to back-up Antti Raanta before eventually supplanting him as the presumed number one. In 121 games with the Coyotes, Kuemper holds a 55-48-15 record with a goals against average of 2.43 and a save percentage of .920.
His efforts landed him the starting role for Team Canada at this year’s World Championships, where he, along with Hill, helped guide his country to a gold medal after a shaky start to the tournament.
These numbers are unsurprisingly going to attract the attention of teams needing to figure out where they stand in net, with the Avalanche, who are likely in a strong position to negotiate a trade, seeing both Philipp Grubauer and Devan Dubnyk becoming unrestricted free agents this summer - leaving them with big holes to fill, and quick.
With Seravalli reporting that Kuemper is not interested in signing an extension beyond this upcoming season, the likelihood of the Coyotes protected Hill and looking to deal the Saskatoon native increases.
If the Avalanche, or Maple Leafs, are truly interested and do not want to risk losing out to the Kraken, who are also reportedly interested, then a move needs to be made quickly so that the Coyotes can make the logical move to protect Hill and give themselves a promising young player to work with while likely addressing the empty starting role through free agency.
It will be a shame to see Kuemper don a different jersey after he impressed greatly during his time in the desert, but the opportunity to acquire assets and keep Hill could be more than enough motivation to Armstrong to pull the trigger and bring another popular goaltender’s tenure with the organization to an end.