The Coyotes answered several key areas of need on the first day of the free agency period on Sunday, locking up two key defenders, Oliver Ekman Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson, as well as acquiring scoring winger Michael Grabner.
But with the regular season a little more than three months away, several questions persist. Now that free agency has begun, and with the July 1 frenzy behind us https://www.azcoyotesfans.com/louis-domingue-jersey-c-3.html
, here are five observations
1. Coyotes sparked serious interest from free agents
The Coyotes served as an attractive option for high profile free agents, and that s not something many would not have believed just a few years ago.
According to Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka, the Coyotes had significant discussions with free agent winger James van Riemsdyk before eventually signing Grabner, latter of whom has a highly ranked free agent in his own right.
“I knew they were really interested and obviously you want to play somewhere where a team wants you to come in and help them win,” Grabner said. “So I’m glad I ended up there. They had a great, young team and hopefully I can go in there and help them out.”
In addition to Grabner’s interest, the fact that van Riemsdyk — who was ranked just behind center John Tavares in most rankings of the 2018 free agent class — was considering the Coyotes is significant.
According to multiple NHL sources, van Riemsdyk had a desire to sign with Arizona for a variety of reasons. Those reasons included an affinity for head coach Rick Tocchet and his style of play, the Coyotes’ young nucleus of players, as well as Arizona being an attractive climate in which to live.
At the end of the day, sources said, van Riemsdyk, who was born in Middletown, N.J., elected to be closer to his family when he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
2. The Ekman Larsson signing is a landmark moment
The changing of the Coyotes’ league wide perception goes beyond just van Riemsdyk and free agency. The team was able to sign their franchise cornerstone, Ekman Larsson, to an eight year contract.
“It’s a huge moment for our entire organization,” Chayka said. “Our fans should be proud, our ownership should be proud, our staff and everyone involved. A superstar caliber player has the option to go to maybe any of the 31 teams and felt the loyalty and felt the belief enough in what we’re doing to sign on long term.”
And sure, the Coyotes were the only team that could have offered Ekman Larsson an eighth year per the terms of the collective bargaining agreement , but the defenseman was enticed enough by Arizona to sign a deal that likely meant leaving money on the table.
“It’s just money,” Ekman Larsson said. “It’s not going to make you happier if you go somewhere else. My heart is in Arizona.”
Additionally, the Coyotes were able to entice Hjalmarsson, a veteran defender, as well as free agent to be Kevin Connauton, who had a career season last year, to re sign with the organization.
The Coyotes have become an attractive destination for players, both internal and external, which is something that could not be said in years past.
3. Coyotes have a strong defense
, technically both Ekman Larsson and Hjalmarsson were already under contract for the 2018 19 season, but when you combine their extensions with the two year deal given to Connauton, the Coyotes have secured each of their top six defensemen.
Excluding departing free agent Luke Schenn, who signed with the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, the Coyotes will be rolling out their exact defensive lineup from last season. And when healthy, they were as effective as any unit in the league.
Ekman Larsson said it took some time for everyone to get healthy and adjust to the new system under Tocchet, but it all came together in time as the Coyotes posted one of the better records in the league after Jan. 1.
“I’m super excited about the way we finished the second half last year,” Ekman Larsson said. “I think it took a while to get used to Tocchet and the system. But once everybody got going and felt comfortable … I think we were one of the better teams in the league.”
Chayka has made a point about building the roster through premium positions, including elite defenseman and a sturdy goaltending duo.
After the club’s three moves related to the blue line last week, combined with the security of goaltenders Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, the Coyotes are feeling good about their defensive depth.
4. Dylan Strome’s role is still unclear
Will Strome will be on the Coyotes’ opening night roster and https://www.azcoyotesfans.com/luke-schenn-jersey-c-4.html
, if he is, what role will he fill?
When the Coyotes acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens in June, it changed the complexion of the lineup. All indications are that Galchenyuk will play center, and that seriously complicates things for Strome.
Strome, a center by trade, could find himself fazed out with Derek Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Marcus Kruger and Galchenyuk all expected to play the middle for the NHL club. Of course, there is a chance Galchenyuk or Dvorak could play wing Antti Raanta Jersey
, but it doesn’t sound as if the Coyotes are too keen on that.
So, would Strome make a position switch? Or is the former No. 3 overall pick in 2015 best served as a trade chip for Chayka to acquire a true center?
Strome played center for a brief stint during the 2017 18 season but did not play well in that role. In his last stint with the Coyotes last season, Strome centered a line with Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer and registered eight points over the final 10 games of the season.
There are a lot of things to be worked out, but Strome may be the biggest variable of them all.
5. The Coyotes still need another winger
This question is, in a lot of ways, connected to the Strome puzzle. If the Coyotes are not set on Strome playing the wing, then there is a real need for Chayka and Co. to bring in at least one more.
Grabner helps a ton, and he was one of the better free agents on the board. If the Coyotes were to bring in another wing, it would likely come via trade.
“There are a few other things we’re looking at,” Chayka said after signing Grabner on Sunday. “Ultimately, I think we have confidence in our group and in our young players to take on more significant roles.
“If this is the group we’re going with, we’re comfortable. But at the same time, if there’s a chance to improve, we’ll look at that.”
The only player seemingly ready to make the jump from the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Tucson and make an impact would be Lawson Crouse, but the Coyotes need a top six forward and Crouse would likely fill a fourth line role effectively replacing Jordan Martinook .
If the Coyotes want to compete for a playoff spot next year with this current roster, another wing likely needs to be added.