Monday, May 25, 2009

Don Maloney: "Business As Usual"

With all attention being focused on the Coyotes bankruptcy/sale/move/new ownership, the hockey side of the business has been operating in relative obscurity during the past month. I thought it would be fun and also a little cathartic to shine the spotlight back on the ice. I recently had a chance to visit with Don Maloney about some of the challenges he is facing in building the hockey team for the 2009-10 season.

Most importantly, Don made it clear directly and in his responses that the hockey side is conducting "business as usual" in approaching the upcoming draft, free agency and considering improvements to the team.

The Coyotes have the 6th and 36th picks in this years draft, but are unlikely get the additional 1st round draft choice that is coming from Calgary as part of the Olli Jokinen trade. "It looks like Calgary will take their pick in 2009 so we will have their 2010 pick" Maloney did however indicate that "I will consider trading this pick (Calgary's 1st in 2010) if a deal makes sense."

One possibility to watch for is Maloney combining his own 2009 2nd with the Calgary 1st to move into the lower half of the 2009 first round. The 2009 draft is considered to be a very deep and this becomes more likely if the Coyotes like a player who is sliding in the 1st round.

In assessing the Coyotes roster, Maloney cited the need for more scoring as his top off season concern. "We need to find more offensive production from our forward group which may result in adding a little more experience. This is not to suggest we are abandoning our young players, rather, I felt we were a little too young as a forward group last season to have success." Depending on the dollars Maloney has available, he will have a wide variety of players, both free agents and under contract to other teams that will be available to him.

Maloney also indicated that he is looking for help on the back end. "We could use a good defenseman, preferable someone who can play the right side". Numerous veterans, including former Coyote Derek Morris, will be available either by trade or free agency to fortify the defense. Young defensive prospect Nick Ross, who signed with the Coyotes last year, will turn pro after being the Yotes 1st round draft choice (30th overall) in 2007 and could contend for a position. Jonas Ahnelov could also figure in the mix. Ahenlov had a strong training camp last year before breaking his hand right at the end of camp.

A potential trading partner for the Coyotes could be the New York Rangers, who have six right handed defensemen on their roster.

One place defensive help will not be coming are the team's two outstanding defensive prospects, Chris Summer and Maxim Goncharov. "Chris Summers is returning to Michigan for his senior year." according to Maloney and "Maxim Goncharov has one year remaining on his Russian contract." Because of the lack of a transfer agreement with the Russian Hockey Federation, the Coyotes will retain Goncharov's rights. Goncharov in particular bears watching in the future. After a breakout performance in the World Junior Tournament this year, he was ranked as the 21st best prospect outside of the NHL by The Hockey News.

The Coyotes also have to deal with eight restricted free agents from last years team: Enver Lisin, Dan Winnik, Petr Prucha, Nigel Dawes, Joakim Lindstrom, Keith Yandle, Scottie Upshall and Josn Tordjman. Maloney is "not in any hurry" to sign his RFAs. Players in this category have to receive a qualifying offer by June 25th and Upshall and Yandle are the most likely to be qualified. Prucha may not be qualified at his $1.6MM 2009 salary but could resign with the Coyotes for a lower amount.

Tordjman has a breakout season for the AHL San Antonio Rampage this year and may be in the teams plans. Without mentioning him by name Maloney stated that"we will look hard at our backup goaltending position", which could mean bringing in a veteran to battle with Tordjman and Al Montoya for the backup job behind Ilya Bryzgalov.

The Coyotes have 16 players who finished this season with the big club under contract and the 6 players still on entry level contracts. That gives Maloney a lot of salary flexibility for summer retooling. Assuming that the team will stay close to the NHL salary floor, Maloney still has the flexibility to add a couple of veteran chips to strengthen the team.

In a future post, I'll take a look at the salary cap and floor implications of the current roster.

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