Thursday, June 18, 2009

Win. Now.

Yes, the Coyotes have committed to youth. Yes, they have traded veteran chips for younger assets in each of the last two seasons. And yes, they have not only loaded up on youngsters, they’ve played the kids and allowed them to get valuable NHL experience.

In fact, last year the Coyotes routinely played a minimum of 10 players with 2 or less years experience in the league. Phoenix iced the second youngest team in the league last season.

But now the team is in a quandary. Like it or not, this is a win now team. New owners, old owners or for that matter any owners cannot stand another $30 million dollar bloodbath. The only way to fix the financial condition of the team is to win. Now. Until the team on the ice turns the corner, the turnout in the stands will not materialize. No uptick in fan support and we’ll see more summers of wondering whether this team is here for the long haul.

Oh and by the way Don Maloney, you can spend to the salary cap floor. And be sure and get league approval before you make any long term contract commitments.

Gee, thanks.

If you read yesterday’s entry, you know that Maloney has somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6million to get the two things the Coyotes really need – a high end goal scorer and a top 4 defenseman.


So how do they do it?

Well, for starters this is not business as usual. It’s great that the Coyotes have the #6 and #36 pick in this draft. It’s great that they have Calgary’s #1 next year. And Philadelphia’s #2 the year after. Because they will need every one of those assets.

And free agency may or may not help. The uncertainty surrounding the team and the questions about whether there will be long term commitments available may make this a tougher sell. Derek Morris is the most obvious candidate but whether or not he will be affordable is a question.

The Coyotes brain trust needs to think outside of the box. Way outside of the box. Picking the best player available is a nice, safe strategy. It may set the next management team up for success.

So how do the Coyotes stay true to their (current) principles and win now?

Here are a few suggestions…

1. Trade assets, including draft picks for restricted free agents. There’s an interesting dynamic at play in the NHL right now. With so many teams bumping up against the cap, some very good young players may not be affordable to their current teams. Two very capable assets that are rumored to be available are 21 year-old (and 36 goal scorer) Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins and 23-year-old defenseman Cam Barker of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Both players would fill glaring needs for the Yotes. Kessel is a dynamic goal scorer. Barker hasn’t been all that was hoped for when he was picked 3rd in the draft a few years ago but he contributes on offense (49 points) can run a power play and still has plenty of development time to round out his game.

Both of these players will come with a big ticket. Kessel will want a contract close to $4 million and Barker likely will be in the $2-2.5 million range. Their current teams will also extract a heavy cost in assets, likely draft choices and possibly some current roster players. Prospects like Maxim Goncharov and Chris Summers could also be in play.

Normally trading draft choices is verboten for a rebuilding team. But this is a win now team. Let's say you trade your 1st round pick for Kessel. You’ve added a proven young asset. You can only hope the draft pick turns out as good. That’s one way to be on strategy by continuing to build with youth but it would also dramatically help your chances of winning now.

There’s a lucky strike extra here too. The off-ice buzz this kind of dramatic move would generate could only help the franchise sell tickets.

2. Move Ed Jovanoski. Well, not so fast. Even though he’s doesn’t play up to his paycheck ($6.5 million) he’s still a quality top pair defenseman in the league. He would have to be replaced with a similar caliber player that carries a lower ticket. He could potentially be packaged in one of two ways.

Let’s say that a team below the Coyotes covets a certain player in the draft. Oh, for instance the Toronto Maple Leafs. Picking at 7th, the Leafs could swap picks and defensemen with the Yotes. Jovo goes to Toronto and Tomas Kaberle comes to the desert. It’s pretty much a talent wash but the Coyotes would get about $2 million in salary relief.

Or a team like the Philadelphia Flyers could come into play here. The Flyers desperately need a top pair defenseman and they want to move salary. They may target Florida’s UFA Jay Bouwmeester. If that fails perhaps they would be interested in moving some salary (the oft rumored Joffrey Lupul) and a talented defenseman (Matt Carle?) for Jovo. The Flyers get the top pair defenseman they want and move salary in the process. The Coyotes get two quality players for the cost of one and a half.

Of course, Jovo has a no-trade agreement that will have to be waived. Considering he is really the only bad contract the Coyotes own, I wouldn’t be surprised if Don Maloney hasn’t already visited with him and his representation about this possibility.

3. Take salary AND get assets in a trade. Give is your contracted, your rich, your huddled masses…

A few years ago, the San Jose Sharks obtained a 1st draft choice from the New Jersey Devils to take players off their hands so that the Devils could get under the cap. That could happen again this year. It’s possible that teams may approach the Coyotes and offer players and sweeten the pot with “future considerations” if they would take a bad contract. The problem with this route is that the contracts offered may be really long and really bad. This will be an option but don’t get too excited. There won’t be much value here.

4. And finally, there’s good old fashioned trading. Assert for asset. Most likely the reverse of last year’s Keith Ballard-Olli Jokinen trade with the Coyotes seeking help on defense in exchange for a forward.

Maloney's former employer, the New York Rangers, have long been one of Maloney's favorite trading partners. That pattern could continue this off season. One of the Coyotes biggest needs is are right handed shooting defensemen. The Rangers have 6 on their NHL roster and could be interested in moving one to fill some of their glaring holes on the wing.

If we are talking a talent for talent swap here, something along the lines of a Viktor Tikhonov for Bobby Sanguinetti trade could be possible. The Rangers need good young forwards. Sanguinetti was a former first round choice of Maloney's in New York, who is considered to be NHL ready after an impressive rookie season in the American Hockey League. Both teams fill a real need with players drafted in similar positions and each one year into their entry level contract.

It’s a real challenging problem. Stay true to youth. Build a franchise foundation. And, oh yes, win now! It will challenge Don Maloney in ways he never imagined when he took this job. And as the Coyotes face the most important summer ever, his work will go a long way to determining whether the team will succeed next year on and off the ice.


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