PHOENIX, AZ -- When the temperature in Phoenix starts hitting 115 degrees, Coyotes GM Don Maloney knows itís time to throw on some shorts and hit up the clearance aisle to find those hidden gems that are passed over by other general managers.
This summer, however, the Coyotes are filling more needs from within the system than from GMDMís wheeling and dealing skills.
On July 1, Maloney called it a day after he filled his cart up with forward Ray Whitney and a Snickers bar. Whitney had 21 goals and 37 assists in 80 games for the Hurricanes last season and should provide some much needed goal scoring for this defensive-minded team.
GMDM later added former Wild forward Andrew Ebbett (9-6-15 in 61 games) who may fight for a roster spot or spend some AHL time with the Rampage. Yes, that is the same Andrew Ebbett that received a concussion from Ed Jovanovski last season and landed Jovanovski a two game suspension. Awkward! You have to want hockey karma to make them locker neighbors, right?
The rest of the acquisitions that Maloney grabbed came from the dollar bins and seem to be AHL-level players that will be filling up the San Antonio spots that will be vacated by Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, and possibly Brett Maclean, when they make a run at the Coyotes roster this season.
Nolan Yonkman, Garrett Stafford, Mathieu Beadoin, and Bracken Kearns look to be battling for injury call-up games. Alexandre Picard, who was re-signed after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, doesnít seem like a roster threat with his meager two assists in 67 NHL games, despite being a point per game AHL player since he was acquired.
When it came to re-signing, Adrian Aucoin didnít even wait for free agency to start before he inked his two-year deal at a hometown discount. He understood that any team that had enough insanity/confidence in him place their shootout fate in his Dman hands was the place to be. Derek Morris (4 years) and Sami Lepisto (1 year) followed suit.
Maloney does not sound optimistic at all about Kurt Sauer overcoming the head injury that kept him out all of last season, so letís consider his position open. That leaves six signed defensemen and an open spot that will most likely be taken by Swedish prodigy Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who played for Leksands in the HockeyAllsvenskan league last year. GMDM was extremely high on Ekman-Larsson after prospect camp. Russian import Maxim Goncharov may battle for the spot or Maloney could prowl for a veteran.
With the defense core looking quasi-full, GMDM looked at offense. Thankfully, Scottie Upshall (1 year) and Wojtek Wolski (2 years) decided to sign and bless the Coyotes with at least a faint hope of offense for the upcoming season. Taylor Pyatt (2 years) also re-upped and will need to increase his offensive output to secure playing time because the young forwards coming up will be minute hungry.
What could ultimately be the undoing of the Coyotes likely wonít be a deal that Maloney made this off-season, but a couple that he did not make.
Zbynek Michalek played more games in a Coyotes uniform than anyone on the team, outside of captain Shane Doan. The Coyotes wanted him to stay. They wanted Michalek to stay bad. With a shortage of quality defensemen on the market this summer, Michalek was a high commodity. Maloney made it very well known that Michalek was the teamís No.1 priority and did everything but stalk him on his tropical honeymoon. Michalek ended up a Penguin and the Coyotes lost a huge piece of the teamís heart.
With Matthew Lombardi, it was known pretty early on that he was giving himself Bloomingdaleís pricing and everyone knows that the Coyotes have a JC Penny budget. While Wolski will be moving to first-line center to fill Lombardiís skates, Turris will also attempt to live up to his third-overall pick expectations by playing center this year.
Maloney also freed up some money/cap space by dealing Daniel Winnik (Avs for a 4th rd pick), buying out Petteri Nokelainen, and not signing Robert Lang or Matheiu Schneider. He also did some hoodoo magic to have the Oilers take on Jim Vandermeerís salary, trading him for a player the Oilers waived and the Coyotes bought out, saving significant money. Winnik sealed his fate last summer when he went to arbitration, which seems to be the kiss of death.
Who does that leave? Restricted free agent Martin Hanzal has yet to sign. He has not received any offer sheets and did not file for arbitration, so it would appear to be a matter of working out a livable contract for both sides.
Hanzal is a vital piece and GMDM would be smart to snatch him up for as long as possible. He is a beast on the penalty kill, carries serious powerplay minutes, and consistently shuts down the oppositionís top line.
Unrestricted free agent forward Lee Stempniak had serious offensive mojo as a Coyote last year after being acquired from the witness-relocation program he disappeared into in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.
Maloney wants Stempniak back, but at a reasonable price, as Stempniak has a lot to gain by working for a full year in a system that he has experienced success with, which will give Stempniak a much better bargaining chip next summer if the success continues. If GMDM can barter this deal, the Coyotes offense would have a much shinier look.
How does one critique the inaugural winner of the NHLís GM of the Year award? Easily. You donít.
While many wish he had been able to secure Michalek, one never knows when GMDM will throw his flip-flops on, head down the to store and pluck a gem from the sales rack.