One week ago, I checked in with Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong to gauge the state of the market before the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline.
“In the middle of the ocean. Sail is up. No wind,” he quipped.
Little has changed in that regard with just two days remaining until the deadline. A flat salary cap created by the global pandemic has left little money for teams to spend. Couple that with teams’ long-term injured reserve puzzles and the continued high asking prices for rentals and it’s easy to see why only a handful of deals have been consummated, notable among those the Colorado Avalanche’s acquisition of defenseman Josh Manson, the Calgary Flames’ acquisitions of Tyler Toffoli and Calle Jarnkrok and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s acquisition of Brandon Hagel.
Will that change in the final weekend before the deadline?
“We’ll see,” Armstrong said Wednesday. “It’s always about pressure and there’s two times that teams feel that: at the deadline and over the summer.”
There is plenty of inventory for Cup-hopeful GMs who want to go shopping for that final piece or two that could push their team over the top. The Eastern Conference playoff race has been settled for more than a month, creating eight sellers in that half of the league, and at least six legitimate Cup contenders in the same conference who may not want to fall behind the competition.
In the West, only four teams (Seattle, Arizona, Chicago, San Jose) are really out of the postseason picture, but the Ducks’ decision to sell suggests that they are not confident that they can overcome the deficit that exists between them and the playoff line.
So where do the Coyotes fall in this mix? There are two things that we have known for a while. The Coyotes are open to taking on big contracts in exchange for assets, whether those be draft assets or prospects. Those trades could take an unusual form if Arizona becomes a facilitator of three-team trades in exchange for assets.
The Coyotes also hoping to move a handful of veterans on expiring contracts who could fetch a decent, if not elite return.
The list of trade chips has dwindled since Armstrong declared surging forward Lawson Crouse a piece of the core, the Coyotes opted to re-sign center Travis Boyd, and talks began on extending goaltenders Karel Vejmelka and Scott Wedgewood.
There have been recent reports that Vejmelka could be traded, but the information I am hearing suggests that this is more about negotiations than the desire to move Vejmelka. I think a deal will get done, and there is definite interest on both sides to bring back Wedgewood as well.
It’s important to note that the Coyotes have already made one move to further stock their draft cupboard. They acquired forward Nick Ritchie and a second-round pick in 2025 (the Coyotes have the option of taking a third-round pick in 2023 instead but they won’t) from Toronto for defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and immediately waived forward Ryan Dzingel.
With the exception of one big name, it could be a quieter deadline day for Armstrong. Here’s a look at the current situations of the players who could be on the move on or before Monday.
Chychrun’s name has been circulating in rumors for three months and it’s easy to see why he would be attractive to other teams. He’s a 23-year-old defenseman with great skating ability, a hard shot, a penchant for scoring goals and three years remaining on a team-friendly deal with an average annual value of $4.6 million.
It’s not an easy situation to play for a team that you know has no chance of winning consistently over a three-season span when you are entering your prime. Chychrun’s role has also been different from the one to which he had been accustomed. He has been off the top power-play unit for large stretches this season and he has started a career-high 54.7 percent of his zone starts in the defensive zone (it was 39 percent last season). All of those ingredients led to a rough start in which he was a minus-29 with just two goals and seven points through the first 25 games.
In recent weeks, however, he looked like his old self with five goals and 10 points in his past seven games before he suffered an ankle injury on a hit from the Bruins’ Derek Forbort in Boston on March 12 that will likely keep him out of the lineup another week.
It’s no secret that GM Bill Armstrong wants a king’s ransom for Chychrun. All it takes is for one team to step up to the plate and offer what the Coyotes want, but there are limited resources and few playoff hopefuls ready to make such a move. Los Angeles and Boston had been the hottest pursuers in recent reports, but the Bruins’ acquisition of Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim on Saturday likely ended their pursuit of Chychrun.
There is no urgency to this deal. Do not be surprised if Armstrong waits to re-open these negotiations at the NHL Draft this summer when he could potentially have 31 teams in pursuit instead of a handful. Things could always change at the last minute when GMs start feeling that pressure that Armstrong mentioned above, but right now, it is looking like Chychrun will at least finish the season with the Coyotes.
Kessel has wanted a trade to a contender since the start of the season. That is understandable. He’s a 34-year-old forward nearing the end of his NHL career. He doesn’t want to finish it on a rebuilding team.
The problem is, the Coyotes have not been able to find adequate value for Kessel in a trade. They were hoping for a second-round pick but that offer has not come so Kessel has spent most of the final season of his contract in Arizona.
Kessel’s $6.8-million cap hit is an issue for teams that might think about acquiring him (his prorated salary of less than $1 million is not). The Coyotes could retain part of his hit, but they already have two retained salaries (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Darcy Kuemper) and the NHL maximum is three. Retaining Kessel’s salary would limit their options elsewhere, if they have any.
Another complication to a Kessel trade is the recent birth of his daughter, Kapri Mary Kessel earlier this month. It would not be easy for Kessel to leave his newborn and his girlfriend Sandra so soon after that life-altering moment, but per sources, Kessel still would like the opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup this spring.
Kessel has a modified no-trade clause and a no-move clause in his contract so he has significant control over his fate.
Larsson has been sidelined since Jan. 25 due to sports hernia surgery, but coach André Tourigny expects him to return to full practice on Monday. It’s hard to know how teams will feel about a player who has missed two months. On the flip side, there is plenty of time for Larsson to work his way back into game shape before the playoffs start, and the postseason is the reason why any team would be acquiring him.
Larsson, 29, will be a UFA after this season. He showed some offensive life with six goals and 10 points in his final 12 games before the surgery. His main value, however, will come as a rugged and defensive-minded center who can sustain a forecheck and provide a lot of value in a depth role. The Coyotes would likely be looking for a mid-round pick (between the third and the fifth rounds) for Larsson.
Beagle is also expected to return to full practice on Monday, 14 weeks after lower-body surgery. The same concerns that exist for Larsson likely exist for Beagle, perhaps to a greater extent. Beagle hasn’t played since Dec. 11 and he is 36 years old.
On the flip side, Beagle has Cup-winning experience (Washington), teams are always looking for depth at center, he brings a responsible defensive game and a lot of leadership qualities to a dressing room. Like Larsson, Beagle will be a UFA at the end of the season. The Coyotes would likely be looking for a mid-round pick (between the third and the fifth rounds) for Beagle.
Fischer could add size, energy and some scoring ability in a depth role. The right offer could sway Armstrong, but my sense is that the Coyotes do not plan to trade him. Arizona needs players under contract next season and coach André Tourigny likes the spirit that Fischer brings to the team, on and off the ice. Fischer’s value is likely as a mid-round pick (between the third and the fifth rounds).