The Salt Lake City Coyote’s could be Really Good

With today’s rumours that the Arizona Coyotes may soon be on the the move to Utah, the most interesting thing to me is how quickly they could become a contending team.

The Coyotes have added a lot of good young talent over the past several drafts however they have been unable to spend on good veteran players to help their young players grow. This is not how you build a winning franchise, or at least not how to do so quickly. Few teams just do not build solely through the draft and become contenders. You need to build with free agents and trades too.

The Coyotes are in a great position though. Presumably the new owner will want to contend and will be willing to spend closer or up to the cap. According to CapFriendly.com, the Coyotes have upwards of $40 million in salary cap space for next season. Here are what I see as their biggest needs.

A Match-up Center

By a match-up center I mean one that you can match up against the opposing teams top players. Right now the Coyotes are using Alexander Kerfoot and rookie Logan Cooley as their top two centers. I don’t want either of them matching up against McDavid or Eichel or MacKinnon. Cooley is a rookie and is a skilled center not a matchup guy, especially at this point in his career and Kerfoot is a middle six winger or possibly a 3rd line center. The guy I would be targeting here is Elias Lindholm. Lindholm is not an elite offensive player but has a good shot, is a good puck possession player and solid defensively. Put him between some skilled wingers like Keller or Schmaltz and you could have a really nice line. That would leave a second line of Crouse, Cooley and Guenther while dropping Kerfoot to the 3rd line where he is better suited and could play with Conor Geekie who may make the jump next season. This is a playoff-calibre forward group that I can begin to get excited about.

Veteran Forwards for 3rd and 4th line

For the most part the Coyotes have just filled their 3rd and 4th line with depth players or rookies with very little NHL experience. They need to bring in some guys to play roles and be leaders on the bottom two lines. Some potentially interesting UFA’s (depending on salary demands) might be Alex Wennberg, Adam Henrique, Teddy Blueger, Jordan Martinook, Ryan Lomberg, Sam Lafferty. There are others but these guys are all experienced and can play important roles on and off the ice. The key here is to build depth to take some pressure off of younger players like Cooley and Guenther and Geekie when he makes the jump to the NHL.

A top 4 Defenseman (or two, or maybe three)

In my mind, defense is the biggest problem for the Coyotes. The only defenseman they have signed for next season with NHL experience is Shea Weber, who isn’t going to help them at all. Additionally they really only have one top four defenseman, Sean Durzi. They are no top prospects ready to make the jump either (though I do really like Simashev, but he’s probably a couple years from a top 4 role in the NHL). So they need a lot of help on defense.

On the the plus side, there are some very good UFA defensemen this season. Noah Hanifin is probably heading to the eastern conference but he’d be near the top of my list. Brady Skjei would play a very similar role as Hanifin would is a nice option. Brett Pesce would be a really nice fit for his defensive ability as would Dylan DeMelo or even Chris Tanev (though Tanev to Toronto makes too much sense). They need a defenseman or two that can play big minutes and ideally provide some defensive ability their current group of players can’t or aren’t experienced enough to do.

Filling out the defense is going to be the biggest challenge. To have a playoff worthy defense they ideally add two of the guys listed above (or someone of similar ability) and maybe a bottom pairing guy as well. It might not be something they can do in a single off season or through free agency alone but the defense group is what is holding them back most.

If the rumours do come to fruition Salt Lake City is going to get a really good base to work with in terms of young NHLers, prospects, draft picks and salary cap space. With the right moves they could be come really good really quickly. I feel for the Coyote’s fans who haven’t and won’t be able to see this rebuild happen first hand but Salt Lake City hockey fans could be in for something really good.

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