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Pacific Peeks: Coyotes are the division’s most improved team

The desert dogs might be...good?

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks were not the only team to say goodbye to its longest-tenured, highest-scoring player ever this offseason. The Arizona Coyotes parted ways with longtime captain Shane Doan, and the only remaining player to move with the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona is no longer a desert dog.

Doan’s desert departure began an offseason of fundamental change. The team traded 34-year-old goaltender Mike Smith, who’d been in Arizona since 2011, to Calgary. Radim Vrbata, Alexander Burmistrov, Josh Jooris, and Peter Holland all walked away in free agency. Oh, and they also parted ways with longtime coach Dave Tippet, replacing him with Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet.

Getting rid of their captain, goaltender, and head coach were enough to make for a crazy offseason, but the Coyotes also swung a pair of blockbuster, draft day trades. Arizona acquired center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago. It was an aggressive pair of moves from General Manager John Chayka, and both will improve Arizona.

Stepan may not be a true number one center, but he’s a substantial upgrade over what the Coyotes had last season, and he will take some of the pressure off of 2015 third overall pick Dylan Strome as he tries to lock down a regular spot in the NHL. Raanta is seven years younger than Smith and will provide, at worst, comparable goaltending at a much cheaper price this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent next July. Hjalmarsson is an elite shutdown defenseman, and will be a nice complement to fellow Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the top of Arizona’s defensive depth chart.

Chayka paid a heavy price acquiring Stepan, Raanta, and Hjalmarsson, trading away the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, top defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo, and young players Laurent Dauphin and Connor Murphy. But the Coyotes have an embarrassment of riches in their prospect pipeline, and seven players 22 or younger are set to start the season with the team this fall. If there was a time to be aggressive, it was during this offseason.

These changes may not be enough for Arizona to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, but they’re far closer than they were entering the offseason. If Strome and winger Clayton Keller emerge as reliable top six options, while the rest of the young core continues to take strides, Arizona may do more than just knock on the door.

Whether or not the playoff drought in the desert ends this season, though, the Coyotes are easily the division’s most improved team ahead of 2017-18.


  • D Niklas Hjalmarsson (trade, Chicago Blackhawks)
  • C Derek Stepan (trade, New York Rangers)
  • G Antti Raanta (trade, New York Rangers)
  • C Nick Cousins (trade, Philadelphia Flyers)
  • G Merrick Madsen (trade, Philadelphia Flyers)
  • D Brandon Hickey (trade, Calgary Flames)
  • D Adam Clendening (one year, $650,000 AAV)
  • C Michael Latta (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • LW Emerson Etem (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • G Hunter Miska (two years, $925,000 AAV)*
  • RW Mike Sislo (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • C Zac Rinaldo (one year, $700,000 AAV)*
  • RW Mario Kempe (one year, $650,000 AAV)*


  • G Mike Smith (trade, Calgary Flames)
  • C Brendan Warren (trade, Philadelphia Flyers)
  • RW Radim Vrbata (Florida Panthers; one year, $2,500,000 AAV)
  • C Alexander Burmistrov (Vancouver Canucks; one year, $900,000 AAV)
  • C Josh Jooris (Carolina Hurricanes; one year, $775,000 AAV)
  • D Jarred Tinordi (Pittsburgh Penguins; one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • D Jamie McBain (Tampa Bay Lightning; one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • C Peter Holland (Montreal Canadiens; two years, $675,000 AAV)*
  • RW Jordan Szwarz (Boston Bruins; one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • C Grayson Downing (Edmonton Oilers; one year, $650,000 AAV)*


  • LW Jordan Martinook (two years, $1,800,000 AAV)
  • C Tyler Gaudet (one year, $650,000 AAV)
  • G Marek Langhamer (one year, $660,000 AAV)*


  • LW Anthony Duclair (RFA)
  • RW Shane Doan (UFA)
  • D Zbynek Michalek (UFA)
  • LW Jeremy Morin (non-tendered UFA)
  • RW Branden Troock (non-tendered UFA)
  • LW Joe Whitney (UFA)
  • LW Mitchell Moroz (non-tendered UFA)
  • LW Garrett Ross (UFA)

*Denotes a two-way contract.

Next up: we look at Vancouver’s offseason on Wednesday.