Coyotes hitting reset at trade deadline

TORONTO -- Don Maloney calls it a "reset."

Yes, it's time for the Arizona Coyotes to get younger and refresh themselves as a franchise.

And it's going to begin with the selling off a few assets ahead of the March 2 trade deadline.

Maloney, the Coyotes' general manager, has been thinking this for a while but wanted to make sure in his conversations with new majority owner Andrew Barroway that they share the same vision. They spent All-Star weekend together in Columbus, Ohio, and it's clear now that Maloney has a distinct plan of action. He's talked with Barroway and the rest of ownership before, but the weekend was helpful in making sure, once and for all, where they all stood moving forward.

"It's very clear, his thoughts on the team, where [Barroway] wants to take this team, how we grow this team, the timeline it's going to take, the patience that's going to be necessary to do things right," Maloney said after his team's practice in suburban Toronto on Wednesday.

For the past four or five years -- especially when the team was still owned by the NHL -- life in the desert was about survival, the here and now.

"It was like, 'Don't worry about tomorrow. Just try and eke out whatever we can eke out and try to get to the playoffs,'" Maloney said. "Now what's happened with Andy and the [ownership] group is, 'Let's take a step back. Let's take the long-term view. How do we get to the place where the L.A. Kings are, or the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks?' A lot of that is being a little more patient; we're going to have to work some younger people into our system."

The Coyotes sit 28th overall in the standings at 16-25-6. They're 27th in goals for and 29th in goals against.

"Our goaltending has been not as good as we needed. That's well documented. Our blue-line mix has been a little off -- we've given up too many goals -- and up front we've got great chemistry, but the whole team speed and quickness and creativity and skill, you need a little bit of that, too," Maloney said. "Long story short, we're here today, we can't hide from our record, our record says we're a lot closer to the top pick in the draft than we are to a playoff spot. I'm excited about where we're going to take this team, in the sense of doing it right. There may be some long nights and some suffering involved with it, but that's where we're going. We have to [be] patient and take our lumps."

Having said that, Maloney doesn't foresee a long rebuild. He wants to turn this around quickly. While the organization will get younger, it can also get more talented in the offseason as the team scours the league looking for help.

"I don't see this as being a 10-year rebuild," Maloney said. "I think we're well positioned contractually in that we can help ourselves in the offseason. We're hoping the Canadian dollar stays [lower] -- I don't wish that on Canada -- but I hope it doesn't go anywhere because the lower the [salary] cap is, the more it creates opportunities for us. Because right now, I know there's a number of teams that are watching and saying, 'Please go up, the cap,' because they're going to be in trouble."

No question, the Coyotes will be in good position to jump on cap-challenged clubs even with the projected $72 million salary cap that commissioner Gary Bettman talked about last weekend in Columbus. That's too low for some teams already, and it could still be lower if the Canadian dollar keeps plummeting.

In the very short term, the trade deadline is a month away and Maloney has pieces to sell.

"Now through to the deadline, we do have players that are proven playoff players," Maloney said. "Everybody looks for who can play defense, who can help you win, who can touch the little areas of the game -- we have players like that. We like them all -- we'd like to keep them all -- but our mandate now is to acquire as many young assets as we can and grow this thing from the ground up."

First things first: Who's available?

There are pending free agents such as Antoine Vermette, Martin Erat, Zbynek Michalek and David Moss.

Vermette has already garnered lots of traction over the past month. He's a versatile, two-way center who will beef up a contender.

Asked whether there is any chance the Coyotes could re-sign Vermette instead of trading him, Maloney left little doubt where things were headed.

"Our agenda right now is to acquire young assets," Maloney said. "The offseason is a whole different animal. We'll have slots to fill and financial flexibility to fill them, but right now, we need the assets."

Vermette tries not to spend too much time thinking about it, but he also isn't naïve about his situation.

"Obviously, they won't lose me for nothing July 1," he said Wednesday.

"I don't really know what's going on. I see what guys like you write or say. Obviously, it's something that may happen."

For Erat, 33, this is old hat. He asked for a trade two years ago and got it on deadline day, going from the Nashville Predators to the Washington Capitals. Then, a year ago at the deadline, he was dealt again from Washington to Arizona.

"Last two years I've been dealt at the deadline, and we'll see what's going to happen this year," Erat said Wednesday.

What about defenseman Keith Yandle? He still has another season left on his deal next season and, at 28, could still be part of the reshaping of this roster.

But then again, there are contenders who view him as a great pickup, especially if they can get him for two playoffs, not just one.

"He's always a name that comes up," Maloney said. "Keith Yandle is a very important part on our team, and he's a good player. He's been a top offensive defenseman for the last five years in the league. I'm not actually out there shopping his name around at all, but people have talked to me about it. I'd like to build that base, not subtract from it. We don't have enough Keith Yandles. That's not to say if a deal comes along in the next week or the next month or at the draft ... but he's still a relatively young player that does something better than most players in the league."

Yandle just shrugged his shoulders Wednesday. He's been down this path before.

"It's one of those things where it seems like every year I hear my name," he said. "I'm immune to it now. I don't take any of it personally. I tell myself that it's a good thing other teams want you. It's been talked about for the last six years, and you just have to play it by year."

The Mike Smith questions

In the meantime, regardless of what transpires with this roster, the Coyotes need veteran netminder Mike Smith to find his A-game next season. It's been a tough season, and he's got four seasons left on his deal after this season, carrying a $5.67 million cap hit.

"He's so off his historical numbers," Maloney said. "The hope is do we get him back."

Smith's .889 save percentage and 3.49 goals-against average are both career lows on his 10-season NHL résumé.

"You just look at his numbers for the first half of the year and compare him to where he is around the league. ... If you would have told me at the start of the year that this is how it would be, I would have laughed at you," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of his goalie on Wednesday. "I think he's a way better player than he's shown. He's had dips in his career before but not for this length of time. Hopefully now, we keep playing him. He played all right last night, and he works his way out of it."

Smith stopped 39 of 42 shots in Philadelphia on Tuesday night and was terrific. Overall, his best stretch of this season has been over the past few weeks.

"I think so," Smith said Wednesday. "Enough was enough. I felt like I hadn't played that bad but the results weren't there. The team was struggling. When you're not winning, someone's got to take the heat for it. When you're not playing your best and you're losing, it's going to come back on you a lot of the time. The last few weeks I've been playing a lot better, feeling better about my game and not worrying about stuff I can't control. Just try not to dwell on what's happened already and push forward."

To be fair to Smith, this isn't all on him. The team is bottom third in the league in shots against, so they are not defending well in front of their goalie, either. And they struggle big time to score goals.

It's far from the identity that Tippett created in Arizona over many seasons, a blue-collar outfit that outworked teams and always defied expectations.

That seems like eons ago.

"It's been a struggle ... it's been a struggle," Tippett said, sighing.

But he's not feeling sorry for himself. The rest of the season is about finding out what they've got with their younger players, teaching those players and giving those youngsters bigger roles in order to aid their development.

It looks grim now, but Maloney has painted a picture that shows a light at the end of the tunnel.

Get one of those two generational talents in the June draft, and it'll be that much brighter.