If you're going to stink, this is a pretty good season in which to foul the air, and it's fair to say the Arizona Coyotes have done just that. As of this writing, the team boasted the third-worst winning percentage in the NHL, and with new majority owner in Andrew Barroway in the fold, the team is in definite sell mode.
The question of just how many assets go out the door and when they exit the desert is what makes the Coyotes so interesting.
Available: The Coyotes already have moved backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild in a move that might save the Wild's season, and given the struggles of starter Mike Smith, it begs the question of whether Arizona moved the wrong goaltender.
Pending free agents Zbynek Michalek and forward Antoine Vermette might be the top straight-up rentals that are available at the trade deadline right now. Vermette is attractive because he is versatile, can play center and wing and up and down the lineup.
Take your pick of teams that would be interested: the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and several others. General manager Don Maloney knows that, and the asking price likely will be a high first-round pick and a prospect or a similarly-attractive collection of picks/prospects.
Michalek will command a similarly high price with so few quality defenders available. Martin Erat, another potential unrestricted free agent, likely will be moved, although the return will be modest.
The other key figure for the Coyotes is defenseman Keith Yandle, whose name has come up in trade talks for the past two or three years. Yandle has one more year left on his deal with a $5.75 million price tag ($5.5 million cap hit). The Coyotes have a franchise puck-mover in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, so they would be interested in swapping Yandle for a top-end forward. If they found one they'd make the move by the deadline, but it's likely Yandle will be more fully in play at the NHL draft in June.
Finances: The issue for Maloney in terms in moving Vermette and Michalek is finding teams that have the cap space to take on the remainder of Vermette's $3.75 million cap hit and Michalek's $4 million salary. Teams like Boston and the New York Rangers are cap-strapped, and while either team would be interested in one or both of Arizona's assets the question is whether they can absorb them financially. Given the Coyotes' financials, it's hard to imagine they will be interested in retaining much, if any, salary in any kind of deal unless the offer is so significant in terms of picks/prospects it's worth the financial pain.
On another front, given the change in ownership structure, would the Coyotes be in the market for a name player with dollar and term moving forward? Is it possible current Toronto Maple Leafs Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf could be attractive as the Coyotes try to quickly reboot? They likely would insist on Toronto taking on some of those big contracts as part of any deal, and the Leafs aren't interested in that, at least publicly. It's something to watch, though, if not at the trade deadline then as the draft approaches.
Rating the GM: The Coyotes are going to get a good shot at one of the top three picks in the draft given their futility this season. Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and even defenseman Noah Hanifin, the expected third pick, all have the potential to exponentially accelerate the Coyotes' return to respectability, given their solid collection of young prospects and players like Ekman-Larsson, Mikkel Boedker and Max Domi.
Still, it is important that Maloney not just offload bodies but get excellent return, given the high demand for his assets. This will be the third playoff miss in a row for the Coyotes after a surprise run to the 2012 Western Conference final, and there is significant pressure to show some real progress next year. How Maloney makes out in the coming weeks will say a lot about that progress.