Arizona Coyotes: Grading free agency

With a free agent pool whose biggest names were Ryan Miller and Paul Stastny, 2014 was already destined to be a slow offseason. Take all that indifference and combine it with a shoestring budget and you get the Arizona Coyotes offseason. Or at least, that’s what the moves suggest.

When your biggest signings are a backup goaltender and a fourth-line center, there is very little to get excited about. In addition to some two-way AHL pieces, the Coyotes free agent class is as follows: fourth line center Joe Vitale, backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk and third line journeyman Dave Moss.

I know, exciting, right?

To be fair to general manager Don Maloney and crew, the deal for Sam Gagner makes this class a lot better, and Vitale and Dubnyk fill what were gaping holes in the lineup. Even if the Yotes were a no-movement clause away from a Radim Vrbata signing (rumored), the Coyotes brass accomplished what it set out to do. I’m a little at odds with the Moss signing, but we’ll get to that later.

For starters, let’s talk about the positive. Joe Vitale is hard-nosed, penalty-killing, face off-winning fourth line machine. For a team that lost its heart (and penalty killing unit ), what you see is what you get with Vitale. Arguably underused in Pittsburgh, the 28-year old is the rare kind of fourth line talent that is actually an asset in more ways than one. A  62.5% face off percentage, an excellent penalty killer and above average skating speed — the more I look up about this signing, the more I think this signing is a steal for Arizona at 3 years, $1.17 million, even if it’s a little above the common asking price for fourth liners. I give this signing an A.

Second, Devan Dubnyk comes to the desert on a one-year, $800k deal to be the man behind Mike Smith. Entering the 2013-14 season, Dubnyk was the Oilers starting goaltender after a splendid year in the lockout-shortened season. Shortly into the season, though, Edmonton fell apart and so too did Dubnyk. That lead to a demotion, then a trade to the Predators, then a trade to the Canadiens after being demoted to he minors. Needless to say, it was a season to forget for the 28-year old. But Dubnyk will be in a good situation in Glendale. He’ll be backing up a workhorse in Smith, be in a friendly defensive system and be coached by one of the NHL’s best in goalie coach Sean Burke, whose work with big-bodied goaltenders has generally worked pretty well. Before Smith, Burke coached up Ilya Bryzgalov, who was a top-five goaltender in his time in Glendale. The only was the backup goalie could’ve been an A+ is if it was Thomas Greiss. Dubnyk feels like the next best thing, so I feel comfortable giving it an A.

Finally, bringing in forward Dave Moss on a one year, $800k contract is the presumably the last of Arizona’s key free agent signings. A big-bodied veteran presence, Moss offers little to no value to a team that felt set on the third and fourth lines. (Korpikoski-Vermette-Chipchura and Crombeen-Vitale-Szwarz with Klinkhammer on the bench). As much as I want to view the cup half full, it was apparent at times last season that Arizona needed to get younger and faster and “get the fire back.” At the very least, some new faces had to be brought in – last year’s roster simply wasn’t the same competitive bunch Coyote fans had come to expect. This signing doesn’t accomplish either of those things, and may threaten to set the Coyotes’ grander goals back a year if Moss keeps a prospect like Max Domi or Lucas Lessio from making the team. For those reasons, I give it a D+, if only because it’s a low salary commitment.

So in summary, Vitale is a home run signing, even if it’s just a hair overpaid (by $100,00 at most). Dubnyk has starter experience, an asset very few backup goaltenders can boast. Moss is a head scratcher, but has very little vested in him. If we throw in the Gagner signing, the offseason as a whole looks pretty good. All in all, I think the Coyotes free agency period deserves a grade of B-.

  • william g.

    Seth…Comeon Dude! We lost 47 pts. from Riebero, 20 plus goals from Vrbata, ( and a great shootout marksman), and replaced it with above average players who have no.offensive numbers. Who’s going to score for us?
    Our new illustrious owners bragged about going into their pockets to bring us a playoff team, and then got cheap! Of course, I disagree with paying Smith a fortune, when he had ONE good year…he was anything but stellar last season. What I would do is move Yandle to the forward lines, since we are so deep on defense. He was our leading scorer fir the last two years, and could transition easily to the forward line. If we aren’t spending any more money on free agents ( who’s left anyway..) then give. Domi, Samuelson, Gaudet a chance to ignite some offense into this team. Another option would be to trade Hanzal. He will be lost without his linemate Vrbata, and gets hurt way too much. Stepniack, Winnick are still out there and know our system.
    I give them an overall -C.. and that’s being generous. With the team that have now, they fail to make the playoffs again, especially in the tough Western conference.
    There…I’m Done!
    Love your article,


    • Juneac


      Thanks for commenting.

      First off, Gagner is an upgrade over Ribeiro, at least in my eyes. The loss of Vrby hurts, but his asking price was much more than the Coyotes were willing to give up. His departure was planned.

      As far as how his scoring will be replaced, I like Boedker to take a step up this year, prove he is worth 4mill a year. And Erat, in his career has demonstrated he will score more than the two he scored last year. And as you mentioned, the Domi call up is a move to get excited about. He will be better than Vrbata ever was, at least in a couple years.

      As far as Hanzal is concerned, he along with Boedker and OEL are unmoveable. Hanzal is 6’4″, 220 pounds, plays center, has a positive face off percentage and does things defensively no one else in the league can do. If he can reach the 50 point plateau, we’re talking a top-30 player in the league. Injury history is concerning, but Hanzal isn’t going anywhere.

      I give them a B- because of the circumstances. Vitale and Dubnyk are great signings, and taking them at face value is important. If the Bruins signed them, they would be bally-hoo’d as great signings. Don’t point the finger at management because they didn’t fall for the same trap other teams did: not paying $8 mill a year for Paul Stastny is a good thing, even with a bigger budget.

      This team already lacked talent – that’s not news. But the strength of this team is still defense and coaching. If Mike Smith plays like he did in 11-12 and parts of last year before the injury, this is a playoff team.

      Sorry for the late response, but I’m glad you read and liked the article.