Arizona’s Bottom Six Minded Approach To Free Agency

New general manager Bill Armstrong has entered the 2020 offseason in a rough position, however, since he was hired, has managed to salvage some positivity from the situation. Arizona has lost Taylor Hall, Brad Richardson, Vinnie Hinostroza, and presumably Carl Soderberg due to free agency, while Michael Grabner had his contract bought out. Not only did they lose their most offensively talented player, but their bottom-six has been ripped to shreds.

Armstrong took what was looking to be the Tucson Roadrunners as their bottom six and added key depth that can make Arizona a more consistent and deep team moving forward. Over the first few days of free agency, Arizona signed Johan Larsson, Dryden Hunt, Tyler Pitlick and John Hayden. While it may not seem like much on the surface, each of those players were signed to smart one or two-year contracts with budgeted cap hits.

What this does is bring in quality depth players at reasonable cap hits while allowing Arizona to be more flexible with their salary cap. It also puts them in a better position to acquire talent later, or promote from within. It’s a breath of fresh air after watching the team acquire as much talent as possible with lackluster results. With the change of strategy recognized, let’s have a look at the newest members of the Arizona Coyotes.

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Forward John Hayden was signed to a one-year contract at the age of twenty-five. Hayden has previously played for the Chicago Blackhawks, and most recently, the New Jersey Devils. During the 2019-20 season, Hayden recorded three goals along with one assist in 43 games. Obviously, Hayden wasn’t brought to the Coyotes to be a player who could score 20 goals.

The 6’3 forward is a physical presence that is much needed on the hockey club’s fourth line. He’s a hard working player that throws around the body and adds much needed sandpaper to the roster for Arizona. For context, Hayden registered 118 hits in 2017-18 and 87 or more in each of the last two seasons.

Hayden being signed on the first day of free agency sends a clear message that the Coyotes don’t want to be known as a soft team throughout the league anymore. Hayden does have some things to work on, specifically his face-off percentage. His career high in 2017-18 was 50%, which is pretty good, but that number has gone down each of the last two seasons.

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Going from 50% to 24% finally to 21% last season. It’s a relatively minor issue, as Hayden will likely be lining up as a winger quite a bit, but it’s always good to improve in the face-off circle.

The other player signed on the first day of free agency was American forward Tyler Pitlick. The 28-year-old Pitlick agreed to terms on a two-year contract. Pitlick is a very good two-way centreman that’s recorded 25 or more steals in two of the last three seasons. As well, he’s blocked 27 or more shots in each of the last three seasons (including 57 in 17-18), and played well in the face-off circle.

Throughout his career, Pitlick had posted 33% or better in the face-off circle in four of his six seasons in the NHL. Pitlick also adds quality depth scoring at even strength with 40 of his 41 career goals coming at full strength. He’s also racked up 20 points or more in two of the last three seasons, as well as scored at least eight goals in four consecutive seasons. Pitlick is a hard working, defensively responsible forward that will provide solid checking and depth scoring.

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Day two of NHL free agency saw Bill Armstrong sign Johan Larsson, a 28-year-old forward, to a two-year contract. Larsson is yet another hard working depth forward, but he comes with one major upside. Larsson has maintained a ridiculously consistent face-off percentage throughout his career.

During his seven NHL seasons (excluding the 2012-13 season, which Larsson played in only one game), Larsson has never posted a face-off percentage below 43%. He’s been consistent in his point production as well, scoring six or more goals in five of his last six seasons. He’s also registered 14 or more points in six consecutive seasons. Larsson adds quite a bit of value to the Coyotes fourth line.

Finally, Arizona signed Dryden Hunt, a Canadian left-winger, to a one-year contract. The 24-year-old forward is coming off of a four point season with the Florida Panthers and likely wanted a change of scenery. Ironically, Hunt played for the Panthers last season and signed in Arizona, while former Coyote Vinnie Hinostroza signed with the Panthers. There isn’t much to say about Hunt at this point, except that he’s decent depth on paper, but could end up in Tucson with his two-way contract.

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To recap Bill Armstrong’s free agency thus far, he’s acquired two solid bottom-six centremen, a quality checking forward and a kid that could potentially land a roster spot and add some scoring depth in Dryden Hunt. Armstrong’s approach screams “we have our top-six figured out,” as well as “We’re going to be a difficult team to play against physically.” While early in his tenure and exclusively depth and role players acquired, Armstrong has made the Coyotes better overall with these three signings. On paper at the very least.

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