Coyotes targeting defensemen in free agency - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Coyotes targeting defensemen in free agency

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Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 4:52 pm | Updated: 9:05 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Needed: Defenseman. One, maybe two. Mid- to late 20s. Strong in own end. Plays physical. Can be offensive. Still possesses upside.

That's the description on the help-wanted sign the Coyotes will be hanging in their window at 9 a.m. today when the free-agency period begins in the NHL.

The position of greatest depth the past two seasons quickly became the position of greatest need last month, when Phoenix traded away blue-line mainstays Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton in the Olli Jokinen deal.

"It's the main focus for sure," general manager Don Maloney said.

And in dealing with players outside the organization, it's the only focus, since Phoenix is set in goal for years to come and the holes it has up front will be filled by players already in the system.

So who will be the target of the Coyotes' checkbook?

There are a few high-end defensemen on the market such as Brian Campbell and Wade Redden, but Phoenix's salary structure dictates signing mid-level guys such as Ron Hainsey or Andrej Meszaros. Both made under $1 million last season. They figure to receive substantial raises, but could still work for Phoenix even if their salaries tripled.

If the Coyotes want to spend a little more, physical, stay-at-home defenseman Brooks Orpik would seem to be a good fit.

Maloney has said Phoenix's payroll will once again be near the league minimum, which this season will be $40.7 million - the cap is $56.7 million - so that gives him at least $6 million to work with, since the team's payroll is currently around $34 million.

However, that figure doesn't include the salaries of the three to four rookies who figure to make the team, or those of restricted free-agent forwards Daniel Carcillo, Brian McGrattan and Joel Perrault and defenseman Matt Jones, who still have to be re-signed. The latter three will likely get two-way deals.

Phoenix has three spots open on its blue line, but one or two could be filled full-time by Jones and/or Keith Yandle, who have bounced back and forth between the Coyotes and the AHL the past few seasons.

Another unrestricted free-agent forward who the Coyotes have a good deal of interest in is Radim Vrbata, who was second on the team last year in goals and points. The sides have had ongoing discussions since the season ended, and Vrbata has told the Coyotes he'd like to come back. However, his return seems less likely every day. Maloney recently classified it as a "maybe."

"I've had some good conversations with his agent, but right now our focus has to be on the blue line, fixing that before we can go back and address other issues," he said.

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