Martin Hanzal (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but GM John Chayka isn’t panicking. Chayka said the Coyotes could take a wait-and-see approach, so Hanzal’s future could depend on the performance of Arizona’s young centers.
Much of the focus for the Arizona Coyotes heading into the season surrounds the fresh faces who will be making their NHL debuts and the sophomore players hoping to improve on stellar rookie campaigns. But it might be one of the veteran players on the roster whose season will be the most interesting to watch.
Martin Hanzal, 31, enters the campaign in the final year of a five-year, $15.5-million deal and at this point there appears to be no contract extension in sight for the pending unrestricted free agent. Hanzal has become an extremely part of the Coyotes both offensively and defensively, but that might not mean he’s long for the desert. In fact, according to GM John Chayka, Arizona looks to be taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to ensuring Hanzal stays put with the Coyotes.
“If there was something that made sense, we would probably take a closer look at that because Marty’s been a good player for us,” Chayka told Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan. “But maybe it’s not a bad thing to get into the season and see how things play out.”
Morgan reported that it hasn’t been completely quiet between Hanzal and the Coyotes — some discussions took place upon Chayka taking over the GM role from Don Maloney — but talks have died down as the season approaches.
There’s still plenty of time for the Coyotes and Hanzal to come to terms on an extension, of course, but that Arizona is set to wade into the season without knowledge Hanzal’s future means Arizona’s center depth is going to be incredibly interesting to watch this coming campaign. With Dylan Strome ready to make the NHL jump and some assumptions that Christian Dvorak may be ready to do so, as well, Arizona may be biding their time to see if either can immediately make the leap to top-six center in their rookie seasons.
The performance of Strome, Dvorak and the rest of the young centers could potentially impact the direction the club takes with Hanzal. If Strome, Dvorak or both appear ready for top-six duty, it could make Hanzal expendable — and for a team that’s always looking to save money, ditching the veteran Hanzal for younger, cheaper alternatives might be intriguing.
It’s not a situation the Coyotes are unfamiliar with, either. Just this past season, a similar situation arose with Mikkel Boedker, who had been one of Arizona’s premier offensive players for the past few seasons. The Coyotes and Boedker couldn’t work out a deal and he was shipped off to the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline. The performance of rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair certainly helped make trading Boedker sting less, too.
And if the Coyotes want to hang on to Hanzal and take their time on a decision, it could be worth it to see what the club could fetch come the trade deadline. Hanzal has good underlying numbers — above 50 percent in both goals for and Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5 — and is useful on the penalty kill and power play.
Boedker may not have netted Arizona much in the way of long-term assets, but Hanzal is exactly the kind of player a team with a need for a second- or third-line center might pay a premium to have.
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