The Phoenix Coyotes franchise has been in limbo for what feels like an eternity. Regardless of their success on the ice the drama surrounding their future in Phoenix continues to be nauseating and overbearing. Throughout this constant turmoil there has been a constant debate as to whether Captain Shane Doan would want a trade out of town and into a more stable franchise. With the spotlight focused directly on Doan and whatever path he might choose, the future of Keith Yandle in Arizona may be just as pressing an issue.
Yandle’s name has quietly sprung up a couple of times when available defenseman have become the topic of conversation. At first glance it would seem ridiculous to assume the Coyotes would be willing to part with a 26 year old point producing defenseman that logs over 20 minutes a night and is very dependable in his own zone. However, when looking closer at Phoenix’s situation, the idea of moving Yandle isn’t that far fetched. Yandle signed a 5 year $26.25 ($5.25 cap hit) contract following his breakout 59 point season in 2010-11. While Doan carries a larger cap hit than Yandle, the way the two contracts are structured it would mean that over the next three years Yandle is due more money than Doan ($16.5 million to $15.1). Being aware as to how dire the financial situation is in Phoenix it definitely makes sense that the Coyotes will be looking to unload their highest paid blueliner who carries an expensive final three seasons on his deal.
Another interesting angle to this issue is the fact that Yandle has been surpassed by teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the top defenseman in Phoenix. OEL is perhaps the most unheralded player in the NHL. Selected one pick before Nazem Kadri in the 2009 entry draft, Ekman-Larsson has become one of the games elite blueliners. People don’t watch a lot of Coyotes games (I don’t for sure), but there is no denying how great Ekman-Larsson has become in the desert. Currently, OEL is playing out the final season of his Entry Level Contract and will most likely be in for a big raise this summer. Will Phoenix continue to pay big money to two defenseman? Can they afford to even if they wanted to?
With the Toronto Maple Leafs running Dion Phaneuf into the ground every night (26:07 average ice time a game), it is painfully obvious that reinforcements are needed on the blue and white back end. Acquiring Yandle would become an immediate upgrade for Randy Carlyle’s Leafs. Whether the Leafs decide to pair Yandle with Phaneuf or have Yandle play alongside Jake Gardiner on the second pairing (allowing Carlyle to reunite Phaneuf with Carl Gunnarsson), the upgrade would be significant. The deep pockets of the Leafs wouldn’t blink twice at the money remaining on Yandle’s deal, so absorbing Yandle’s contract would not be an issue at all. In fact, Yandle’s deal is pretty decent considering his production and value. With John Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek’s removal from the Leafs cap, Toronto will be saving over $8 million dollars on the blueline regardless following the 2013 campaign.
There is no denying that the Leafs need to address the #1 center position as well as adding a top 4 defenseman. Acquiring Yandle would allow them to solve one major issue. With the current financial situation in Phoenix, the time may be right for Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis to flex the Leafs’ financial muscle and poach a young asset from an organization in ruins. The price for Yandle is not one which I feel comfortable speculating on. It would all depend how desperate the Coyotes are to rid themselves of their most expensive contract. If that need is great, Yandle could be had for much cheaper than a player of his worth demands. Support for Phaneuf is an absolute priority, it will be interesting to see how Nonis plans on solving the issue. I can guarantee one thing, bringing in Yandle would go a long way in solidifying the blueline for the Leafs.