The Arizona Coyotes were playing for the first time in eight days on Saturday, but the action wasn’t just limited to the ice.
General Manager Bill Armstrong made Arizona’s first move ahead of the March 21 trade deadline, shipping forward Ryan Dzingel and defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft pick.
Per NHL insider Elliotte Friedman, the Coyotes will choose either Toronto’s third-rounder in 2023 or second-rounder in 2025.
The deal is likely the first domino to fall of many for the Coyotes as the March 21 NHL trade deadline approaches, and the team continues its rebuild.
Dzingel & Lyubushkin Have Been Solid This Season
The 29-year-old Dzingel has seven points on four goals and three assists this season, and is a minus-3 in 26 games. Selected 204th overall by the Ottawa Senators in he 2011 NHL entry draft, his best season came in 2018-19, where he recorded 56 points on 26 goals and 30 assists with both the Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Coyotes head coach André Tourigny remarked about Dzingel’s leadership abilities following Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
“Zinger is a great presence in the locker room,” he said. “He has a lot of energy, he brings a lot of enthusiasm, he’s a smiley guy, he was fun to have in the locker room.”
Lyubushkin has nine points, all assists, in 46 games with the Coyotes this season. The 27-year-old Russian is in his fourth NHL season, and all of them have been spent in Arizona. In 180 career games, he has one goal and 18 assists, and has been a very dependable defender despite his minus-6 rating on the year.
“Bush is a heart-and-soul player, who played hard, and laid on the line for us, and doesn’t have a bad day, he showed up every day for work,” Tourigny said. “He’s a great guy, I think Leaf Nation will like his work ethic and his commitment to his team.”
Both players are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.
Ritchie Has Struggled This Season
Ritchie, meanwhile, has struggled in Toronto, posting just two goals and seven assists in 33 games. The 26-year-old has 146 points on 61 goals and 85 assists in 383 career games. A former first-round draft pick, the Canadian winger was selected 10th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2014.
Friedman reported last week that Toronto was actively shopping Ritchie, who cleared waivers back on Jan. 7.
“There’s no official trade request, but I think everybody here understands it might be better to find him somewhere else to play,” Friedman said, “and I think there has been some traction in the last few days around the league.”
Ritchie is signed through the end of the 2022-23 season with an AAV of $2.5 million.
“We got a young forward who’s big, he’s physical, he’s tough, he can fight, he can score,” Tourigny said. “He proved it in the league before, he did it before, so we’re excited to get a guy with that much upside.”
In addition to Ritchie, as mentioned above, the Coyotes can choose either the Maple Leafs’ 2023 third-rounder or 2025 second-rounder. Time will tell how that one plays out, but it doesn’t sound like Armstrong is in too much of a rush, per azcentral.com’s José Romero:
Per Coyotes insider Craig Morgan, it’s still unclear at this time when Ritchie will arrive in Arizona, but Armstrong had been trying to acquire him since this past offseason.
Expect More Deals From the Coyotes As the Deadline Approaches
Armstrong will likely be even busier as the deadline inches closer, with many names on the Coyotes’ roster, including Phil Kessel and Jakob Chychrun, often brought up as potential targets for cup contenders. The team is in the beginning stages of a massive rebuild, and currently holds three first round and five second-round selections in the upcoming NHL entry draft.
The club has 13 players that are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, so additional deals are likely. Whether it continues to be additional assets in future drafts, or young prospects, there’s a lot that Armstrong has to do in order to improve Arizona’s talent pipeline.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.