Nearly two months have passed since the start of NHL free agency, and Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder is one of the few remaining restricted free agents who have yet to sign. With training camp and the World Cup of Hockey less than four weeks away, there is growing concern that Rieder will not be under contract before the preseason begins.
Currently unsigned RFA players on WCOH rosters:
Gaudreau, Monahan, Trouba (NA)
Orlov, Kucherov (RUS)
— Catherine Silverman (@CataCarryOn) August 19, 2016
If Rieder does indeed decide to play elsewhere for the 2016-17 season, the Coyotes will have to find a way to make up for his production — the youngster posted 37 points last season and ate up a significant chunk of power play and penalty kill time as well. It wouldn’t be easy to replace the versatile Rieder, but the Coyotes have no shortage of options who are ready to do so, if necessary.
After two years in Vancouver, Vrbata returned to the desert on a one-year deal earlier this month and could help make up for the loss of Rieder’s offensive production in Arizona’s top six and on the power play. He is just one year removed from a 31-goal, 63-point campaign and is returning to a familiar home where he saw his greatest successes as an NHL player.
Vrbata said he talked to Dave Tippett before signing and Tip indicated hs role would be similar to before, maybe playing with Hanzal.
— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) August 16, 2016
However, unlike Rieder, who has excelled on the penalty kill since breaking into the league in 2014, Vrbata likely won’t be able to help out much when the Coyotes are shorthanded. He hasn’t averaged more than a minute of shorthanded ice time per game since the 2011-12 season and was on the ice for less than 11 minutes total while the Canucks were shorthanded during his two-year stint in Vancouver.
Vrbata will help on offense and with the man advantage, but the Coyotes will have to look elsewhere for help on the penalty kill.
Late last season, head coach Dave Tippett began giving Max Domi some shifts on the penalty kill, and apparently liked what he saw, as Domi played at least one minute on the PK in nine of Arizona’s final eleven games. In addition, Domi picked up an assist on Martin Hanzal’s shorthanded goal against Dallas on March 24 and generated three shorthanded shots on goal in just under 19 minutes of penalty kill time throughout the season.
And Max Domi continues to do yeoman’s work on the penalty kill. Dave Tippett clearly trying to develop both sides of Domi’s game.
— Five For Howling (@Five4Howling) March 27, 2016
If Domi continues to work on his defensive game, his speed and skill should make him a very effective (and dangerous) penalty killer for many years to come.
— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) March 23, 2016
Domi already has asserted himself as one of the best young players in the NHL and could easily step into a role with more responsibilities if Rieder departs Arizona.
If there’s one Coyote who is ready to take on an increased role this season, it’s Jordan Martinook. Martinook put up solid numbers as a rookie last year recording nine goals and 15 assists in 81 games and was second among all forwards in shorthanded time on ice. In addition, Martinook led the team in takeaways with 52 and finished with the second-fewest number of turnovers with just 12. His +40 turnover differential was by far the best on the Coyotes and was one of the better ratios in the entire NHL.
“Anything fan voted is something you take even more pride in.”
Jordan Martinook on winning Hardest Working Player: https://t.co/DagkMjedzg
— Yotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) April 6, 2016
Martinook has already established himself as one of the better defensive forwards on the Coyotes, and he’ll likely have the chance to assert himself as an offensive weapon this season as well. Martinook was a 40-goal scorer during his final year of junior hockey and could get a chance to show some of that skill on the power play should Rieder elect to depart Arizona.
If the Coyotes are looking to turn to a younger player to replace Rieder, Christian Dvorak seems like the prime candidate to do so. Dvorak finished his major junior career last season with 52 goals in 59 regular season games and added seven more goals in the four-game Memorial Cup tournament as he led his London Knights squad to a championship. Dvorak has no shortage of speed or skill and is primed to make the jump straight from major junior to the NHL just as Domi did last season.
— Yotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) June 2, 2016
Working in Dvorak’s favor is the fact that he played in all situations last season in London. He recorded three goals and four assists while the Knights were down a man, and chipped in 22 power play markers along with 33 power play assists as well. With his skillset, it likely wouldn’t take him long to learn the power play and penalty kill at the NHL level.
Someone From Outside the Organization
If Arizona elects to look outside the organization for a player to replace Rieder should he depart, general manager John Chayka will have plenty of options to choose from in free agency. It’s likely that the easiest option would be to bring back Alex Tanguay on a one-year deal. Tanguay excelled during his short time in the desert last season as he racked up 13 points in just 18 games and displayed outstanding chemistry with Anthony Duclair as well. Other veterans such as Tomas Fleischmann and Dominic Moore are also still available, and could help bridge the gap until Arizona’s younger players are ready to make an impact in the NHL.
A couple of veteran free agent forwards available that are faceoff wizards are Dominic Moore and Paul Gaustad. Both over 55% last year.
— NHL Rosters (@NHLRosters) August 15, 2016
Ideally, the Coyotes would like to retain Rieder. He’s one of the better young two-way forwards in the NHL and has a very bright future in the league. However, the Coyotes must also be smart with their money. They can’t overpay for a player with just two seasons of NHL experience, and can afford to wait, as they own Rieder’s NHL rights. Losing the young German would hurt, but it wouldn’t be a significant blow to the team thanks to their outstanding depth at the forward position.
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.