The Coyotes 2013-14 season has been nothing short of incredible, especially with Head Coach Dave Tippet one win away from tying the franchise record for wins. The goal scoring has been stellar for Phoenix, but their ability to find ways to win games has been astonishing. The Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has faced the second most shots in the NHL so far this season, shortly behind Winnipeg net minder Ondrej Pavelec. Smith has been par this season for the Coyotes, but after facing 373 shots in 12 games (31 shots per game), it is only a matter of time before opponents begin to convert scoring opportunities into goals. The shot tally can solely be attributed to poor defense by the injury-depleted Coyotes backend, with Klesla on the Injured Reserve. It may not even be November yet, but the trade deadline months away may be very active for the Coyotes, who will look to be buyers, instead of sellers in 2014.
The Coyotes defense is having trouble holding on to the puck in their own defensive end of the ice. Despite being 8-3-2 on the season, they only outshoot their opponents in 60% of games. Generally, the team outshot tends to be outscored. So if puck protection and movement in the defensive zone is being exploited by the Coyotes’ opponents, the flaws need to be fixed, and fixed soon. The NHL Trade Deadline tends to be a place for teams in contention to add to their already potent roster, though it is easier said than done, especially in an era with salary caps and waivers. Currently, the Coyotes sit at $1,789,402 under the salary cap, with the space opening to $16,560,833 next season. To be concise: 1.7 million is a minute amount of salary cap space, which seems extremely hard to overcome. Who in the National Hockey League is talented enough to make an immediate impact for Phoenix, but is also worth the asking price because of his promise?
Enter: Boston Bruins’ defenseman, Matt Bartkowski. Boston is in a tough situation at the moment with seven, NHL-ready defensemen on their roster. Their only obstacle is that they must only dress six for each matchup, which makes it difficult to have the same lineup night-in and night-out. The 25 year old has climbed the Bruins’ organization in a timely fashion, playing with the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins in previous years, and the Boston Bruins occasionally. Bartkowski is one of the three young defensemen that the Bruins possess. Ironically, Bartkowski had basically been traded by the Bruins, but was not welcomed to Calgary last year due to Jarome Iginla’s cynical choice of Pittsburgh over Boston. Bartkowski and the Bruins eventually defeated Pittsburgh in the Conference Finals en route to a Game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals. Not only can the experience of playing with the Bruins during a deep playoff run not be underestimated, but the important role that Bartkowski stepped in to play in the Bruins’ domination in the Eastern Conference playoffs shows Bartkowski’s resilience.
In a scouting report by The Hockey News, Bartkowski “Skates very well and is plenty mobile from the back end, and likes to be engaged in the play, and isn’t afraid of physical contact. Is a solid puck-mover.” On the same note, in a quote from Fox Sports Arizona’s Craig Morgan, the Coyotes “Puck management, and defensive-zone coverage have been shoddy.” Essentially, it seems as if Bartkowski would be the perfect fit for Phoenix to acquire. Not only is Bartkowski the type of player that the Coyotes need, his contract also works extremely well for the organization. Bartkowski is currently under a contract paying a mere $650k, which is well under the Coyotes’ salary cap. In addition to his mere price, Bartkowski is also only under contract for the remainder of the season, which means that the Coyotes’ will not be handcuffed to Bartkowski for years down the road, if necessary. But, if the Coyotes were to sign Bartkowski next season, they will have plenty of cap space to do so. Bartkowski is a low risk, low price, and high reward player for them to acquire before the trade deadline. He fits perfectly with the Coyotes’ needs on defense, and has the ability to become an offensive-defenseman if need be. With the Bruins surplus of defense, Bartkowski will almost definitely be on the market come the trade deadline, and if the Coyotes are serious about their playoff hopes, even Stanley Cup aspirations, Bartkowski would give them the help they need to have a solid second half of 2014.
Where else should the Coyotes look to tighten up at the Trade Deadline on March 5th? Comment below with your opinion.
-Tyler Jones, Howlin’ Hockey
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