Hickey: Will Carey Price join Shea Weber in Arizona, at least on paper?

Coyotes, who routinely acquire injured players in order to reach the NHL’s salary-cap floor, could use the Habs netminder’s $10.5M cap hit.

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It’s time for Carey Price to be reunited with his good friend Shea Weber — on the Arizona Coyotes’ long-term injured reserve list.

The Coyotes have made a policy of acquiring players whose playing careers have been ended by injury but who still have contracts. They use the player’s cap hit to reach the NHL’s salary-cap floor.

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The Coyotes currently have 22 active players with a total cap hit of $55,555,833, which is considerably below the floor of $61.4 million. Arizona made up the difference by acquiring
the contracts of Weber, Jakub Voracek and Brian Little.

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Weber is the prize in this group. He has a cap hit of $7.85 million, but because the 14-year contract he originally signed with Nashville was front-loaded, the Coyotes have to pay him a mere $1 million.

Voracek, whose career ended with a concussion last season in Columbus, has a cap hit of $8.25 million, but collected $7.5 million this season. Little, who last played with the Winnipeg Jets in 2020, collects $3.25 million, but has a cap hit of $5.29 million.

The Coyotes could use Price’s contract next season because Voracek and Little are both coming off the books and the cap floor will climb to $64.4 million. Price has a $10.5-million cap hit but his salary is $7.5 million. What isn’t known is whether any of the contracts are insured, which would ease the Coyotes’ burden.

The Coyotes resort to this financial legerdemain because they are ill-equipped financially to compete in the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman’s hubris is the principal reason they are allowed to wilt in the desert. Bettman has championed this market through numerous ownership changes, a bankruptcy, and a continued lack of support.

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The commish has repeatedly pointed to the growth in an area that featured oven-like temperatures last summer and is a large TV market. But it doesn’t pay to have millions of eyes if they’re not watching. When Bally Sports, the regional TV provider that telecasted Coyotes games, went under last year, the team was unable to find a cable carrier and is currently offering games via a streaming service.

The Coyotes have consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of attendance since they relocated from Winnipeg in 1996. They are currently guaranteed the bottom spot because they are playing in Mullett Arena, which is named after Arizona State University benefactors Donald and Barbara Mullett and not the hairstyle. The arena seats 5,000, which is even small by college standards, and for some reason, the NHL capacity is capped at 4,600.

It’s embarrassing for the league to ask professional athletes to work in such a second-rate setting. It’s not surprising that Marty Walsh, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, took the Arizona management to task during the all-star break. The NHL and the players share hockey-related revenue and there is going to be a shortfall playing in an arena that has more than 10,000 fewer seats than the NHL’s next-smallest arena in Winnipeg.

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The team landed on the ASU campus after being evicted from Gila River Arena by the city of Glendale over non-payment of taxes and other fees.

It’s interesting to note that the Glendale arena, which has been rebranded as the Desert Diamond Arena, has enjoyed its two most successful years since the Coyotes were sent packing.

Mullett Arena is supposed to be a temporary home with an option through the 2025-26 season, but there is no concrete plan to move forward. A proposal for a $2-billion arena and mixed-use development on a landfill site in Tempe was shot down by voters last year. Team president Xavier Guttierez said last week the team has put deposits down on two possible sites and is bidding on state-owned land in North Phoenix, but the team hasn’t moved forward on any of those sites.

Each day that passes without a decision on a site means a delay in construction and most knowledgeable folks believe the earliest possible occupancy date for a new arena is the 2027-28 season.

If the NHL were being run as a hard-nosed business, the team would be moved to Salt Lake City or Houston before then.

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