One of the top free agent defensemen is apparently no longer an option. Alex Goligoski has signed a five-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired his exclusive negotiating rights from the Dallas Stars earlier in the week, per Craig Custance of ESPN.com. Goligoski's contract comes with a cap hit in the neighborhood of $5.5 million, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
This is a big splash for rookie GM John Chayka, who took a calculated risk by trading away a fifth-round draft choice to get first crack at signing the defenseman. Goligoski flew out to visit with the team and apparently liked what he saw. He also surely liked what the Coyotes had to offer from a monetary standpoint.
Goligoski is getting a raise when it comes to his annual average salary, but the key for him had to be the term. At 30 years old, this was probably his last chance at a deal of this magnitude. The weak defenseman market in free agency certainly benefited him as there's a good chance Goligoski's best hockey is already behind him.
That said, the Coyotes address an area of extreme need by landing a top-four blueliner. Goligoski had 37 points in 82 games for the Stars last season. He also averaged nearly 24 minutes a game and should see substantial ice time with Arizona. Over his career, he has 277 points in 562 games as a strong puck-mover.
Additionally, the Coyotes have the cap space to get more involved in free agency without over-extending themselves. In fact, they still have to get above the cap floor, which was set at $54 million Tuesday by the NHL and NHLPA. According to generalfanager.com, Arizona is currently a shade under $40 million against the cap with 14 NHL-level players signed for next season. They still have a number of deals to work out with restricted free agents, but they had room to get aggressive when it came to making additions.
With Goligoski having that free agency carrot dangling in front of him, the team had to present a competitive offer. The last few years of the deal could make things interesting, but in the short term, it's hard to see this as anything other than a win for Arizona, especially after spending a draft pick just to talk to him.
Arizona will still be a pretty young hockey team next year, but this deal would appear to signify that they're preparing for the upswing portion of their rebuild. Adding a veteran defenseman that plays a style that will help support the young forward corps offensively is pretty important at this stage. Additionally, Goligoski can help lighten the load some for Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has had to carry the team at various points and is often among its top scorers.
Away from the Coyotes, Goligoski's signing should be good news for Keith Yandle, who just saw a shallow defensive free agent market shrink by one bigger name. The former Coyotes and, most recently, New York Rangers rearguard had his exclusive negotiating rights acquired by the Florida Panthers, but free agency should be tempting. Yandle, who is a year younger than Goligoski, should command a hefty salary as the best UFA defenseman remaining.