Connor Murphy and Michael Stone entered Thursday as restricted free agents awaiting new deals with the Coyotes, but before the day was through, both blueliners had agreed to contracts that will keep them in Arizona. And while the salaries are similar, the contract structures and reasoning behind the pacts couldn’t be more different.
On one end of the spectrum is Murphy, 23, who comes out of his entry-level deal to sign a six-year, $23.1-million contract. The deal is one that Coyotes GM John Chayka called a “projection deal,” meaning there’s still work to be done to develop Murphy’s game, but Arizona sees enough in the young rearguard to believe he can be a major part of the team’s successes as he progresses.
Murphy is coming off of a season in which he set career-highs with six goals and 17 points, and he jumped into the Coyotes top-four, becoming a fixture of their blueline. Murphy saw a roughly four-minute increase in his average ice time and Chayka told ArizonaCoyotes.com’s Dave Vest that the team envisions Murphy as a player who can be a leader in Arizona going forward.
"We’ve got a young group of players here and Shane Doan is not going to play forever," Chayka told Vest. "At some point there’s going to be some leadership core to step up and take on some of that, and Connor Murphy is a guy we feel has that ability.”
But as Murphy gets the long-term deal he was after, Michael Stone settled for a one-year deal after a breakout season, and it may have been a late-season injury that ruined his shot at getting a big payday.
This past season, Stone, 26, doubled his point total from the 2014-15 campaign, scoring six goals and 36 points in 75 games. He saw top-pairing minutes for the Coyotes, excelled playing alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Nicklas Grossmann and was an all-around impressive player for Arizona. He filed for arbitration with the Coyotes, but the two sides avoided arbitration with Stone and Arizona agreeing to a one-year, $4-million deal.
It’s not that longer-term options weren’t discussed between Stone and the Coyotes, but rather that his injury put a damper on those talks.
Against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 26, Stone suffered an injury to his ACL and MCL that came along with a six-month recovery time. Earlier this week, Chayka told AZSports’ Craig Morgan there was no clear timetable on when Stone would return to action, but Stone told Vest he’s not yet skating. It’s clear that the injury brought some uncertainty to contract talks, too. Chayka said Arizona wants to see Stone return “fully recovered and…kind of replicate his performance,” and Stone said the one-year deal was something both he and the Coyotes were comfortable with given he’s coming back from a significant injury.
"Things are a little uncertain with my injury and how things are going to go in the future, so the one-year deal gives me an opportunity to prove myself again and hopefully we can look at something (longer) down the road," Stone told Vest.
Having to prove yourself again after putting up a career-best point total is a tough pill to swallow, no doubt, but there is a silver lining for Stone.
If he’s able to come back and replicate his scoring pace in 2015-16, he might be in for an even bigger contract than the one he would have landed this off-season. Come the end of his current one-year deal, Stone will be eligible to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Even if he misses some time this coming season, if Stone manages to match the nearly half-point per game pace he scored at this past season, he’ll be an intriguing free agent option.
So the one-year contract might be disappointing now, especially given the injury’s role in the deal, but Stone’s chance to prove himself could turn into him earning the payday he may have received were it not for the injury.
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