All things considered, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t the worst team in the NHL right now.
It’s an amazing thing to consider. Three of their forwards are waiver pickups; two more are call-ups from the AHL and yet another two (who both project to be top six players) have been shut down for the season after undergoing major surgery. Their top scorer is a 23-year-old defenseman — and that’s not even getting into the average age of the defensive corps in the first place — and they haven’t had a true backup goaltender since January.
Yet, they’ve managed to ice a rag-tag roster that — aside from a slump in the fall and another leading up to the trade deadline — has developed better on-ice chemistry than a divisional rival icing three separate first overall draft picks. One of their AHL call-ups scored the fastest consecutive short-handed goals by a rookie ever, and their current backup netminder defeated the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in his first NHL start. The Coyotes are nowhere near competitive, but they’re also doing better with what they have than most of the league does.
One of the players making that possible, of course, has been waiver pick-up Mark Arcobello.
He’s a generous five foot eleven and undrafted at every level of competitive hockey. It took a journey from the ice at Yale University through the ECHL and then the AHL to reach the big leagues; even with thirteen goals on the season, there’s a sense of distrust around the league that he’s got any kind of NHL longevity.
It’s a fair concern to have. After all, a twenty-two year old with thirteen goals still has the potential to get better over his next handful of seasons; when a player is just shy of twenty-seven in his first full NHL season, there’s a sense that he’s hit his talent ceiling. While Arcobello could continue to play at a consistent level for the next handful of seasons, he’s likely putting up his best numbers now.
That being said, thirteen goals and twenty-one points in sixty-one games — spanning four teams in a single season, nonetheless — is still a pretty good production level. Add in his strong possession numbers, and he’s got the potential to be a respectable third line center for just about any franchise in the NHL.
One would think, based on that, that the Coyotes would be scrambling to keep him on board. After all, they dealt veteran center Antoine Vermette to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline for a first round pick and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck; their center depth leaves quite a bit to be desired, and he’s got the versatility to help them out. The only problem? That center depth is most lacking on the top six — and as a long-term option on the second line, Arcobello doesn’t exactly look like the best candidate. He could push alternate captain Kyle Chipchura to the fourth line next season, but that leaves Joe Vitale off the depth chart — and Vitale still has a year left on his contract. There’s also waiver pickup Craig Cunningham to consider, who projects to have a similar output and production to Arcobello — and at twenty-four, he could be the better long-term option to sign.
It’s been hinted that the Coyotes could have already considered all this and have no plans to re-sign the undersized workhorse — but if he doesn’t ink a deal in Arizona, where could he go?
The first option that comes to mind would be the Edmonton Oilers, who have horrendous center depth and a lack of good possession players. He’d be a perfect fit, assuming the team can get their act together in net and on the blue line. They’ve the first team that dealt him this season, though, so it’s safe to assume they’re not a real possibility.
The next real possibility would be the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s hard to picture the Leafs being an easy team to transition into, but Arcobello has already proven that he’s able to produce even in an unpleasant situation. He bounced between four teams in under twenty games, but managed to put up points with every one of them — making him the second player in NHL history to record a point with that many franchises in a single season. Toronto lacks any real kind of forward depth, and they have a noticeable lack of two-way offense; adding Arcobello behind Nazem Kadri or Tyler Bozak in the depth chart would give the team some much-needed defensive prowess up the middle.
Canadian franchises can be weird about signing undrafted, undersized American players to ‘prove-it’ contracts, though; as it is, the Oilers only signed Arcobello for a one year, $600,000 contract (despite providing four goals and fourteen assists on forty-one games the season prior).
Should the Great White North be unwilling to take on the center, there are two American franchises that could greatly benefit from taking him on board.
There are always rumors surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes and their reluctance to deal the Staal brothers, but this could be the season they finally do — and they’ve got a pretty weak center depth as it is. Slotting Arcobello in as a third (or even fourth) line center for the Canes could be what it takes to give them some consistency on the ice next year; the biggest criticism for the Metropolitan Division team has been their inability to play at a high level for more than a smattering of games, and he could help with that.
The final team that could use him, though, might be the best fit — and that’s the New Jersey Devils.
They’ve got one of the youngest defensive corps in the league, but their offense has been floundering for years. General Manager Lou Lamoriello’s inclination towards signing veteran players — and by veteran, I mean ‘your favorite player from NHL ’03’ veteran — has created a logjam in their offensive depth chart. Lamoriello isn’t exactly subtle in how he favors already-proven players over younger guys; he’s more likely to forgive a big mistake made by a 37-year-old vet than he is by a highly-touted 21-year-old rookie, which suppresses talent and has resulted in a ferociously stagnant offense. Mark Arcobello, though, provides the best of what the Devils need and what Lou Lamoriello prefers — defensive competency, cheap salary, and older age. If Jordin TooToo can get top line minutes and a spot on the Devils’ first power play unit after a season in the AHL, Arcobello could really flourish in New Jersey.