The Arizona Coyotes have re-signed defenseman Connor Murphy to a six-year, $23.1 million extension and defenseman Michael Stone to a one-year, $4 million contract, thus avoiding Stone’s arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4.
Murphy’s six-year deal will carry an annual average value of $3.85 million.
Murphy, 23, set career highs in goals, assists and points last season, scoring six goals and eleven assists in 78 regular-season games. He has 11 goals and 32 points in 181 career regular-season games. Despite being a healthy scratch on several occasions in the middle of last season, Murphy was able to rebound with stronger all-around play at both ends of the ice. Importantly, he has emerged as the best partner for franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Murphy, who was selected by the Coyotes with the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is happy to be staying in Arizona long-term.
“From day one, being drafted by Arizona, it’s been first-class to be a part of it and be brought up into the team,” Murphy said. “It’s a place where I want to play and want to be a part of. I just thought of that as a reason and no need to throw around shorter stuff. I want to be a part of it and it’s easy to have that decision when you have the trust in the organization and in the team that we have going forward. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Locking up Murphy at this point in his young career makes sense for Arizona’s back end given his chemistry with Ekman-Larsson and the fact that he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. It could seem like a vast overpayment for those unfamiliar with Murphy’s play, but Murphy will be able to grow into this deal, and this contract could prove to be a steal down the line.
That’s what Coyotes general manager John Chayka is hoping.
“He’s a guy we think can be part of our leadership group for a long time moving forward,” Chayka said. “He is a good young player that was set back by injuries that have been resolved, no issue with those. As we move forward, we aren’t paying for past performance we’re paying for future performance. We wanted to get ahead of things and be proactive. We hope it’s a deal that’s fair and equitable for Murph but if we can get him to outperform that contract, certainly that’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”
The Coyotes also agreed to terms with right-handed defenseman Michael Stone on a one-year, $4 million deal.
Stone, 26, scored six goals and 36 points in 75 regular-season games last season. He has 23 goals and 87 points in 279 career regular-season games.
While this deal allows both sides to avoid arbitration, it’s not ideal as far as what is best for the Coyotes’ future.
Stone should be an important player for the Coyotes moving forward. Stone had a very strong 2015-2016 season, recording 14 assists on the power-play and finishing second in goals and points among Coyotes defensemen behind only Ekman-Larsson. However, his season was cut short after sustaining a serious knee injury, which is one of the reasons why this deal is only for one year. Stone will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this deal.
The sides discussed long-term options but were unable to find common ground, according to Chayka.
“With Stoney, it was a lot of factors,” Chayka said. “Obviously the fairly serious knee injury he’s coming back from. We discussed some longer-term options and there really wasn’t a lot of symmetry on those discussions, so at this point it made sense to have him come back, fully recovered, have him replicate his performance. We still view Michael Stone as a long-term player for the Coyotes.”
It appears as though both sides are on the same page, as Stone is eager to prove himself this season coming back from the injury.
“I’m happy with the number,” Stone said. “It was a significant increase and it goes to show I had a good season last year. 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 improve myself again and hopefully we can look at something down the road.”
The short term of this deal leaves a little bit of uncertainty surrounding one of Arizona’s important players. Assuming the rehab goes well, Stone should be ready to go for opening night in mid-October. If he plays as well as he did last year, there’s very little doubt Stone will be signed to a long-term contract this time next year.
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