One year after reaching the Western Conference Finals, the Phoenix Coyotes do not have enough offensive depth to make another deep playoff run.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney recently talked to AZCentral.com's Sarah McLellan about one area of his team that is too weak:
We would like to improve up front. That’s no secret. To win a championship, you have to be strong through the middle of the ice, and if there was something that falls our way, sure.
It's not hard to understand Maloney's comments. This is what the Coyotes' depth chart looks like at center heading into the season:
|1||Martin Hanzal||8 goals, 26 assists|
|2||Antoine Vermette||11 goals, 26 assists|
|3||Boyd Gordon||8 goals, 15 assists|
|4||Kyle Chipchura||3 goals, 13 assists|
There is not much talent in that group. But luckily for the Coyotes, there are a number of playoff contenders that could use an offensive defenseman like Keith Yandle and have some depth at center to spare.
Let's look at five teams that should pursue Yandle before the April 3 trade deadline.
Yandle would be the perfect addition to the Flyers' blue line because of his offensive skills and power-play ability.
Young defenseman Luke Schenn was acquired in June from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for top-six winger James van Riemsdyk, but he won't give Philadelphia the kind of playmaking skill that Yandle could.
Two forwards that the Flyers should consider offering the Coyotes in any possible trade for Yandle are Brayden Schenn and Matt Read.
Read is a 26-year-old two-way forward who would fit in perfectly with the Coyotes' defensive-minded system. He scored 24 goals with 23 assists last season, and he also shined on the penalty-killing unit. Schenn, meanwhile, can score goals and create chances for teammates at center or on the wings. If he went to Phoenix, he could be the team's first-line center in the near future.
Sean Couturier is another young center that the Coyotes could ask for, but the 20-year-old star is the type of player you trade for someone better than Yandle.
Two other players signed long-term who could interest the Coyotes are Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek.
The Flyers are the best trade partner for the Coyotes because of their abundance of quality young forwards. Yandle would also be a cheaper option to improve the Flyers' blue line than someone like superstar defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. A deal for Yandle makes perfect sense for the Flyers.
Yandle was born in Boston and skated with several Bruins players during the lockout. The Bruins have the most center depth of any team in the NHL, with David Krejci and Chris Kelly being two players that would help the Coyotes at both ends of the ice.
Krejci, in particular, is the kind of player that the Coyotes don't have right now. His vision, creativity and passing skills are fantastic, and since his salary-cap hit is identical to Yandle's, Phoenix wouldn't have to take on a lot of salary if it acquired the 26-year-old center.
Krejci also has plenty of experience playing on a team that stresses defense before offense, so he would likely make a smooth transition to the Coyotes if he was ever traded to Phoenix.
Boston ranked second in goals scored last season, so giving up a player like Krejci wouldn't be a huge loss, especially when the player coming back to the Bruins is an offensive star such as Yandle.
Jared Cowen's recent injury and Sergei Gonchar's upcoming free-agent status have created a need for another young defenseman on the Ottawa Senators' roster.
Yandle is signed for four more years (including this season), and his $5.25 million cap hit is a great one for the Senators.
Top prospect Mika Zibanejad, who was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, would be a great addition to the Coyotes' top-six forward group. The Swedish center is a physical player with an impressive ability to score goals and create for teammates.
Ottawa may be hesitant to part with Zibanejad before he plays a full season in the NHL, but he is one player who could help the team trade for a top-tier defenseman.
Last year, the Senators acquired young center Kyle Turris from the Coyotes in exchange for defensive prospect David Rundblad. The two teams would be smart to make another center-for-a-defenseman kind of trade this season.
Making a move for a defenseman of Yandle's caliber could be enough to help the Edmonton Oilers earn a playoff spot in the Western Conference for years to come. Blue-line depth is a major weakness that could prevent the Oilers from contending this season.
Adding a player who is durable and highly skilled offensively like Yandle would be a major upgrade to the Edmonton roster.
The Oilers could use 23-year-old center Sam Gagner in a potential deal for Yandle. Gagner's scoring has improved in each of the last two seasons, and he is capable of scoring 20-plus goals with 40-plus assists in a full 82-game season.
One possible issue with Gagner is that he is signed for just 2012-13 and will be a restricted free agent on July 5 unless he agrees to an extension. However, he is a center that the Coyotes could build around for a number of years.
It would probably take more than Gagner for the Oilers to land Yandle, but Edmonton certainly has the offensive talent to make a deal happen.
The Colorado Avalanche have three talented young centers in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly (currently an RFA) to offer the Coyotes if they were interested in Yandle.
The Avalanche don't have a lot of top-tier talent on their blue line. Erik Johnson led the team in scoring among defensemen last season with just 26 points.
Phoenix would probably be hesitant to trade Yandle to a Western Conference team, but if it wants a top-six center, not many teams have three good ones like the Avalanche.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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