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What can Utah’s NHL team do with $40 million to spend?

General manager Bill Armstrong and the Utah franchise figures to be active this offseason.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah NHL team general manager Bill Armstrong, left, and head coach André Tourigny answer questions during a news conference at the Delta Center on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

It’s been almost six weeks since the Coyotes relocated to Utah.

Well, the player roster and the front office moved, not the name or Coyotes brand.

It’s been a blur for everyone involved, from Utah NHL owner Ryan Smith to new executive boss Chris Armstrong and of course to members of the front office, including the general manager who transferred with the team, Bill Armstrong.

“We were sitting there after dinner — after we had that big (arrival) event where the fans all came in — someone said to us, ‘You know, it hasn’t even been a week since we played,’” Bill Armstrong said Tuesday. “It was just such a whirlwind. You were drinking out of a firehose.

“It’s kind of settled down and we’re getting on the other side of all the big work and everything like that. Now you’re getting to the hockey stuff and you’re getting ready for the draft, getting prepared for free agency and get everybody moved into Utah and get our facilities up and running. We’re kind of over the hump here and now we’re getting to work on hockey, and that’s the fun part.”

The front office is settling into important organizational meetings over the next few weeks in the lead-up to the draft and July 1 free agency. Utah figures to be an active franchise this offseason.

“We’re in here running our (amateur) meetings,” Armstrong told The Athletic from Salt Lake City during a break in said meetings. “We’re getting into it, you know?”

The Utah hockey club has more than $40 million in salary cap space come July 1, easily the most of any NHL club.

“Pretty good, huh?” chuckled Armstrong, who was obviously forced to do things for financial reasons under the previous regime in Arizona.

The cap space comes in large part from dead-money contracts of Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million cap hit) and Bryan Little ($5.3 million) coming off the books.

No more of that. Time to stock the roster with active players. Time to supplement the rebuild that’s now heading into Year 4. Although just because they have all this cap space, that doesn’t mean they’ll spend like drunken sailors.

“Our big theme is to be relentless on improving our team without sacrificing the future,” Armstrong said. “And what that basically means in English is just making decisions that are smart, that are going to help our group grow. When we become good, those contracts can’t be burdens.

“Just because you have all that cap money doesn’t mean you have to make bad decisions and fill up your cap and all of sudden five years from now when you need the space, you don’t have it. So it’s really important, good decisions, healthy decisions, that can help this group grow and improve the team without sacrificing the future.”

Reading between the lines, I think what you’ll see Utah focus on in free agency is trying to sign shorter-term deals with unrestricted free agents to help further stock their roster this summer and overpay in salary a little bit to get that done. So one- to two-year deals. Maybe a two-year offer from Utah is the same overall money that another team would offer over three years, etc.

The idea is to not tie up their payroll three or four years down the road when younger, core players need bigger deals.

It’s about plugging holes while the younger guys keep developing.

“We’re still in the growing mode,” Armstrong said.

Having said that, their entire blue-line group is unsigned. There’s a lot of work ahead.

Still, having a deep-pocketed, stable owner like Smith means Utah can now make decisions that are focused on what’s best for the growth of this roster and not worry about what the cheapest possible solution is.

Imagine that, stability.

Toto, we’re not in Arizona anymore.

“For sure, it gives you the ability to complement your younger players,” Armstrong said. “Where you can put guys beside them on one- or two-year deals who can really, really help them grow and help you be a more competitive team in the marketplace.”

And it’s not just July 1. The Utah club also hopes to utilize its cap space in the trade market this offseason as well. Perhaps teams in cap trouble can be trade partners.

“We can help them and give them a pick in return, much like we’ve done in the past,” Armstrong said, with the Sean Durzi trade with the Los Angeles Kings being a prime example. “There’s going to be a lot of things that come our way because of the simple fact that we can take cap dollars.”

As long as it doesn’t hurt their future, Armstrong reiterated. That doesn’t mean they won’t look at potentially signing a key UFA or two to term deals.

“There could be one or two guys that we feel can help us for long-term, too,” Armstrong said.

The balance for Armstrong is sticking to the long-term plan and not getting carried away with alluring shortcuts just because his organization has financial stability now.

“Sometimes you can try and juice it up and do too much and you get locked into some of these deals and then sure enough, you’re locked into a bad spin,” he said. “We want to make sure that we still are sticking to the vision we had at the draft. Grab one good player, stack him with another good player, and continue that way.”

The idea is to build a team with staying power once it arrives.

“It’s just being realistic with our goals, right?” Armstrong said. “Yes, we’re a good team. We’ve got seven 20-goal scorers for sure. But we still have a lot of youth. If we can chip away at free agency on the defense and pull some trades, we can better our team.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be a Stanley Cup contender next year.”

No, but they were on the playoff bubble for the first half of the 2023-24 season before collapsing in the final months. The distraction of the organization’s uncertain future in Arizona absolutely was part of that. It affected the players in a real way.

“Yup,” Armstrong said.

Everyone’s in a much better mood now.

“I think it’s a real positive light,” Armstrong said. “I think the apprehension is gone. The players are extremely excited about coming in and playing in an NHL rink packed to the rafters with fans.

“There’s a great anticipation and excitement of our players playing here in Utah next year.”

This article originally appeared in The Athletic.