GLENDALE, Ariz. – Matthew Lombardi is getting a second chance in the desert.
The Phoenix Coyotes hope he can regain his form and give them a much-needed scoring boost.
Phoenix re-acquired Lombardi on Wednesday, sending a conditional third-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs to pick up a centre who was a fan favourite during his previous stint with the Coyotes.
“I’m super excited,” Lombardi said. “I never wanted to leave in the first place, so it’s a great opportunity.”
Lombardi was a popular teammate during first stint with the Coyotes after arriving in a trade with Calgary during the 2008-09 season. He had five goals and 11 assists in 19 games that season and followed up with 19 goals and 34 assists in 78 games during the 2009-10 season before signing with Nashville during the off-season.
Lombardi played just two games with the Predators in 2010-11 due to a neck injury and had limited effectiveness with Toronto last season after missing training camp, scoring eight goals with 10 assists in 62 games.
The swap is the first by Dave Nonis, who assumed Toronto’s GM job after Brian Burke was fired last Wednesday.
A defence-first team, Phoenix had been in the market for a top-line centre and general manager Don Maloney had his sights on Lombardi long before the NHL lockout ended. Toronto picked up a portion of Lombardi’s salary, which made the deal even easier to pull off for the financially-conscious Coyotes.
Phoenix hopes to have him in the lineup for Saturday’s season opener against Dallas.
“I just feel better about our team with Matthew here,” Maloney said. “I think it’s another legitimate top three line NHL player where at times he was our best centre man (his previous stint). There’s no learning period. We know what he is. (Coach) Dave Tippett knows who he is and how we can use him. He’s a versatile player, can play in the power play, just fits in our structure. He’s not a big star, but he’s just a good player and a good person.”
When he was healthy, Lombardi was among the fastest centres in the NHL. The Coyotes are hoping at 30, he’s still got wheels and can add to their overall speed up front with players such as Steve Sullivan and holdovers such as Mikkel Boedker, Lauri Korpikoski and Antoine Vermette.
“He gives us depth at centre,” Tippett said. “He was a player when he was here, he fit in with our group real well. He plays with speed, he can play centre or wing. Some players have a knack for fitting in places and when his name came up, we thought it was a guy that we could add to our lineup was a real plus for us.”
Lombardi should have a good feel with most of his teammates.
He knows several of the players from his last go-round in the desert and spent much of the lockout skating with the Coyotes during their informal workouts at the Ice Den in Scottsdale while staying at captain Shane Doan’s ranch.
Lombardi looked good during the workouts and exhibited some of the same speed he had during his previous stint in Arizona.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Doan said. “Lombo is one of those guys we all missed and obviously excited that he’s coming back here. That’s a huge get for us.”
Lombardi has 97 goals and 157 assists in 508 NHL games, including a stint with the Calgary Flames. He’s also played in 40 career playoff games, with three goals and 13 assists.