PHOENIX – The Phoenix Coyotes are always looking for bargains, and general manager Don Maloney believes he found one in Ray Whitney.
The Coyotes, under budget restrictions because they still are owned by the NHL, signed the 38-year-old left wing to a US$6-million, two-year contract on Thursday, long after it became apparent there was no way they could re-sign centre Matthew Lombardi.
Phoenix also lost standout defenceman Zbynek Michalek to a $20-million, five-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Michalek made $1.5 million with Phoenix last season.
Phoenix re-signed defenceman Derek Morris to a four-year, $11-million deal and Maloney still hopes that winger Lee Stempniak will accept the “low offer” the Coyotes made.
“That’s how we have to operate,” Maloney said.
Whitney was brought in on “a good deal that was the right price for us,” Maloney said.
“It was the timing, I guess,” Whitney said in a conference call. “They were one of the first teams to call and they were one of the teams to give me a two-year contract. … They were eager for me to sign there and that right there says a lot to an athlete.”
He had 21 goals and 37 assists with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. Whitney is an 18-year NHL veteran who had nine goals and six assists in Carolina’s post-season run to the Stanley Cup championship in 2005-06.
“He is clever,” Maloney said. “The biggest lacking we had last season was our power play, our power play production, and I think Ray is one of the best in the league in his creativity with the puck.”
Over his career, Whitney has 324 goals and 545 assists in 1,072 games with San Jose, Edmonton, Florida, Columbus, Detroit and Carolina. He said the last five years, since the NHL rule changes, have been his most productive.
“The best part of my game is the power play,” he said. “… That’s just always kind of been my niche.”
Whitney said he didn’t know if he would have received more money elsewhere.
“We can’t forget the fact that I am 38,” he said. “Most GMs think of that as a player who can play and can play at a lower price.”
Phoenix plans to move 24-year-old Wojtek Wolski to Lombardi’s centre position, which Maloney acknowledged was “a leap of faith.”
“Wolski has played junior centre, we’ll put him in the middle,” Maloney said. “He’s creative and this gives him more opportunities with the puck.”
Maloney said he had extensive talks with Michalek, who played five seasons for Phoenix, right up to Wednesday night’s deadline before free agency began.
“It just got to the point we could not move any further and thought it was in both our best interests to move on,” Maloney said
There was never any chance to re-sign Lombardi, though.
“We had a number of talks with Lombardi, but I just found we were a significant ways apart, not close,” Maloney said.
The general manager said he still had some hope that Stempniak would come back.
“I made him a low offer,” Maloney said. “I’m not sure what the market is for Lee at this point. I don’t think he knows what the market is.”
Maloney said he might look for one more blue-liner. Other than that, the holes left by departing players will be filled with youngsters already under contract.
The team also announced it had bought out the contract of centre Petteri Nokelainen.