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THE DESERT DOG BLOG: RECAPPING THE FIRST DAY OF FREE AGENCY

Thursday, 07.01.2010 / 7:47 PM / The Desert Dog Blog - by Dave Vest
By Dave Vest
The Coyotes added veteran forward Ray Whitney to the roster and re-signed defenseman Derek Morris to a lengthy deal on Thursday, the first day of the NHL’s free-agent signing period.

Morris, 31, inked a four-year contract just hours after becoming an unrestricted free agent.

“I think his contract is under market value, which fits into exactly what we’re all about here,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. “He’s a guy who wants to play in Phoenix and wants to help us win… He was a guy that we wanted and he gave us a good deal.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here to listen to an exclusive, in-depth interview with Morris recorded after he signed his new pact.

Ray Whitney.
The Coyotes are the seventh NHL team for Whitney, who started his career with the San Jose Sharks in 1991-92. Once a stick kid for Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers, Whitney has notched 324 goals and 545 assists in 1,072 NHL games.

“I think they're a team that's going in the right direction and I think within a couple years I'd like to have a good run at (winning the Stanley Cup)," Whitney said when asked why he chose to sign with Phoenix.

Whitney and the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Maloney said Whitney, who agreed to a two-year deal, is one of the most creative offensive players in the NHL and that he should help the team’s power play, which ranked 28th in the NHL last season at 14.6 percent.

"I don't want to say what I can bring to their power play because I don't know what their power play does or where it did or didn't have problems, but the best part of my game is the power play," said Whitney, who has scored 94 power-play goals in his NHL career. "...It's a part of the game (and) every guy has a specialty. For some guys it's penalty-killing, some guys it's defense. I understand the power play well, how to adjust and give feedback to the coaching staff as far as what I see on (the other team's penalty-kill) and how to beat it. It's always been my niche and that's kind of one of the big reasons they brought me in."

EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here to listen to an in-depth Q & A session with Whitney recorded after he signed his new pact.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes lost defenseman/alternate captain Zbynek Michalek and have given up on re-signing center Matthew Lombardi.

Michalek, who became an unrestricted free agent on Thursday, signed a five-year deal with Pittsburgh. The Coyotes tried to re-sign Michalek right up until he became an unrestricted free agent at 9 a.m. on Thursday, but a deal didn’t materialize.

“It just got to the point where we could not move any further and thought it was in both of our best interests to move on,” Maloney said. “And that’s what happened at 8:59 a.m.”

Maloney said Lombardi, who also became an unrestricted free agent on Thursday, was asking for much more money than the Coyotes were willing to pay him.

“We weren’t on the same page whatsoever,” Maloney said.

The Coyotes were willing to part with Lombardi because Maloney, Head Coach Dave Tippett and forward Wojtek Wolski have decided the latter will play center instead of winger next season.

Lee Stempniak.
Forward Lee Stempniak, a fourth Coyotes player from last season to become an unrestricted free agent on Thursday, did not immediately sign a contract with any team; he is currently on his honeymoon. Maloney said he has not ruled out Stempniak returning to the Coyotes but, for now, he’s not certain what Stempniak’s market value is.

Because Michalek has departed and Kurt Sauer is not likely to return to the team in 2010-11 because of a perplexing, ongoing injury, Maloney said he still would like to add another defenseman via free agency. Regarding forwards, Maloney said he is not feeling compelled to sign another free agent because some younger players in the system – Kyle Turris, Mikael Boedker, Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov – are going to get a chance to make the team at training camp.

“I think we’re in very good shape here with some flexibility going forward,” Maloney said. "...I think Dave Tippett is as respected a coach as any in the League. I can't tell you how many agents who have clients on other clubs continually express to me how much they love Tip and how much they would love to play for Tip. That is such a huge asset for us in our ability to convince players to join us."

Reach Dave Vest at thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com
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