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Coyotes add Ray Whitney, keep Derek Morris

Thursday, 07.01.2010 / 8:16 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Coyotes add Ray Whitney, keep Derek Morris
Phoenix GM Don Maloney was disappointed at losing defenseman Zybnek Michalek to free agency, but was happy to keep Derek Morris and add forward Ray Whitney.
Don Maloney went fishing for value on the first day of the free agent signing period -- and he came away as one happy general manager.

Although Maloney was unsuccessful in trying to lure defenseman Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix, he was able to re-sign Derek Morris to a four-year contract as well as ink 38-year-old veteran forward and power-play specialist Ray Whitney to a two-year deal.

Morris reportedly will make $11 million over the life of the contract, while Whitney's deal will pay him $3 million annually. Maloney also confirmed that center Matthew Lombardi is no longer in the Coyotes' plans and said Wojtek Wolski will move into the middle -- likely to play between Shane Doan and Whitney.

"Everybody loves Phoenix, but now when you have a chance to win here that's attractive,"Maloney said. "For a guy like Ray Whitney to come here with a chance to help us win, I know that was very important to him. I think (Jack Adams Award winner) 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. I think Ray Whitney at this price is an excellent value. That's how we have to operate.”

Maloney said his day began with serious contract talks with Michalek's camp, but once he realized his best offer wasn't going to be enough he had to turn in a different direction. Michalek signed with Pittsburgh for five years and $20 million.

"At that point I had a number of conversations with Derek Morris' agent and knew he certainly wanted to stay,"Maloney said. "We were able to get him a contract that I think is under market, which fits into exactly what we're about here. He's a guy that wants to stay in Phoenix and wants to help us win. There are no uncertainties with Derek. I was thrilled to get him on board.”

After talks with Lombardi's camp broke down because Maloney felt his contract demands were "off the charts,"the GM and Tippett huddled and decided Wolski could move into the middle, which would negate the need to look for a center on the open market.

"Looking at the center ice market there weren't a lot of people available,"Maloney said. "Wolski played center at junior and excelled his last year playing junior. He's creative and it gives him more touches with the puck. He wants to play center.”

Without having to go after a center, Maloney called inquiring about Whitney.

"When we found out Ray's representatives didn't hang up the phone when we talked to him, we said 'we can do this,'" Maloney said.

Maloney called it "a terrific signing for us."He said Whitney is "clever"and he offers Coyotes help in their most depressed department from last season, the power play. Phoenix was 28th in the NHL on the power play last season at 14.6 percent, but 94 of Whitney's 324 career goals have come with the extra man.

"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," Whitney said during a conference call Thursday. "My last year in Columbus I led League in assists on the power play, and even in Carolina I was always one of the leaders.

"It's a part of game, 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."

Whitney has played in 1,072 games and has put up 869 points. He spent the past five seasons in Carolina, winning the Cup in 2006, and had 21 goals and 37 assists in 80 games this past season -- giving him 119 goals and 215 assists in 372 games with the ‘Canes.

"I think Ray is one of the best in the League with his creativity with the puck,"Maloney said. "Obviously there is a leap of faith that we can put Wojtek in the middle. But, in talking to Tip, he said, we can make him a center, teach him and help him. That's the one very positive thing about this coaching staff is they'll make it happen.”

Maloney, who operates on a tight budget, doesn't expect to be too active in the rest of the free agent market. He said he would entertain re-signing forward Lee Stempniak if the price "comes back into the area that we'd like to sign him in,"but he's eager to give some of the Coyotes forward prospects a chance.

He specifically cited Kyle Turris, Viktor Tikhonov, Mikkel Boedker and Brett MacLean.

"They're not 18- or 19-year-old rookies. They're at a stage where they have to come in and win a job,"Maloney said. "We're not going to have all four on the team, but we want to leave opportunities for at least a couple of them to win a job. If they can do it in September, they'll be on the team. If not, we'll look to add at that time.

"The base now for our foundation is solid, but we need to keep pushing for production out of our young people.”

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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