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Filling hole on defense was paramount for Coyotes

Monday, 02.28.2011 / 7:27 PM / 2011 Trade Deadline

By Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

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Filling hole on defense was paramount for Coyotes
When Ed Jovanovski went out, Phoenix GM Don Maloney knew he needed to fill a big hole on his defense, and Monday he did that by acquiring Rostislav Klesla.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For the second time in six weeks, Phoenix General Manager Don Maloney felt the need to upgrade the Coyotes' defensive depth. And for the second time, the price was one of the top scorers on an offensively-challenged team.

Watching his defense and penalty killers struggle following the loss of Ed Jovanovski, Maloney dealt popular left wing Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto to Columbus for veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla and minor league forward Dane Byers.

The move mirrors one Maloney made Jan. 10, when he shipped Wojtek Wolski to the Rangers for defenseman Michal Rozsival. At that time Maloney felt his blue line was set for the season, but Jovanovski suffered multiple fractures to his orbital bone after a collision with Atlanta's Patrice Cormier on Feb. 17. The Coyotes are 2-2-1 since then and don't expect to have Jovanovski back for the remainder of the regular season.

"Up until Jovo got injured, we had been focused on getting help up front," Maloney said. "But when he got hurt, we felt very vulnerable on our blue line, especially in the area of matchups and penalty killing. We searched for a top-four-player defenseman who can match up against good players, and we had to give to get."

Maloney absolutely needed to give to get. While Maloney had a few million dollars left in his budget to reshape his roster at last year's deadline (which saw him acquire Wolski, Derek Morris, Lee Stempniak, and Mathieu Schneider), he had no such leeway this time around. With the franchise's ownership issues still uncertain, Maloney said every deal had to be a "dollar-for-dollar transaction." The salaries swapped were within $30,000 of each other.

The first draft pick in Blue Jackets history and the No. 4 selection in the 2000 Entry Draft -- Klesla is a big, physical presence and was a League-leading plus-17 early in the season for Columbus. But he played only 60 games over the last two seasons and has missed the last 16 games with a bruised knee.

But Maloney said Klesla is healthy and will play Tuesday against Dallas -- likely in a pairing with Rozsival. Phoenix assistant coach Dave King was Klesla's first coach in Columbus and highly recommended the 28-year-old, who is signed through the 2013-14 season, to Maloney.

"At this stage in his career, a change of scenery and a fresh start will be good for him," Maloney said of Klesla. "We see him along with Rozsival as a tandem who can play against anyone in the West, and he will straighten up our penalty killing a little bit. I have no concerns about our scoring. I think we'll be fine there."

The reason is the emergence of left wing Mikkel Boedker, who was recalled to replace the suspended Upshall last week and has produced 6 assists in his last four games -- including the first two multiple-assist games of his career Friday in Columbus and Sunday in Chicago.

"Up until Jovo got injured, we had been focused on getting help up front. But when he got hurt, we felt very vulnerable on our blue line, especially in the area of matchups and penalty killing. We searched for a top-four-player defenseman who can match up against good players, and we had to give to get." -- Don Maloney

"Boedker is now an impactual player," said Maloney, who also said Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov will join Boedker with the Coyotes over the next few weeks. "If anyone has been paying attention the last half-dozen games, he's playing all kinds of situations and making plays on the power play and we need to get him more ice. It's not just the games lately -- even in practice you can see he jumps off the map.

"We would have rather kept Scottie. But on the other side, we feel like we can replace the offense and get a very good defensive player. And if and when Jovo comes back, our defense will match up with anyone."

Maloney said he made some inquiries about upgrading his offense -- especially a top center -- but wasn't willing to do a deal similar to the Los Angeles Kings, who dealt top prospect Colten Teubert and a 2011 first-round pick to acquire Dustin Penner from Edmonton.

"I was adamant to not get into any 'A' assets. We can't be boring into our future for a little more success now," Maloney said. "We need to do the right things long term and that's hold on to our high-draft assets."
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