Don Maloney never feared going through the arbitration procedure with Keith Yandle. He figured he knew what would transpire and that Yandle would likely return to Phoenix on a two-year contract.
But, the Coyotes general manager was also abundantly clear on his conference call Tuesday night that he did not want to negotiate a new contract for his No. 1 defenseman through a mediator.
That's no longer a concern.
Not only did the 24-year-old Yandle want to stay in Phoenix on a longer term deal, the Coyotes wanted to keep him and together they struck a deal that works for both sides.
Yandle signed a five-year contract Tuesday that is worth a reported $26.25 million, giving him the stability and dollars he was looking for to stay in the desert and the Coyotes the assurance that they have their young star defenseman to build around -- both now and in the future.
"He's an assistant captain, fits into our culture and he fits into our future," Maloney said. "I thought it was good value for a top young defenseman with Norris Trophy potential that I believe still has upside to his game. He's a key guy to put in the bank and lock away for five years. Hopefully we can make him even better."
That's going to be a challenge because Yandle was pretty darn good this past season.
Yandle was third among blue-liners in the NHL with career-high 59 points over 82 games, serving as the Coyotes All-Star representative in Raleigh, N.C. and finishing fifth in the Norris Trophy voting.
Maloney, though, sees the improvement coming in Yandle's defensive game as he continues to age and mature.
"He's a unique player," the GM said. "I liken him to a Dan Boyle and a Duncan Keith in that once Keith (Yandle) becomes better in his own zone, he's a guy that you want to throw out in play in the last minute of periods. I think that will come with growing and maturing. He's an interesting guy because he can play all game long if you ask him. Those guys generally get paid a lot of money.
"Keith has it in him to be a top No. 1 defenseman on a winning team, and that's what we're all about here."
Yandle said he believes his overall game will improve with defensive-minded Jim Playfair joining Dave Tippett's staff as associate coach this season. He said he's looking forward to studying video with Playfair to become a better defensive player.
His role also figures to be greater this season with Ed Jovanovski leaving to sign with the Florida Panthers. Yandle led the Coyotes in ice time at 24:22 per game this past season, but he played sparingly on the penalty kill and that is likely to change with Jovanovski's departure.
"When you have a guy like Jovo -- he was there for six or seven years, and just the respect he had in the locker room, playing against other teams' top lines, playing a lot of minutes, I want to be in that position," Yandle said. "As an (alternate) captain, I want guys to come to me and talk to me. I want to lead on the ice and in the locker room. I see other guys play a lot of minutes and I want to be up there as one of those guys who plays the most minutes in the League or close to it."
Maturity will come with time, something the Coyotes and Yandle didn't want to waste any more of before getting a deal done.
The important thing was getting the right deal done now without having to go through the arbitration process, because those can sometimes produce bad blood between the player and his team as both fight to get the best deal possible.
"Those arbitration proceedings can be adversarial," Maloney said. "They're business and we know that and the agent knows it, but when you have to go into an arbitration hearing and point out flaws, it gets personal and sometimes it gets so personal that you can't take it back.
That said, for a brief while Maloney felt the Coyotes could be headed to arbitration because the contract demands he was hearing about from other restricted free agents were in danger of pulling Yandle's number up significantly. As a team on a fixed budget, the Coyotes could only go so high in their negotiations before arbitration or a trade became necessary.
So, after a few days of silence between the two sides, Maloney said he reached out to Yandle's agent again Tuesday and talks picked up steam in a hurry. By midday, the agent, Jerome Buckley, was calling Yandle to see if a five year deal at the dollars being talked about made him comfortable.
"I said, 'Yeah, the more the merrier,'" Yandle said. "Getting it done now is the best thing that could have happened."
Maloney said the Coyotes couldn't be more pleased.
"Locking into a guy that you think is a core player, you'd like to do that in a negotiated fashion where there is no animosity versus going into an arbitration procedure and potentially souring the player on some of the things you have to say in order to get the best deal possible, which we have to do," Maloney said. "All in all, we were very, very happy with this negotiation.
"These signings (across the NHL) in the last few days have nothing to do with Keith Yandle, but in three years you can imagine the level of contract he'd be looking at. I thought this was a fair deal."
For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned.
— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Rangers win in Game 6 forced a Game 7 that will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday