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Coyotes Busy as Free-Agent Signing Period Opens

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – Within the span of a single business day, the Coyotes added five players – including two familiar faces – to the roster on Wednesday, the first day of the NHL free-agent signing period.

Arizona’s most noteworthy signing was center Antoine Vermette, whom the Coyotes had traded to Chicago late last season. Vermette played a key role for the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay, which they won 4-2. He scored two game-winning goals in the series.

Antoine Vermette. Photo by Getty Images

"We couldn’t be happier," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. "Antoine’s a really good person and he’s good with young players. We’re really very excited to bring him back. He’s a guy that we know, we like, and he fits into who we are and how we want to play. He’s in a good frame of mind and he can bring that what-it-takes-to-win-a-Cup attitude back here."

Vermette, who signed a two-year deal, said he chose signing with the Coyotes, in part, because it’s an easy transition for his family; they still own a home in Arizona. Plus, he wants to help the team get better.

"This is the goal," Vermette said. "You want to improve. You want to get excited. Obviously, I'm sure the experts won't see us as a Cup contender this year. I'm sure we'll be fine thriving with that. We're adding some young guys in the mix there, and we want to bring a good work ethic and a good attitude and establish a winning mentality."

Before signing Vermette, the Coyotes added four others to the roster on Wednesday: defenseman Zbynek Michalek, forwards Brad Richardson and Steve Downie, and backup goalie Anders Lindback. These signings followed trades for center Boyd Gordon on Tuesday and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann on Saturday.

"I'm going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing that Antoine is back in the fold and with the other moves we made, we've jumped ahead leaps and bounds of where we were two days ago," Maloney said.

Zbynek Michalek. Photo by Getty Images.

For Michalek, who signed a two-year contract, this will be his third stint with the team. Like Vermette, the Coyotes traded Michalek late last season to a playoff-bound club - the St. Louis Blues.

"I never wanted to get traded but it was the best thing for the team and I understood,” Michalek said. "I was hoping to come back. I know the coaches and the way they want to play and I know the players... I'm really happy to be back."

He added, "This team and organization and the whole city means so much to me. It's where I began my NHL career and started to feel like a real influential player, and it's close to my heart and it means a lot to me. The team and the organization went through some tough times (last season). I want to help and be part of the solution."

With Richardson, who inked a three-year contract, the Coyotes are getting a third-line center who notched 21 points in 45 games last season for Vancouver before suffering an injury.

"He's a quick, fast, intelligent player," Maloney said. "He killed us. He scored against us all the time... We just think with the speed and the game he brings, he gives us another legitimate centericeman."

Downie is one of the League's more noteworthy tough guys. Last season he led the NHL with 238 penalty minutes. But he can also score. In 408 NHL games, Downie has notched 73 goals, including 22 for Tampa Bay in 2009-10 and 14 for Pittsburgh last season.

Steve Downie. Photo by Getty Images.

Maloney said the Coyotes do not want to be bullied by other teams and Downie, who signed a one-year contract, should help in that area.

"Every team I've played on usually likes to protect each other out there," Downie said. "Saying that, I don't think you can do that with just one person. It's a team effort. I think (Arizona) has a couple players that will take care of stuff like that."

The Coyotes are expecting Mike Smith to start between 60 and 65 games in 2015-16. For the other games, Arizona will turn to Anders Lindback, who agreed to a one-year contract.

Playing regularly for Buffalo at the end of last season, Lindback notched a .924 save percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average in 16 games.

"That stint was great for me as a person and a goalie," Lindback said. "I got to play consistently and found my groove."

Despite the flurry of signings on Wednesday, Maloney said the Coyotes would still like to add more players via free agency and/or trades. In the meantime, he's pleased with how the roster is shaping up.

"When it comes down to competing and showing up every night, I think this group should be more of what the Coyotes should be standing for and what we want to get back to," Maloney said.

NOTE: On Wednesday, the Coyotes also signed defenseman Dylan Reese and forward Dustin Jeffrey to one-year, two-way contacts, and defenseman Dakota Mermis to a three-year entry-level contract.

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