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Coyotes believe they found bargain in Whitney

NHL.com @NHL

PHOENIX (AP) -The Phoenix Coyotes are always looking for bargains, and general manager Don Maloney believes he found one in Ray Whitney.

The Coyotes, under budget restrictions because they still are owned by the NHL, signed the 38-year-old left wing on Thursday after it became apparent there was no way they could re-sign center Matthew Lombardi. Phoenix also lost standout defenseman Zbynek Michalek to a lucrative contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Phoenix re-signed defenseman Derek Morris and Maloney still hopes that right wing Lee Stempniak will accept the "low offer" the Coyotes made.

"That's how we have to operate," Maloney said in a teleconference.

Whitney was brought in on a two-year contract to bolster Phoenix's sometimes sputtering offense and provide leadership. He had 21 goals and 37 assists with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. Whitney is an 18-year NHL veteran who had nine goals and six assists in Carolina's postseason run to the Stanley Cup championship in 2005-06. Over his career, Whitney has 324 goals and 545 assists in 1,072 games with San Jose, Edmonton, Florida, Columbus, Detroit and Carolina.

"He is clever," Maloney said. "The biggest lacking we had last season was our power play, our power play production, and I think Ray is one of the best in the league in his creativity with the puck."

Phoenix plans to move 24-year-old Wojtek Wolski to Lombardi's center position, which Maloney acknowledged was "a leap of faith."

"Wolski has played junior center, we'll put him in the middle," Maloney said. "He's creative and this gives him more opportunities with the puck."

Maloney said he had extensive talks with Michalek, who played five seasons for Phoenix, right up to Wednesday night's deadline before free agency began.

"It just got to the point we could not move any further and thought it was in both our best interests to move on," Maloney said

There was never any chance to re-sign Lombardi, though.

"We had a number of talks with Lombardi, but I just found we were a significant ways apart, not close," Maloney said.

The general manager said he still had some hope that Stempniak would come back.

"I made him a low offer," Maloney said. "I'm not sure what the market is for Lee at this point. I don't think he knows what the market is."

Maloney said he might look for one more blue line player. Other than that, the holes left by departing players will be filled with youngsters already under contract.

The team also announced it had bought out the contract of center Petteri Nokelainen, who was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on March 4.

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