GLENDALE, Ariz. –
With the countdown to training camp closing in and the Coyotes roster looking a lot like a Tim Hortons' doughnut – lots of tasty ingredients but that big, unmistakable hole in the middle – Phoenix general manager Don Maloney
decided to get creative and reach into the franchise's past for a possible solution.
Just how far a reach it will be remains to be seen.
With Eric Belanger
and Vernon Fiddler
departed from a center corps that already struggled from production standpoint -- and with young Kyle Turris
still unsigned after a summer of negotiations -- Maloney took a deep breath and took on more than $2 million in salary to bring center Daymond Langkow
back to Phoenix from Calgary in exchange for winger Lee Stempniak
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Langkow turns 35 next month. He missed 88 of the past 92 NHL regular-season games after one of the more freakish and frightening injuries in recent memory. Falling forward with his head down and after a hit in front of the net by Minnesota's Greg Zanon
, Langkow was struck at the base of the neck, between the shoulder blades by a puck off the stick of Calgary teammate Ian White
He was carried off the ice with a fractured vertebra. Many thought he would never play again, and even Langkow had his doubts after his 376-day rehab had more than its share of setbacks. But Langkow returned for the final four regular season games last year. And the video of his landmark return against St. Louis on April 1 told Maloney what he need to know.
"I ended up watching all of his shifts those last four games," Maloney said. "And when he got cross-checked in the middle of the second period (by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman
) and got back up, it was pretty good indication he would be fine."
Langkow is the kind of player Maloney and coach Dave Tippett
covet; hard-working leaders who let their play on the ice do the talking. When he was in Phoenix the first time, he scored 88 goals in three seasons, centered a very productive line between Ladislav Nagy
and now-NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson
and was as difficult to quote as he was to defend.
That was seven years and one serious injury ago. But Maloney feels there is still more left in Langkow and if he's right, the Coyotes never question the other aspects of his game.
"Daymond symbolizes what we're all about in Phoenix," he said. "There's not a lot of flash and dash, not a lot of high-end speed. But he's a very good player on both sides of the puck, he takes care of his own end and has enough creative ability to thrive with skilled players.
"When we add him down the middle to guys like (Martin) Hanzal and (Boyd) Gordon and, at some point, Turris, it makes us look much more formidable as a team. He's never going to win a public-speaking contest, but he's very well respected and that goes a long way with us."
All true statements.
Here's another one: Maloney had to do something.
There was no one in free agency -- at least in Phoenix's price range -- to fill what he admitted to be "a gaping hole" in the middle of the ice. And while the Coyotes would have liked to keep Stempniak, he now heads to his fourth team in three seasons and continues to tease organizations with his potential.
After exploding for 14 goals in 18 regular-season games following a trade-deadline deal with Toronto in 2010, Stempniak had only 19 goals in 82 games last year and was invisible (no goals and 2 points in 11 games) in two playoff series against Detroit.
Weary of playing behind Shane Doan
and Ray Whitney
and on a checking line with less-skilled centers (Fiddler), Stempniak made it known a move wouldn't upset him. And if Langkow fits the bill in the middle, Maloney knows there are many more wingers than centers still looking for work, or hoping for a new address.
If Langkow is healthy and can handle top-six minutes, young Mikkel Boedker
or Lauri Korpikoski
would get a shot to join Hanzal and Radim Vrbata
and give the Coyotes the type of balance that was missing this past season.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan
, a close friend of Langkow's and the only player left from Langkow's first stint as a Coyote, had 60 points in the first 60 games playing alongside Langkow in 2003-04. Visions of a "thirty-something" line – with Whitney joining himself and Langkow – have him smiling.
"He's exactly what we need in terms of a two-way center in this type of system," Doan said. "Everyone was so scared for him when (the injury) happened and the news kept getting worse for awhile after.
"But he came all the way back. You knew if anyone could make it back, he would."