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Coyotes looking to future after busy week of trades

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Coyotes traded center Antoine Vermette and defenseman Zbynek Michalek leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, there was little surprise. Each can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Coyotes needed to get what they could before losing them.

But in between, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney pulled the trigger on a trade that sent shockwaves through the dressing room and signaled that a retool had become a total rebuild.

Coyotes leading scorer Keith Yandle, who spent his entire eight-season career in Arizona, most of it in the locker next to captain Shane Doan, was traded to the New York Rangers, with Maloney content that the promise of young center Anthony Duclair and a first- and second-round draft pick would be a big part of a future that needed to begin as soon as possible.

That future now includes defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from the Chicago Blackhawks for Vermette; Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a 2016 first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick from the Rangers for Yandle; and 19-year-old center Maxim Letunov from the St. Louis Blues for Michalek.

There was no looking back Monday.

"All three [traded] players are exceptional players and people and were here for the good and the bad," Maloney said. "But this isn't a fraternity. We're here to win, and that's why we all get paid. And when you don't win, changes are made. We missed [the Stanley Cup Playoffs] a couple of years ago, we barely missed last year, and this year we missed by a mile and a half. That's not acceptable. We have to change our approach, take a deep breath, look at the teams that win and what it takes to win, and we need more young assets."

Maloney said, in retrospect, Arizona's unexpected run to the Western Conference Final in 2012 gave a false sense of what the talent level was.

"Even though we scratched and clawed and made the playoffs and our goalie stood on his head and won a couple of rounds, it wasn't sustainable and we knew that," Maloney said. "We have to get back to the point when we go into every season with a legitimate opportunity to win."

Stable ownership led by Andrew Barroway and the encouragement of others in the group played a key role for Maloney. He was able to obtain a better return on the trades because the Coyotes picked up some of the salary for their former players: 50 percent of Michalek's for the rest of this season, and 50 percent of Yandle's for this year and next.

For a team already paying forward Mike Ribeiro, now with the Nashville Predators an average of $1.94 million over the next five seasons as terms of his buyout, the green light was unexpected but invaluable.

"The [Yandle] deal never would have happened without this ownership," Maloney said. "I would have hung up the phone on [Rangers GM Glen Sather] in five minutes. 'You need us to take salary? OK, nice talking to you.' It's a real credit to this group who is taking an intelligent approach to build this from the base up and throw good money after bad.

"When an opportunity to, for lack of a better term, purchase a 19-year-old potential star came up, they were pushing me to say 'Don, if you like the deal, do the deal.' And if I owned this team I would be doing exactly the same thing."

Pleased with the acquisition of Letunov, Maloney said the return on Michalek could have and would have been higher if not for the concussion that has kept him out of the lineup for two weeks. The Coyotes will send a third-round pick to the Blues if Michalek is unable to play for the rest of the season.

But two first-round picks and one second-round pick in the next two years satisfied and even surprised Maloney, but it wasn't uncommon during this deadline period.

"Look at the first-round picks going for strictly guys on expiring contracts," he said. "It's competition to win. If you're in one city and competing against another city willing to give up the pick, it's hard to justify it for your fan base. I was a little taken aback by some of the returns people were willing to give up."

Though the future may be exciting, the mood at Coyotes practice Monday was anything but. Doan, visibly upset by the loss of three close friends, especially alternate captains Vermette and Yandle, requested a day to collect his thoughts. Goalie Mike Smith said the results on the ice -- a nine-game losing streak, second-to-last in the NHL standings -- made the move inevitable but no less disappointing to accept.

"I was a big part of this organization moving forward and thought it was moving in right direction," Smith said. "In the same sense, I was a big part of what's happened this year. I take some of that blame."

So the Coyotes look to the future, one Maloney sees as much brighter than it was 72 hours ago.

"We're going to be a lot more fun to watch next year," he said. "We will be younger, but we will be looking at more skill in our lineup. Whether the results on the ice are significantly better … we think they can be better, but with young players it takes time.

"But when you start looking at what we have, we have Anthony Duclair, who is ready to play now. Max Domi (the 12th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft) is ready to play now in an offensive role. You look at where we will draft and we're going to get a terrific player. And we have other players who are close. We'll have a healthy Mikkel Boedker and a healthy Martin Hanzal and a star in Oliver Ekman-Larsson to build our defense around.

"I think if you look 3-4 years down the road, you can see the makings of a winner here."

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