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Hanzal glad to be a Coyote for the long term

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here are three reasons why Phoenix Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is important to the success of his team: He's strong on the penalty kill, successful in the faceoff circle and improving as an offensive contributor.

But here are the three most important reasons why the Coyotes signed the big 24-year-old Czech to a five-year contract extension this week and invested more than $15 million: Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton.


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Those are the imposing, talented, No. 1 centers in the Pacific Division that Hanzal will continue to defend night-in and night-out after signing a five-year, $15.5 million contract extension on Thursday that has him locked up through the 2018-19 season. He'll make $2.1 million this year, the final of his old deal and as much as $3.5 million over the course of the contract.

"They offered me three years, and I said 'How about five?' " said the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Hanzal, whose quiet demeanor off the ice contrasts with his powerful game on it.

"I was drafted by Phoenix (first round, No. 17 in 2005) and now I will be here for another six years. I love the city and the organization and it is a good spot for me."

The Coyotes like having Hanzal around. When he missed 21 games with lower-body issues late last season, players like Thornton and Getzlaf had their way in key division games. A few points were the difference between home ice with a friendlier draw in the playoffs and a first-round loss to Detroit for the second straight year.

Hanzal is healthy now, although back surgery early in his career now requires 30 minutes of daily stretching for strength and prevention. He was one of Phoenix's better players in training camp, finishing off the preseason with a goal and an assist in a win over San Jose. The Coyotes and Sharks kick off the regular season Saturday in San Jose, with Hanzal ready to go whenever Thornton heads over the boards.

"It's a big part of my job," he said of his defensive responsibilities. "Guys like Thornton and Getzlaf and Kopitar are all big, skilled guys and I know it will be my assignment to try to keep them from hurting our team. It's a tough, but I do like the challenge. I've been doing it the last four years. I guess I have another six years of chasing them. That's a lot of crosschecks and stuff but I'm ready to go."

While tallying a career-best 16 goals in 61 games last season, his 10 assists and 26 points were career lows and not enough for a team that relies on scoring by committee. It's something Hanzal knows needs improvement for him to take the next step in his career.

"Playing with guys like Pies (Taylor Pyatt) and (Radim) Vrbata, guys who are capable of scoring 20 or 30 goals, I have to be able to do my share," he said. "I know my first job is to shut down guys, but being on the ice that much I have to score more and chip in. I have a big body and it's about getting in the right spots."

"I was drafted by Phoenix and now I will be here for another six years. I love the city and the organization and it is a good spot for me." -- Martin Hanzal
Tippett thinks Hanzal has another level to reach offensively, but not at the expense of his most valuable asset. "For him to be the best player for us, he has to be a dependable two-way guy," he said. "We could find him some more numbers if he cheated offensively but that's not what we want from him. His biggest value to us is being a solid player."

Both of Phoenix's alternate captains from last season– center Vernon Fiddler and defenseman Ed Jovanovski – moved on as free agents this past summer. Defenseman Keith Yandle, who signed a five-year contract extension of his own over the summer, will wear one of the "A's" -- the new deal makes Hanzal a good bet to wear the other.

"He's one of our young players who are not so young anymore (Hanzal turns 25 in February) and now make up the core of our team," Tippett said. "He will take on more of a leadership role and that's the kind of guy you want to have with you for a long time."

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