It's not often a team gets the chance to improve itself by adding a player who's skated in more than 1,000 NHL games, recorded upward of 300 goals and 800 points and lifted the Stanley Cup over the course of his career.
But that's exactly what the Phoenix Coyotes
pulled off this summer with the signing of veteran left wing Ray Whitney
to a two-year contract.
Although he turned 38 in May, what Whitney accomplished during his five seasons in Carolina suggests he only has gotten better with age. He helped the Hurricanes to the franchise's first championship in 2006, followed that with a career season in which he totaled 32 goals and 83 points, and then averaged 23 goals and 65 points over the last three seasons.
"I did watch a lot of their games last season. Being on the East Coast, you get to catch a lot of the late games. I also watched them in the playoffs and had the feeling this is a team heading in the right direction. With Dave Tippett as coach, it was an intriguing situation."
-- Ray Whitney
"Other teams called early. Some of them called a couple times. (The Coyotes) weren't afraid of giving me that second year," Whitney told NHL.com in running through his thought process during the free-agency period.
"I did watch a lot of their games last season. Being on the East Coast, you get to catch a lot of the late games. I also watched them in the playoffs and had the feeling this is a team heading in the right direction. With Dave Tippett
as coach, it was an intriguing situation."
For a team that ranked among the best in the League defensively last season but struggled offensively, Whitney's career statistics had to be intriguing -- particularly his body of work on the power play, where the Coyotes finished 28th, converting at a 14.6-percent clip.
Whitney has scored 94 of his 324 career regular-season goals, or about 29 percent, with the man advantage. He only had 17 goals in his first season with the Hurricanes, but 12 of them came on the power play, matching his career high.
"A guy with his skill level and experience is something we thought would help the team," Tippett told NHL.com. "He's a good power-play guy and we want to be better there, so that's a big part. It's also just his personality and the way he plays the game."
Whitney, who began his career with San Jose during the 1991-92 season and also played for Edmonton, Florida, Columbus and Detroit before his most recent stint in Carolina, has had ample opportunity over the years to be part of good power plays and figure out what makes them tick.
"I think what (the Coyotes) were looking for was an older guy who had played on teams with great players and great power-play players," he said. "I played with some Hall of Famers in Detroit (during the 2003-04 season), and some great players in Carolina, like Ron Francis
, who was a great power-play guy.
"Coming in here, I might be able to offer some insight or recommendations. In the end, though, it's not about one guy, it's a group thing. You're going to need two good power-play units to be successful. Hopefully I'll be able to offer some fresh ideas."
Assuming the Coyotes can get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, getting over the hump could be another area where Whitney can lend some expertise.
Phoenix already had excellent leadership in place in the form of captain Shane Doan
, but the Coyotes were lacking in postseason experience when they were ousted last spring in a hard-fought, seven-game series against Detroit.
In addition to his Cup win with Carolina, Whitney was part of a pair of San Jose teams that advanced to the second round during the infancy of the franchise, and he also was part of the Hurricanes' team that stunned New Jersey and Boston in a pair of Game 7 road victories en route to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. He has 18 goals and 43 points in 83 playoff games.
"The playoffs are hard. They're hard to get in, and they're even harder once you're in," Whitney said. "Once you're in, though, it's anyone's game, as we saw last season. Montreal made a deep run as an eighth seed, Philly went from making a coaching change (during the season) to going all the way to the Final. Once you're in, it doesn't matter if you're the top seed or you're sneaking in."
Speaking of Doan, who missed the final four games of the Detroit series with an upper-body injury, Whitney is excited to team up with the 14-year veteran.
"He's a good captain. He started all the way back with Winnipeg and has been here a long time. He's seen the good, the bad, the struggles," Whitney said. "He leads by example. He's intense, but he's also approachable and open to everybody and helping them out.
"He has a real good feel for this group. He told me this is a tight, close-knit group, and I've found that when you have a group along those lines it's usually because the captain led them there."
With 869 career points, it's not out of the question Whitney could reach the 1,000-point plateau for his career, especially if he plays beyond his two-year contract. Winning another Cup is tops on his to-do list, however, and he thinks Phoenix is putting together the type of team that can do it.
"It was tough to pick a team because the parity in the League these days, it could be anyone," he said. "A lot of players tend to go toward the teams with the superstars, but the team I won with in Carolina, there really were no superstars. Eric Staal
had his breakout year that season, but he had only played one year in the League to that point.
"The teams that ultimately win are the teams with deep lines and good camaraderie. They are usually the hardest to play against and they tend to have a lot of success."