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With Whitney gone, Coyotes turn to Sullivan

by Corey Masisak

Mike Smith arrived in Phoenix last summer with a modest contract but a hefty task – replace a guy who just signed a $51 million contract. Smith proved up to the task, and in turn the Coyotes didn't miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

A year later, another of the Coyotes' stars is gone -- and another guy on a low-risk deal has arrived to help replace him.

Ray Whitney was spectacular for Phoenix last season, posting 24 goals and a team-high 77 points. He signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars, where he will join forces with Jaromir Jagr and try to help them back into the playoffs.

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To keep the Coyotes in the NHL's postseason party, Phoenix has to replace to Whitney's offense (not to mention possibly Shane Doan's as well because he remains unsigned). General manager Don Maloney signed Steve Sullivan to a one-year, $1.85 million contract, and Sullivan could fit in Whitney’s place in the lineup.

"He's a very similar player to Ray Whitney," Maloney told Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic. "A little smaller player, but very good skill, good power-play skill. So when we lost Ray, there were only a couple names we really could fill a skill position [with], and he was one of them."

Sullivan has been a dynamic player in the NHL, but he's struggled to stay healthy. There are six 60-point seasons on his resume, but the 38-year-old has missed at least 25 games in the three of the past five campaigns.

After accruing 10 goals and 22 points in 44 games in his final season with the Nashville Predators in 2010-11, Sullivan rehabilitated his reputation as an offensive threat with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. He finished with 17 goals and 48 points. Even better, he also stayed healthy.

Whitney played a lot with Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal, and Maloney said Sullivan is likely to get the chance to fit on a line with those two players. Sullivan could also help boost the team's power play.

His work with the extra man drew rave reviews from his teammates in Pittsburgh last season. The Penguins are flush with world-class talent, but the power play was more effective with Sullivan on the ice. He is a facilitator, and a couple of the Coyotes’ goal scorers could be big beneficiaries from working with Sullivan.

"I'm versatile," Sullivan told McLellan. "I think I can play in any position on the power play. I can play the point. I can carry the puck in, or play the half wall or down low. I think just being able to punch me in anywhere they see fit might be a position they're going to look at."

Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22

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