Coyotes make re-signing Martin Hanzal 'a priority' while Lee Stempniak explores his options

hanzalandstemp.jpgWhile most of the focus rests on the team’s off-ice issues, the Phoenix Coyotes also have some questions to answer on the ice.

The two biggest ones center on unrestricted free agent Lee Stempniak and restricted free agent Martin Hanzal. Here is the latest news on those two players from Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic.

Hanzal is restricted, and a deal will get done at some point, and the unrestricted Stempniak continues to assess his value on the open market.

Assistant general manager Brad Treliving said Hanzal is the priority and expressed confidence that he will be signed “hopefully sooner rather than later; I think it’s the process right now.”

Stempniak’s agent has had weeks to explore options, and he is expected to meet with General Manager Don Maloney within the next several days.

Hanzal is a work in progress, but a substantial one at a towering six-foot-five. He’s had a steady career so far in the NHL, with seasons of 35, 31 and 33 points while he averaged a career-high 18:29 time on ice during the 2009-10 season. He’s the kind of homegrown two-way player that makes a lot of sense in Dave Tippett’s defensively responsible system.

Stempniak is more of a mystery, although I’d guess he is a victim of a tough 2010 free agent market as much as anything else. After flying under the radar in Toronto, Stempniak caught fire as a trade deadline rental with the Coyotes, putting up 14 goals and 18 points in his 18 game audition in the desert. It’s reasonable that Maloney is skeptical that Stempniak can repeat that performance; after all it’s pretty difficult to duplicate a 29.2 percent shooting percentage. Still, if the market dictates that he must take a one-year, low-risk deal … why not give him a chance to prove that it wasn’t a fluke?

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    Personal reasons: No Ovechkin for Caps tonight

    Alex Ovechkin
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    Alex Ovechkin won’t play for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday because of personal reasons, the team confirmed.

    He entered the building considerably later than usual, but his presence at least opened the door for the possibility of No. 8 suiting up against the San Jose Sharks.

    Instead, the Capitals will face the hot-starting Sharks without Ovechkin (personal reasons) and Nicklas Backstrom (injury).

    That’s a tall order, yet it’s also an opportunity for Barry Trotz to prove his system is a difference-maker … and that the Capitals have the young players to take up the mantle when the big stars are out

    This is how Washington’s forward lines may look tonight:

    No, the Capitals have not shared details regarding what his “personal reasons” might be, by the way.

    Bruins put Morrow on IR, bring up Cross

    Brady Skjei, Joe Morrow
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    Lower-level defense is not the biggest of many worries for the Boston Bruins, yet it might be another in a series of headaches.’s Joe Haggerty points out that Joe Morrow has been placed on IR while AHL stalwart Tommy Cross was called up.

    With a -3 rating and negligible offensive impact so far, few will really be missing Morrow (pictured). From the way Haggerty describes Cross, it’s a pretty cool story if he gets into the lineup:

    Cross was named captain of the Providence Bruins this season, and actually had a strong training camp as the hard-hitting, tough stay-at-home defenseman he’s developed into during his five years in the B’s minor league system. The 2007 second round pick was a highly regarded potential puck-moving defenseman when he was drafted prior to his Boston College career, but a series of knee injuries negated some of his speed and puck-moving capabilities.

    Granted, the Bruins would prefer a sure-thing improvement over a feel-good story right now, as this 0-3-0 start marks their worst beginning in some time.

    Injuries have been an issue in general, too, with Zdeno Chara‘s slow start mixed with Dennis Seidenberg on the mend and Brad Marchand in limbo.

    The Bruins’ next game comes against the Avalanche in Colorado. Maybe they’ll start to mend things on the ice?