For most of this off-season, the Phoenix Coyotes have avoided taking big risks. The one gamble they made was handing defenseman Keith Yandle a big contract, but that seems like the smart move considering the fact that he’s in his prime years and the team’s defense would crumble without him. They avoided a bigger dice roll by letting Ilya Bryzgalov walk rather than giving him an enormous contract, although some might say that relying on Mike Smith is the biggest risk of them all.
Coyotes GM Don Maloney seemed like he was going to play it safe all summer long, but then he traded cheap winger Lee Stempniak for an expensive, risky old center in Daymond Langkow. Joe rightly pointed out that the Coyotes will attempt to fill a void at center with Langkow, but the returning Coyotes center (he was traded from Phoenix in 2004) remains a big “if” coming off a serious neck injury.
Today provided some positive news on that front, as the team confirmed that Langkow passed his physical and is “fully cleared to play and participate in all club activities.”
So now that his arrival is all but confirmed, the $4.5 million question is whether or not he’ll be able to help them out. Maloney thinks that Langkow is the perfect fit as a two-way center, even if the aging pivot won’t win fans over with flashy play.
Many thought he would never play again, and even Langkow had his doubts after his 376-day rehab had more than its share of setbacks. But Langkow returned for the final four regular season games last year. And the video of his landmark return against St. Louis on April 1 told Maloney what he need to know.
“I ended up watching all of his shifts those last four games,” Maloney said. “And when he got cross-checked in the middle of the second period (by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman) and got back up, it was pretty good indication he would be fine.”
Langkow is the kind of player Maloney and coach Dave Tippett covet; hard-working leaders who let their play on the ice do the talking.
“Daymond symbolizes what we’re all about in Phoenix,” he said. “There’s not a lot of flash and dash, not a lot of high-end speed. But he’s a very good player on both sides of the puck, he takes care of his own end and has enough creative ability to thrive with skilled players.
“When we add him down the middle to guys like (Martin) Hanzal and (Boyd) Gordon and, at some point, Turris, it makes us look much more formidable as a team. He’s never going to win a public-speaking contest, but he’s very well respected and that goes a long way with us.”
At first, the monetary difference made the trade a little shaky; the Coyotes took on $2.6 million more in cap space after dealing Stempniak ($1.9 million) for Langkow ($4.5 million). Yet when you consider the fact that the Coyotes aren’t that much above the salary cap floor at just under $51 million, it gets a slight bit easier to stomach.
The Coyotes wanted to open up playing time for their young wingers while solidifying their shaky situation at center now that Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler are no longer in the fold. I’m not completely certain that Langkow has the health (or even enough gas left in the tank) to make that trade seem brilliant, but at least they did something to try to improve in a serious area of need.