(Sports Network) - Ray Whitney was a big part of getting the Phoenix Coyotes
their first ever division title a season ago.
The veteran forward, though, took his services to the Dallas Stars this
offseason and kicks off the campaign against his former employer on Saturday
The 40-year-old led the Coyotes with 77 points last season, matching a career
high with 53 assists while playing in all 82 games. That included six points
over Phoenix's season-ending five-game winning streak that helped the club
finish a point ahead of the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the division.
Whitney did slow to seven points in 16 playoff games as the Coyotes won their
first two playoff series since relocating from Winnipeg prior to the 1996-97
season before getting ousted by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings in the
Western Conference finals.
The Stars, though, signed Whitney to a two-year contract and also inked
another 40-year-old vet in Jaromir Jagr, who had 19 goals and 35 assists in 73
games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season after playing the previous
three campaigns in Russia's KHL.
Dallas is hoping to mix the veterans in with some younger players like Cody
Eakin, Reilly Smith and Philip Larsen in an effort to snap a four-year playoff
"We've certainly got some competition. These young guys are certainly going to
have a leg up. They've been playing," said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. "I think
it's going to take, for most of the league, it's going to take some of the
guys, especially some of the veteran guys, to get going. We're not going to be
afraid to use our bench and use our depth, our young players, especially
Eakin was part of the package the Stars received from the Washington Capitals
in exchange for forward Mike Ribeiro, while Steve Ott was dealt along with
defenseman Adam Pardy to the Buffalo Sabres for center Derek Roy.
The Stars also elected not to re-sign defender Sheldon Souray, instead adding
blue liner Aaron Rome.
"We have some new key guys coming into the team, a lot of good offensive
players, so it will definitely help us in the power play and all-around game
too. I think we have a really good team here," said forward Loui Eriksson.
Dallas is really good in net, where Kari Lehtonen had a career year in posting
a 32-22-4 record with a 2.33 goals against average and .922 save percentage in
59 games, but restricted free agent center Jamie Benn has yet to be signed.
Phoenix is looking to ride its goaltender to the playoffs after Mike Smith did
an outstanding job replacing Ilya Bryzgalov in net. The one-time Star went
38-18-10 in 67 games, posting an outstanding 2.21 GAA and .930 save
percentage with a career-best eight shutouts.
The Coyotes also added defender Zbynek Michalek in a trade with the Pittsburgh
Penguins, and with a potential owner lined up in Greg Jamison, were able to
re-sign Shane Doan, who returns to the only NHL club he has ever known with a
new 4-year deal.
Phoenix still must replace Whitney's production, so it signed 38-year-old vet
Steve Sullivan, who notched 17 goals in 79 games last season with the
Penguins, and reacquired center Matthew Lombardi from the Toronto Maple Leafs
right before the start of the season.
Head coach Dave Tippett said he isn't looking for any one player to replace
Whitney, but that Sullivan will be part of the group that picks up the slack.
"He's valuable all over the ice because he's a hard worker and his offensive
instincts are pretty strong," noted Tippett.
Both Doan (lower body) and Boyd Gordon (upper body) are questionable for this
game due to injury, but were able to practice on Thursday. However, the
Coyotes will open the season without Raffi Torres, who finishes off his
reduced suspension stemming from a hit on the Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa
in the postseason.
Originally banned for 25 games, Torres had the suspension -- which began for
the rest of the playoffs -- lowered and will miss the first eight games of
this shortened season.
The Stars and Coyotes split their six meetings last season, with Dallas
winning two of three at home.
The Sports Network