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Don Maloney contract is first step on long road

One down, two to go.

When the Phoenix Coyotes announced that they had re-signed General Manager Don Maloney to a "long-term contract" on Friday, I let out a mixed sigh of relief and frustration.

Maloney is one of the biggest reasons for the Coyotes' success over the past few seasons. He was signed to the team in 2007 and the organization hasn't looked back since.

Under Maloney's tenure, the Coyotes have had a cumulative record of 230-172-56, including three playoff appearances. That's admirable when in charge of a normal team, but factor in the ownership kerfuffle and this man clearly has a knack for not just signing names, but building teams.

The Coyotes, as we all know, are not a team that relies on talent to post wins, but a system that emphasizes the basics, team play and effort. It's a machine that needs all of its cogs working or else it falls apart, a stool that falls without its legs.

The re-signing of Maloney acts as one of those legs for the Coyotes but the organization still has a long way to go to stay competitive.

It's become a routine topic during the summer, but the team is still without an owner. Hopefully Maloney putting pen to paper is a good indicator that the sale process is moving along, but no one knows for sure.

Whether or not the sale goes through, the Coyotes now need to focus on retaining head coach Dave Tippett, whose contract is up. He's going to attract a lot of attention should he be allowed to hit the free market and, without an owner willing to get the type of players Tippett demands, he may choose to take his talents -- and system -- elsewhere.

The Coyotes are hitting a key free agency period. With Maloney in place, the team can likely still acquire several players, but decisions need to be made. The two biggest cogs that are unrestricted free agents are goalie Mike Smith (arguably one of the best 'tenders in the NHL) and forward Boyd Gordon (the shot-blocking, faceoff guy who embodies Tippett's system).

Several other players, most notably forwards Kyle Chipchura and Mikkel Boedker (RFA) and defenseman Michael Stone (RFA), are likely to attract a good deal of attention come July 5. If those players leave, the Coyotes will be hard-pressed to find effort players that can still produce at a value price.

Signing Maloney was a big step for the Coyotes in an important off-season. He's part of the reason the team is competitive and the first leg of the proverbial stool, but they still have work to do. A lot of it.

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