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Off the Ice: Whitney departure bodes ill for Coyotes in offseason

It only took two hours of NHL free agency for the Coyotes ownership situation to rear its ugly head.

After penning a deal with the Dallas Stars, former Coyotes forward Ray Whitney said that the Coyotes ownership situation was a primary reason he chose to leave the desert.

“I found in Phoenix, without an owner, we got stuck with some of the worst scheduling I’ve seen in 20 years,” Whitney told the media after signing, adding that the “guys in New York” also had an influence.

This, simply put, does not bode well for a Coyotes team who needs to add top line talent in the offseason.

Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney has already said his team is willing to move a few defensemen and that the team is looking for forwards. A trade is great, but free agency would be better.

When it comes to adding players, there is no better way for the Coyotes than free agency right now. Sitting over $14 million below the cap floor, any trades would have to involve the Coyotes taking on larger contracts than what they are trading away. Granted, that $14 million doesn’t include any qualifying offers, but there is still a lot of addition that has to happen.

Whitney marked the loss of the biggest offensive asset the Coyotes had. A now-gaping hole has to be filled on the top line and 35-goal scorer Radim Vrbata is without his biggest assist man. The problem is now convincing a replacement that he won’t be forced to pack up and leave town as soon as he pens a new deal.

Whitney is also a respected veteran in the NHL, a league that encourages younger players to follow the older guys to learn to be successful. When Wizard came out and said the Coyotes ownership situation is a primary reason for leaving, he unwittingly told all the young talent that Phoenix wasn’t worth his trouble. I know he did not do this intentionally, but when a guy that many around the league look up to, players listen.

I have faith in Maloney and his moves, as he has done a great job working with a constricted budget and often unbalanced circumstances to build teams that find ways to win. But Whitney leaving damages the team’s reputation and the opinion of the group league-wide. This is going to be one hell of a hill to climb for Maloney.

Despite all this, I wish Whitney all the best in Dallas. I understand that, in the twilight of his career, an athlete doesn’t want to put up with constant talk of relocation. He will be missed here in the desert. But his leaving — and especially his comments — have just given a glimpse into what could be a long, painful summer for the Coyotes.

Until this all-too-well-published ownership ordeal comes to a close, players will be reluctant to come to the desert. What could be a top destination for many becomes a carefully selected option for few.