GLENDALE – Phoenix Coyotes’ General Manager Don Maloney believes he has improved the team’s defense for the immediate and long term with the trade deadline addition of Rostislav Klesla.
Maloney acquired Klesla from the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto on Monday.
“Klesla is a big mobile defenseman who in his whole career has played against the top lines of opponents,” said Maloney on the Sports 620 KTAR’s Gambo and Ash show on Tuesday.
“When you start looking at our defense now, we feel like we’re as good as anybody.”
Klesla scored three goals and seven assists with a +10 rating in 45 games for the Blue Jackets this season.
He is expected to pair with Michal Rozsival.
The Coyotes’ general manager felt the team was vulnerable on the blue line with the loss of injured defenseman Ed Jovanovski who fractured multiple orbital bones and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
“Our focus turned to defense a couple weeks ago when Jovanovski went down. We just didn’t feel like we were strong enough defending,” said Maloney.
Klesla may be replacing Jovanovski in more ways than one.
Jovanovski is due to become an unrestricted free agent and the cash strapped Coyotes may be forced to let him walk in the offseason, so acquiring a potential replacement was essential.
Money also played a factor as the Coyotes weren’t able to add any payroll, so any deal the team made had to be dollar for dollar.
Klesla is locked up under contract at a reasonable rate for about $3 million for the next three years.
“He’s got a good contract for a relatively young player,” said Maloney.
Maloney said the team was fortunate to find a willing trade partner in Columbus.
“We’ve been really active searching for a bigger defensman, who can play heavy minutes against good players, and they are very hard to find,” said Maloney.
Phoenix traded away a good player in Scottie Upshall, who was popular with his teammates, but the organization felt they had enough depth in the system to replace his offense.
“Mikkel Boedker has really come on the scene as of late. He’s emerged to be an everyday player for us, so we had the luxury of dealing Upshall,” said Maloney.
The team also has plans to promote Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov from San Antonio down the stretch.
The Coyotes currently have the number four seed in the Western Conference, but are only separated from the ninth spot by four points.
“We have 18 games to go and they all feel like elimination games. It’s so tight in the Western Conference, so we just have to keep winning,” said Maloney.