GLENDALE – The Coyotes have taken a major step in solidifying their defense by re-signing All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle to a five-year contract.
After a lull in talks, negotiations between Yandle, a restricted free agent, and the Coyotes heated up Tuesday morning and the deal was closed on Tuesday afternoon.
Yandle, 24, said that when it came to the number of years of his new contract with Phoenix he told his agent to take a “the-more-the-merrier” approach.
“My experience already has been so great in Phoenix, and I want to be there and I want to play there for a long time,” Yandle said.
Yandle, is coming off his finest NHL season in which he notched career-highs in assists (49) and points (58), and was selected to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. He also led the team in minutes per game, and scored 11 goals, one shy of his career-best for a season. In the playoffs vs. Detroit, Yandle assisted on five of Phoenix’s 10 goals.
Among NHL defensemen, only Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom notched more points than Yandle, and only Visnovsky dished out more assists.
“Keith is an important part of our team,” General Manager Don Maloney said. “He’s an assistant captain, he fits into our culture, and he fits into our future. I think if you look at the term, and even the dollars spent, I thought it was good value for a top, young, Norris Trophy potential defenseman that I believe still has upside to his game.”
Yandle, too, sees room for his game to grow.
“Offensively, I’ve got to keep producing, keep playing well and helping the team five-on-five and on the power play,” Yandle said. “Defensively, obviously it’s a big part of winning… You’ve got to be strong in your own end. That’s somehing I try to clean up every day.”
Listening to Yandle answer questions on Tuesday, it was easy to deduce that he feels a strong sense of loyalty to the Coyotes, the team that selected him with the 105th overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
“They’re the one (team) that gave me a chance and you want to play there forever,” Yandle said.
Yandle is hoping that his signing sends a message to other players that the Coyotes are still, despite ongoing ownership issues, a great franchise for which to play.
Like he did in 2009-10, Yandle played in all 82 games last season and his leadership skills evolved. Now an experienced alternate captain, Yandle is considered an integral piece of the Coyotes’ long-term future, and logic suggests he may someday wear the captain’s “C” after Shane Doan has retired.
That scenario sounds good to Yandle, who sits next to Doan in the team’s dressing room.
“You want to be a guy on your team that’s a leader and that can help your team,” Yandle said. “You want to be a guy that guys can come to and talk to, just the way that ‘Doaner’ is.”
He added, “I’ve learned from the best. ‘Doaner’ is always up for leader of the year and he’s recognized as such a great leader and a great man and obviously, being under him, I’ve had the privilege of learning his ways and stealing some of his ways… I would love to be the captain of the Coyotes when Doaner’s retired.”
Meanwhile, Maloney reported that the Coyotes are “fairly close” to reaching a contract agreement with restricted free-agent forward Lauri Korpikoski, and that salary arbitration may not be needed in Korpikoski’s case. Maloney also revealed that the Coyotes were looking for a new ECHL affiliate on the East Coast to better complement the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Reach Dave Vest at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.
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