GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes placed forward Steve Downie on waivers Sunday morning, putting the struggling forward’s future with the team in doubt.
The move could simply give general manager Don Maloney roster flexibility, but it’s clear that the club’s decision to sign him to a one-year, $1.75 million deal this offseason hasn’t panned out. Maloney declined comment until Downie’s waiver expires Monday at 10 a.m.
Downie has struggled to keep up with the pace of the game and has played in just 25 of the team’s 44 contests. He has three goals, six points and a team-high 53 penalty minutes.
There had been some speculation that the move might signal that forward Joe Vitale is nearing a return from a fractured orbital bone and concussion symptoms but Maloney said Vitale is nowhere near returning. He was undergoing therapy in Atlanta until about a week ago that the team was hoping would help.
Vitale was injured in a fight with Boston’s Kevan Miller on Oct. 17 at Gila River Arena.
MALONEY: NO CONSPIRACY IN SCOTT TRADE
General manager Don Maloney responded to suggestions in the media that he helped orchestrate the trade of John Scott (and defenseman Victor Bartley) to Montreal for Jarred Tinordi (and forward Stefan Fournier) to rid the Coyotes and the NHL of its All-Star Game headache after Scott was voted captain of the Pacific Division.
“I was really surprised (TSN’s) Bob McKenzie suggested we might be working with the NHL to keep John Scott out of the All Star game,” Maloney said via text. “I found it incredible someone might believe this. The NHL doesn’t run our team nor (does it) have any influence on our player decisions.
“We had to create roster room (given our addition of Kevin Connauton) and find a way to add Tinordi’s salary. Scott was the only option Montreal would take to make this deal work.
“I do feel for John, but the harsh realty is that this is the business we are in. He is on an NHL one-way contract. Many players with similar skill sets (eg. Colton Orr) are playing in the minors on a minor-league salary.”
Tinordi was set to board a flight with his Montreal teammates to St. Louis on Friday when he was pulled aside and told he had been traded.
“It’s different — it was the first time for me to go through something like that,” he said.
Tinordi was the Canadiens’ first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2010), but he has just six assists in 46 career NHL games. Maloney said he felt Tinordi might benefit from a fresh start and the chance to work with assistant coach Jim Playfair. Tinordi agreed.
“Things weren’t really going that well for me this year,” said Tinordi, 23. “When you look at the lineup, that’s a deep team in Montreal; deep defense. They couldn’t get me in.”
Adding Tinordi and claiming Connauton off waivers gives the Coyotes eight defensemen on the roster. Only Connor Murphy is eligible to go to the minors without being exposed to waivers (he’s not going anywhere) so the Coyotes will have to manage an unusual situation that coach Dave Tippett downplayed, even though there are less spots available on the blue per game (generally six) than there are forward spots (12).
“It’s just like managing two extra forwards,” Tippett said. “You’re always worried if a player doesn’t play very much (about) getting him engaged in the game and not just getting his game going — but to make sure he’s part of the group.”
DAY OFF FOR DOMINGUE
The Coyotes opted to start goalie Anders Lindback on Saturday against New Jersey while giving Louis Domingue a day off after seven straight starts.
“It’s a good time to give him a break and Lindy is champing at the bit to play,” said Tippett, who added that Domingue did nothing wrong to warrant a game off.
“He’s a young player still. It’s the first time he’s been put in that position,” Tippett said. “The last two games were both overtime games and he’s put in a real good body of work.
“I don’t think it’s so much of a physical rest. Sometimes you just need to take a mental break for a day.”
Domingue will be back in goal on Monday against Buffalo.
Tippett used a coach’s challenge to review the Detroit Red Wings’ game-tying goal in Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss because he believed forward Justin Abdelkader interfered with goalie Louis Domingue.
“Abdelkader’s leg is stuck in Domingue’s pad so he can’t get across,” Tippett said. “To me, it’s inhibiting the goaltender’s ability to make a save. I’d call it 10 out of 10 times.”
Unfortunately for Tippett, officials saw it differently and upheld the goal. That has been the pattern for Tippett this season. The Coyotes coach has used his challenge four times — against Detroit, Carolina, Ottawa and Anaheim — and four times his challenge has failed to reverse the call on the ice.
The Coyotes’ penalty killing unit was an area of specific focus entering Saturday’s game against the Devils. The unit had allowed a goal in nine of the last 11 games and 14 in opponents’ last 36 power-play chances (61.1 percent).
“Our save percentage on the PK is not as good as it should be or not as good as it needs to be,” Tippett said. “That’s not just Louis, that’s all three of our goaltenders.
“I think there are some things structurally we can do better; more consistently, but usually when you have issues like that it’s not just one thing. If it’s one thing you can stop it.”
Tippett said luck always factors into a unit’s success over short stretches. The Coyotes penalty-killing unit ended up killing both Devils power plays on Saturday.
Sabres at Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Season series: Buffalo leads, 1-0
Probable goalies: Coyotes — Louis Domingue. Sabres — Chad Johnson.
Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) and F Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out. Sabres — F Tyler Ennis (IR, upper body), F Nicolas Deslauriers (IR, lower body), F Cody McCormick (IR, blood clot) and F Zemgus Girgensons (upper body) are out. D Josh Gorges (undisclosed) made the trip.
Scouting the Sabres: Buffalo handed Washington goaltender Braden Holtby his first regulation loss in 23 decisions this season with a 4-1 win on Saturday, but the Sabres are just 3-7 in their last 10 games. … Rookie Jack Eichel has jumped back into the Calder Trophy race and currently sits fourth among NHL rookies with 27 points (13 goals). … C Ryan O’Reilly leads the Sabres with 17 goals and 38 points. … Former Coyotes G Chad Johnson has a 2.41 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 27 games.
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