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‘Yotes Notes: Tikhonov returns to Russia

Arizona Coyotes left wing Viktor Tikhonov, left, celebrates after scoring a goal on Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Viktor Tikhonov’s return to the NHL and the team that drafted him was short-lived. Tikhonov signed a one-year deal on Sunday to return to SKA St. Petersburg of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, the team with which he played from 2011-15 before signing a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in June of 2015.

Chicago waived Tikhonov in December and the Coyotes claimed him, bringing him back to the franchise that selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft (he played 61 games with the Coyotes in the 2008-09 season and had eight goals and 16 points). Tikhonov had some good moments in a Coyotes uniform, but he mostly bounced around the lineup and appeared in just 39 games, scoring three goals and adding three assists.

Tikhonov’s agent, Thomas Lynn, said there were no firm NHL offers for the 6-foot-2, 189-pound Russian forward, who is the grandson of legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov.

“The few teams in the NHL that had some interest wanted to wait to see how arbitrations and some restricted free agents came out for another month,” Lynn said. “Vik did not have that time.”

Lynn said some teams in the Swiss League also expressed strong interest, but the pay is better in the KHL.

“I’m very surprised at the lack of NHL interest,” Lynn said. “He is a proven utility guy who can play center or wing, kill penalties, play on the first line when someone is injured for two weeks, and then the fourth line for three weeks, then sit for five games without complaint.

“Around March, a few teams will complain they don’t have the depth at forward for (playoff) runs and will trade fourth- or fifth-round picks for non-top six forwards. Oh well, you can’t tell a guy what kind of pizza he likes.”

In returning to SKA St. Petersburg, Tikhonov will get the chance to reunite with childhood idol Pavel Datsyuk, with whom Tikhonov played on the 2014 Russian Olympic team. Datsyuk decided to forego the final season of his NHL contract with the Detroit Red Wings. He signed a two-year deal with SKA to be closer to his teenage daughter and continue his career in the KHL.

“He’s been my favorite player for a long time,” Tikhonov said of Datsyuk in an interview last season. “I have one of his sticks that he gave me sitting at home, untouched. It will stay untouched.”

RETURN OF VRBY?

Rich Evans, the agent for unrestricted free agent and former Coyote Radim Vrbata, has kept quiet this summer about negotiations for his client, but he offered a general update on Monday.

“We have been discussing the structure of a contract with four teams and hope to come to an agreement shortly,” Evans wrote.

Evans would not confirm which teams were involved and he would not say if the Coyotes are one of them, but it is believed that the Coyotes have had at least some level of discussion about bringing the Czech wing back.

Vrbata, 35, played a total of six seasons with the Coyotes, posting his best year in 2011-12 when he scored a career-high 35 goals and totaled 62 points. Following the 2013-14 season in which he had 20 goals and 51 points, the Coyotes made Vrbata a four-year offer, believed to be for a total of $10 million, that he eventually declined to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with Vancouver.

Despite scoring 31 goals and posting a career-high 63 points playing mostly alongside the Sedin twins in 2014-15, the Canucks opted to break up that line last season and Vrbata slipped to 13 goals and 27 points.

RFA NEGOTIATIONS ONGOING

The deadline for restricted free agents Connor Murphy and Tobias Rieder to accept their qualifying offers from the Coyotes expired on July 15 with the agents for both players saying no deals are imminent. While general manager John Chayka said the tenor of talks with Murphy has been good, Murphy’s agent, Brian Bartlett, was uncertain when a deal might be struck.

“I hope we are close,” he wrote via text message. “Still have a gap to bridge, but confident we will get it done eventually. Could wrap up with one phone call but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get on the same page.”

Rieder’s agent, Darren Ferris, continues to assert that the two sides are not close to a deal, with a significant difference of opinion on what Rieder is worth. Rieder set career highs for goals (14) and assists (23) last season. He averaged 17:18 of ice time in 82 games in the last season of a three-year, $2.8 million entry-level contract.

Ferris said he has some strong interest from European and KHL clubs (Metallurg and Omsk are possible), and he also intimated on Friday that Rieder could receive an offer sheet from another NHL team, which would force the Coyotes to either match the offer or walk away with compensation. It is unclear whether that will happen.

Defenseman Michael Stone is another restricted free agent. His agent did not return several messages seeking comment.

The NHL Players Association set an Aug. 4 hearing date for his arbitration case with the Coyotes. When a player elects salary arbitration, the team typically picks a term of either one or two years, but because Stone, 26, can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, an arbitrator would award a one-year contract.

Stone is coming off a three-year, $3.45 million deal that paid him $1.45 million last season when he had six goals and a career-high 36 points. He also ranked first on the team in blocked shots (143) and second in ice time (22:27).

CHIPCHURA SIGNS IN KHL

Former Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura signed a one-year deal with HC Slovan (Bratislava, Slovakia) to play in the KHL.

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