Not long after the NHL draft, just before the start of a busy free-agency period, Phoenix Coyotes manager Don Maloney was concerned about the team's ability to sign Keith Yandle.
Yandle's agent had indicated his client wanted to remain in the desert, but the high prices other teams had been paying for middle-of-the-road defencemen had Maloney wondering if it would cost too much to keep his young all-star.
Maloney got his man, even if it cost a little more than the financially conscious Coyotes might have wanted to spend, signing Yandle to a five-year deal Tuesday worth US$26.25 million.
"Keith is an alternate captain, he fits into our culture and he fits into our future, and when we looked at the term, even with dollars spent, I thought it was good value for a top young Norris Trophy-potential defenceman that I still believe has upside to his game," Maloney said.
Yandle, 24, has developed into one of the NHL's top offensive defencemen in five seasons with Phoenix, a durable player who can eat up minutes and was third among all blue-liners with 59 points in 82 games last season. The Boston native had 11 goals, led the Coyotes with 26 power-play points and was the team's lone representative at the all-star game.
A restricted free agent, Yandle always wanted to return to Phoenix, where he's raising a family, so when the team called Tuesday morning with a five-year deal, he gave it a quick green light.
"Obviously, I'm very excited to get it done today and have the rest of the summer to can focus on what we need to accomplish next year," Yandle said. "Getting it done now is the best thing that could have happened and signing the five-year deal just shows how much I believe in the team and believe in Phoenix."
Yandle has been a superb offensive player in his five seasons with Phoenix, scoring 32 goals with 112 assists in 283 games. Defensively, he's been solid, though sometimes tries to jump into the play at the offensive end instead of staying home and making the simple play. The next step in his development will be to become a steadier presence inside Phoenix's blue line while still finding ways to create offence.
"I think that will come with maturity," Maloney said. "Once he realizes he needs to just make the simple play and move the puck [he'll be fine]."
The Coyotes managed to fill the hole left by goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's signing in Philadelphia by bringing in Mike Smith and had several other signings, becoming big players in the free agent market despite being run by the NHL for the third straight year.
Next up for Phoenix will be to find a quality centre, either through free agency or with a trade, and to keep left winger Lauri Korpikoski.
Korpikoski steadily improved last season and was a key contributor during the playoffs, but is a restricted free agent who filed for arbitration Tuesday. The Coyotes can still sign him or wait until the arbitration period that runs from July 20 through August 4.
"I'm confident we'll get something done," Maloney said. "I don't think we're that far apart."