With another season lost, the Coyotes began their latest rebuilding project Tuesday. This time, coach Wayne Gretzky said, the approach is to go young, establish stability and focus on both the short- and long-term future.
With that in mind, Phoenix made three trades, moving All-Star center Yanic Perreault and wingers Oleg Saprykin and Georges Laraque — the team’s second-, third- and seventh-leading scorers, respectively — before the 1 p.m. trade deadline.
In return, the Coyotes acquired two second-round draft choices and a third-round pick in the 2008 draft along with two minor league prospects.
Additionally, they claimed center Niko Kapanen off waivers from the Atlanta Thrashers and signed center Kevyn Adams to a one-year, $650,000 extension.
“We all felt we’ve got to get stability,” Gretzky said. “We loaded up with draft picks and younger guys.
“We’ve given quality older guys a chance to go to better teams.”
Signing many of those older players in the past is a predominant reason why the Coyotes haven’t been a playoff team since 2002 and won’t be again this year.
Some, such as Perreault, Curtis Joseph and Owen Nolan, have proven to be quality additions, but bringing aboard the likes of Mike Ricci, Jeremy Roenick, Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Sean O’Donnell and Tony Amonte — players clearly past their prime or bad fits — has made Phoenix into a seller at the trade deadline the past four seasons.
“We’ve tried to patch this team and stay above water the past couple of years,” Gretzky said. “It just hasn’t worked out.”
Laraque was one of the patches that didn’t work out this season. Signed to a two-year deal in July, the 30-year-old enforcer was a pleasant surprise on the offensive end (five goals, 22 points) but wasn’t nearly the physical force Phoenix wanted him to be.
He was involved in only one fight the past three months, and on a couple of occasions, his failure to act after hard hits were leveled on the Coyotes’ skill players enraged the coaching staff.
He was told last week he would never play again for Phoenix, and after being given permission to talk with Pittsburgh and Calgary, Laraque waived his no-trade clause to join the Penguins.
Pittsburgh gave up 22-year-old forward Daniel Carcillo (21 goals, 30 points, 183 penalty minutes this season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL) and a third-round pick in 2008.
“On a professional level, this is the best place I could have gone,” said Laraque, who added he hasn’t spoken with Gretzky in months.
“We had a little bit of a disagreement,” Gretzky said. “Georges felt he deserved maybe more playing time than I felt he deserved.”
Perreault, second on the team with 19 goals, was dealt with a fifth-round pick in ’08 to Toronto — his third stint with that club — for 23-year-old defenseman Brendan Bell (one goal, five points, minus-2 in 31 games for the Maple Leafs) and a second-round choice in ’08.
This trade was somewhat of a surprise since both Perreault and the Coyotes said Monday they hoped to agree to an extension. The Coyotes offered a Perreault a one-year, $1.25 million deal with incentives that could make the contract worth as much $1.5 million, but Perreault was seeking around $2 million, a league source said.
“We felt we made a fair offer,” Gretzky said. “We really would have liked to have re-signed him. I love him on our team.”
Perreault, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and has had a house in the Valley for the past decade-plus, didn’t rule out the possibility of returning.
“Who knows?” he said. “If it’s an option, I’ll look at it for sure.”
Meanwhile, the Coyotes picked up a second-round pick in ’08 from Ottawa for Saprykin, who established career highs in goals (14), assists (20) and points (34), and a seventh-round pick this year.
“I know I’m going to be in the playoffs. I know how Canada reacts in the playoffs,” said Saprykin, who went to the Stanley Cup finals with Calgary in 2004. “It’s a great feeling. … It’s unbelievable.”
As for some other Coyotes mentioned in rumors, Phoenix had discussions with Detroit about Nolan. However, the 35-year-old, who returned this season after being away from the game for two years with knee injures, didn’t want to join the Red Wings, Gretzky said.
“He said, 'I love it here.’ We said, 'Fine.’ We granted his wishes,” Gretzky said.
The coach added there was no interest in goalie Joseph.
Adams, though, did draw some interest, but the 32-year-old opted to stay put.
“I really feel that this team has got direction and a lot of good pieces in place,” Adams said. “I really feel that I can help provide and be one of the pieces to this franchise.”
As for Kapanen, Carcillo and Bell, they are expected to join the club today in Vancouver and be available for Thursday’s game against the Canucks.
Kapanen, 28, has four goals and 13 points and was a minus-12 in 60 games this season.
In 299 games over five seasons, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder, who won a silver medal with Finland at the 2006 Olympics, has 24 goals and 89 points.