That was quick. Hours after the official start of NHL free agency, the Coyotes jumped into the first-day frenzy of activity Tuesday, signing free agent defenseman Kurt Sauer and forward Todd Fedoruk to multi-year deals.
Sauer will make approximately $7 million over four years, while Fedoruk signed a three-year contract for just more than $3 million.
Sauer, 27, had one goal and six points in 54 games last season for the Colorado Avalanche. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound native of St. Cloud, Minn., missed 28 games because of a neck injury. He reached the 2003 Stanley Cup finals with Anaheim, and was anxious to play for a rising contender in Phoenix.
“They made great runs last year and are getting better and I want to be part of that,” said Sauer, whose father, Curt, played baseball for the Minnesota Twins. “They’re getting ready to make the playoffs and make a run.”
Defense was a top priority for the Coyotes after trading away Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton last month, and they view Sauer as a potential shut-down defender. They also like this deal from a value perspective, given the money shelled out to defensemen on Day 1 of free agency.
“He fits what we need in giving our young players an opportunity,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.
Fedoruk, 29, is an enforcer who split last season between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars, tallying 13 points and 139 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder has appeared in 423 career NHL games for Minnesota, Dallas, Anaheim and Philadelphia.
Fedoruk had titanium plates permanently embedded into his face to repair injuries caused to him in a fight with Minnesota enforcer Derek Boogaard during the 2006-07 season.
“Let’s be a harder team to play against,” said Maloney, who’s on the lookout for another defenseman. “We have some work to do (on the blue line) to make it better, but I think we’re better now than 24 hours ago.”
FIRST-ROUND PICKS SIGN
Eager to get their first-round draft picks under contract, the Coyotes locked up Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov.
Both will make close to the $875,000 entry-level maximum for the next three years, plus incentives.
Boedker, 18, was selected with the eighth overall pick. He recorded 29 goals and 44 assists (73 points) and 14 penalty minutes in 69 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
Tikhonov, 20, was picked 28th overall, a selection acquired from the Anaheim Ducks. He’s the grandson of former Russian Red Army coach Viktor Tikhonov.
A new league in Russia has recently offered Jaromir Jagr $15 million annually, and the prospect of more Russian players choosing the mammoth paycheck to stay home pressed the Coyotes into quick action.
“They’re spending money like drunken sailors and attracting any skilled players,” Maloney said of the Russian hockey leagues. “They’re very aggressive in keeping young Russian players in Russia and throw outrageous numbers at them.
“If it’s me or my son I might learn to eat borscht. The money’s real and they’re getting paid, it’s legitimate. Doesn’t make economic sense but it’s being supported by oil and government subsidies. It’ll run its course.”
VRBATA SIGNS WITH TAMPA
Unwilling to get into a bidding war for the services of forward Radim Vrbata, the Coyotes saw the free agent sign a three-year, $9 million contract with Tampa Bay.
The 27-year-old wing picked a good time to post a career season, in which he had 56 points, second-highest on the team. But he had zero goals in the final 22 games of the season. The drafting of Boedker and Tikhonov determined Phoenix was going to spend its money elsewhere.
“We think we could be younger and over time, better,” Maloney said.
The Coyotes are still searching for a replacement to recently departed assistant Rick Tocchet, who left to be an assistant with Barry Melrose in Tampa Bay.
Maloney said he has a few people and ideas in mind, and plans to begin discussions with coach Wayne Gretzky in the next week.