GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s a disturbingly common practice to paint the world with black and white brush strokes. One political party is good; the other is evil. One pro player is great, another one stinks.
The truth is almost always shades of gray, so credit Arizona Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc for painting a nuanced picture when discussing GM Don Maloney’s firing on Monday.
“I’m not sitting here saying there weren’t good things,” LeBlanc said at a press conference at Gila River Arena. “There were some tremendously good things. This is one of the more difficult days I’ve had as a professional manager.”
Maloney’s insulated managerial style and a series of missteps over the last four seasons spelled his doom. LeBlanc made that clear when he highlighted the need for “collaboration, communication and the modernization of our entire process,” but the positives products of Maloney’s nine years of labor should not be ignored because of his dismissal.
I’ll always appreciate Maloney’s unfailing candor and humor with reporters, but Coyotes fans will most likely remember him as the architect of the best three-year run in this franchise’s history.
Here’s a look at some of Maloney’s best and worst moments as Coyotes GM.
— He signed forward Ray Whitney to a two-year deal for $6 million in 2010. In two seasons, Whitney amassed 134 points.
— He was a master bargain hunter, landing key forwards Wojtek Wolski and Lee Stempniak for playoff runs and Radim Vrbata for years of low-priced productivity.
— In 2010, he was the first recipient of the NHL General Manager of the Year Award after the Coyotes finished with 50 wins and 107 points and ended a six-year playoff drought.
— He led the Coyotes to three straight 40-plus-win seasons for the first time in franchise history. In 2012, they won the first division title in franchise history, their first playoff series since moving to Arizona in 1996, and they advanced to the Western Conference Final.
— He had the wisdom to re-sign captain Shane Doan to a four-year, $21.2 million deal at age 35, understanding that a potential decline in production (which obviously didn’t happen this season) would be offset by Doan’s immeasurable contributions to this franchise and market.
— He traded Kale Kessy to Edmonton for forward Tobias Rieder. We know. It’s the Oilers, but still…
— He drafted key parts of the Coyotes’ promising future including: defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Connor Murphy and Michael Stone, forwards Max Domi, Jordan Martinook, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, and goaltender Louis Domingue.
— At last year’s trade deadline, he dealt center Antoine Vermette to the Blackhawks for a first-round pick (prospect Nick Merkley) and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck, and then he re-signed Vermette in the offseason.
— In a package deal, he sent defenseman Keith Yandle to the Rangers for forward Anthony Duclair and New York’s first-round pick either this season or next.
— He had the wisdom to be patient with Domi and let him develop for another year in the minor leagues before bringing him to the NHL. The move was influenced by past mistakes when rushing prospects Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker to the NHL, but that wisdom clearly paid off. Domi has said countless times how much the extra year benefitted him.
— In 2007, he claimed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. Bryzgalov went on to set the Coyotes record for most total wins (130), wins in a season (42) and shutouts (21).
— For various reasons, Maloney wasn’t able to re-sign several key first-round draft picks. Blake Wheeler (2004) finished tied for sixth in the NHL in points with Winnipeg, Mueller (2006) was traded in the Wolski deal, Turris (2007) is a top-six forward in Ottawa and Boedker (2008) was traded at this year’s deadline after Maloney passed on a chance to sign him to a long-term deal three seasons ago for far less money.
— He could have kept Vrbata for essentially no raise in the summer of 2014 and chose to part ways with a player who scored 31 goals the following season.
— He constructed one of the worst rosters in franchise history in 2014-15. His biggest acquisitions were Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale and B.J. Crombeen. The Coyotes finished with 56 points, their lowest total since arriving in Arizona in 1996.
— Desperate for an elite center, he signed bad boy Mike Ribeiro to a four-year deal with an average annual value of $5.5 million. Ribeiro lasted one season amid a host of off-ice and locker room issues before the Coyotes bought him out. To be fair, this signing was as much on coach Dave Tippett as it was on Maloney since Tippett had vouched for Ribeiro after their years together in Dallas. Arizona will pay Ribeiro’s buyout for four more seasons.
— Maloney pursued a trade with Boston for Dougie Hamilton last summer as a potential top-pairing defenseman to play alongside Ekman-Larsson, but Calgary GM and old friend Brad Treliving beat him to the punch. Maloney believed the Coyotes’ offer was better, and said Boston had wanted the No. 3 pick in the draft (which turned into Dylan Strome), but some within the organization felt Maloney could have worked out another deal for a piece many considered the key to the offseason.
— In a move that still has the league miffed at the organization, he traded enforcer John Scott to Montreal for defenseman Jarred Tinordi mere weeks before the All-Star Game. Fans had voted Scott into the All-Star Game, but the Canadiens shipped Scott to the American Hockey League and the NHL had a P.R. nightmare on its hands. In a potentially related note, the Coyotes did not have an All-Star representative this season despite a league rule that each team must be represented.
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