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Phoenix Coyotes continue operating at draft amid uncertainty

MONTREAL - Don Maloney figures the ball is in his court now.

The Phoenix Coyotes GM continued to conduct business as usual during the first round of the entry draft on Friday, the same day Jerry Reinsdorf submitted a US$148-million bid to purchase the team.

Now that it appears the Coyotes will remain in the desert, Maloney figures it's up to him and the hockey operations staff to start getting more fans to games.

"We have to do our job," he said. "If we do, it's a great sports town - people will show up, people will support us. We have to show them something too.

"We're happy we're still breathing and hopefully we can do some good things."

The Coyotes hope they made a step in that direction by selecting Swedish defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson sixth overall on Friday. He played for Leksand in his country's second division last season.

Ekman-Larsson will remain in Sweden next season and hopes to put on some muscle - he's currently six foot two and 176 pounds.

"We've got to fatten him up," said Maloney.

The 18-year-old has no qualms about joining the organization. He was absolutely beaming while wearing one of the Coyotes white jerseys in the bowels of the Bell Centre.

"It's the biggest day of my life so far," said Ekman-Larsson.

It also appears to be a big day for fans of the team - although Maloney was quick to caution that there are still some issues to be worked out. Reinsdorf's offer calls for a new Jobing.com Arena lease with the city of Glendale and unspecified new agreements with other creditors, including the NHL, which has been funding the club.

Maloney's biggest task is finding a way to get the Coyotes into the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Once the draft wraps up on Saturday, the GM will turn his attention to the start of free agency next week. He recently received a budget for next season in a meeting with an NHL official and one representing current Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes.

He plans to be a bargain hunter on July 1.

"We have some holes that we think we can fill with some value players," said Maloney.

There are also restricted free agents like Scottie Upshall and Keith Yandle to sign, something Maloney feels he'll be able to boo.

Fans chanted "Hamilton! Hamilton!" as the Coyotes delegation went to the podium during the first round of the draft. Unlike past years, head coach Wayne Gretzky wasn't part of the group on the stage.

Maloney indicated that the coach's future with the franchise was no more uncertain than any other employee.

"He's a great hockey mind and we've got to get through this period," said Maloney. "Once the ownership gets here then everybody will get together and talk and see what the future holds quite frankly for all of us, including Wayne."

The future was looking a little brighter from the draft floor.

"This is a day of hope for every organization," said Maloney. "If you can't get excited draft day then you're in the wrong business."

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