PHOENIX - The Phoenix Coyotes were busy on the first day of free agency despite their financial restraints, signing a replacement for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, adding a pair of forwards and retaining one of their top skill players.
Phoenix closed up one big hole by signing a multiyear deal with veteran goalie Mike Smith on Friday, and added veteran forwards Raffi Torres and Boyd Gordon. The team also came to terms with forward Radim Vrbata, an unrestricted free agent.
The ownerless Coyotes are still being run by the NHL, but were able to make a mark in free agency without spending a lot—Vrbata was the highest-paid at US$3 million per year—leaving plenty of room to sign some of their restricted free agents and fill other needs, including another centre.
"We have the wherewithal to be active in other areas," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "We're still pursuing the centre position and we're in great shape financially in order to acquire somebody. It's just a matter of finding and acquiring the right player."
Phoenix's top off-season priority was finding a replacement for Bryzgalov.
The Coyotes were far apart in negotiations with the Russian goalie and sent his bargaining rights to Philadelphia. The Flyers were a little more accommodating, overhauling the roster and trading away veterans Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear cap space and sign Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.
He will be replaced in Phoenix by Smith, a big veteran who doesn't have the same name recognition as some of the other goalies in the league but fits Phoenix's needs, both on the ice and the team's pocketbook.
"It was really a combination of term and dollars and age, and where we're at right now, we're looking for upside if we can find it," Maloney said. "We thought this was an opportunity. I think when we get him into our system and our style of play, we really like the tools."
The 29-year-old known for his creatively painted masks fought injuries and was a backup to Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay last season, going 13-6-1 with a 2.90 goals-against average in 22 games.
In the previous two seasons, the six-foot-four, 215-pound goalie got the majority of time between the pipes for the Lightning, playing 83 combined games. He also saw time in three playoff games for Tampa Bay last season, going 1-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average, and played 44 combined games under current Coyotes coach Dave Tippett in Dallas from 2006-08.
Despite Phoenix's uncertain future without an owner, Smith is looking forward to playing in the desert after a difficult 2010-11 season that included a broken finger, a sprained knee and a trip to the waiver wire in February.
"I learned a lot about my game, about being a professional and what I have to do to be a good goalie in this league," said Smith, 67-66-19 with a 2.71 goals-against average in six NHL seasons. "I think if I improve as much as I did this year after everything I went through (and) in a better situation here in Phoenix, I'm going to be a great goaltender down the road."
Torres is a bruising forward who had 14 goals and 29 points for Vancouver during its run to the Stanley Cup finals this past season, notching seven points in 23 playoff games.
The 6-0, 219-pound winger is a good skater, but is also a physical player who isn't afraid mix it up, earning a four-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle late in the regular season that carried into the playoffs.
Torres, 29, has 112 goals and 221 points in six NHL seasons with four teams, including a trip to the finals with Edmonton in 2005-06.
"Raffi is a big, strong winger who is an excellent skater," Maloney said. "He is a tough player to play against and will add grit and skill to our lineup."
Gordon, one of the NHL's top face-off men, played seven seasons with Washington, scoring 27 goals and 85 points. He had three goals and nine points in 60 games for the Capitals last season.
Vrbata has been one of Phoenix's most productive forwards in his two seasons with the Coyotes, scoring 19 goals with 29 assists last season and 24 goals with 19 assists the season before.
His signing offsets the losses of Ed Jovanovski and Vernon Fiddler, who signed free agent contracts with other teams.
Phoenix's next priority will be getting All-Star defenceman Keith Yandle under contract, which should be a bit easier after the bargains they were able to get at the opening of free agency.
"I talked to his agent this morning and told him we haven't forgotten about Keith," Maloney said, "Next week we'll go after him and find a way to get a deal done."