Saturday, May 12, 2012
Ray Whitney still going strong
By Pierre LeBrun ESPN.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two summers ago, Ray Whitney was 38 and looking for a new contract.
It's tough sledding for any veteran at that age to get more than a one-year deal in the NHL because of the rule in the CBA that states that any contract signed by a player 35 and older counts against a team's salary cap in its entirety regardless of whether he completes that deal or not.
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford knew there was plenty of hockey left in Whitney, but financial constraints limited his ability to match the $6 million over two years the veteran winger got in Phoenix.
"Usually when you get to 36, 37, 38, there's a little hesitation on extending -- just the way the CBA is -- beyond a year," Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney said Saturday. "Just studying Ray, looking at his game, we watched a lot of video, how he played, who he played with, the ability to protect pucks, make plays at a competitive level, I didn't see the risk. Even the level of contract, it was something we felt we could swing."
Maloney has only one regret.
"I wish it was three," Maloney said with a laugh. "Unfortunately, he's up at the end of the year."
"Don Maloney was very smart to pick him up," Rutherford told ESPN.com over the phone from Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday. "It's hard to find guys like him. It's not just what you see, putting the points up, but what he can do to help the team with his experience."
For Whitney, it was hard to leave Carolina. He still has a home there and it's where he plans to live in retirement. But he couldn't ignore the salary gap in offers that summer.
"There's only so much you're willing to take as a discount to stay where you're comfortable and where you like it," Whitney said Saturday after practice. "That's still home, we still have our place there, we still plan on going back there when we're done. But the money and term were both quite a bit different."
Then comes the punch line.
"You know, I've got a wife that likes to spend it, so ... I guess I'm not any different than most guys," he chuckled. "You have to try and make as much as you can while you're still playing [Whitney smiled]."
"If I had to get fueled by every bad thing that's happened or every bad piece of article that's been written, I'd be an ornery little man," Ray Whitney said.
Whitney is this year's Mark Recchi, the old goat on a team that's trying to win it all. And like Recchi, Whitney is beloved in the room.
As the Coyotes get set to host the Los Angeles Kings in their Western Conference finals opener Sunday night, Whitney has become an even more important player off the ice.
"Without having a lot of guys that have won a Cup, he's very important to us," said Maloney.
In fact, Whitney is the only Cup winner in the room. He lived the journey with the 2006 Hurricanes and has told his Coyotes teammates that the work has just begun.
Whitney has offered one piece of advice to his teammates: "Each round you go, believe it or not, it gets harder. If you thought the first two rounds were hard, this one is going to be really hard. If you're fortunate to get past this round, you can guarantee the finals would be the toughest challenge you've had."
His contributions remain amazingly consistent on the ice. He produced 77 points (24 goals, 53 assists) in the regular season, tied for the second-most points in his 19-year career. There has been no hint of slowing down, with Whitney playing on the top line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.
"Ray, offensively, has been our best player probably throughout the whole year," captain Shane Doan said Saturday. "He's been unbelievable in the playoffs, getting huge goals, just keeping it kind of like a businesslike approach. We all make sure we follow along."
Still going this strong at 40? Not a shock to those who know him.
"He's such a talented person in everything he does," said Rutherford. "So the fact he keeps rolling along is not a surprise."
Whitney's contract is up this summer, but certainly not his career.
"I've got a couple more [years] at least," said Whitney. "After that, we'll see. You have to have the drive to train. You have to have the drive to continue to want to take those bumps and bruises and the battling every night."
The Wizard eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau near the end of the regular season, not bad for a guy waived early in his career. This jet-lagged reporter couldn't remember whether it was San Jose or Edmonton that had waived him.
"Both," Whitney quickly interjects.
But he insists there is no longer a chip on his shoulder. He's got over his early-career frustrations when his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame seemed to make teams nervous.
He insists he's no longer fueled by that.
"No, if I had to get fueled by every bad thing that's happened or every bad piece of article that's been written, I'd be an ornery little man," he said. "To be honest with you, that's why I don't read news clippings, good or bad, I don't watch TV much. I just go about my business. When you're in the locker room, you know where you stand on the team that you're with."
So what fuels him? He still loves the game, and he yearns for another title.
His 2006 Cup ring?
"I keep it with me at all times," he said. "It's here. It's locked in a safe, but it's here. I have it. I brought it out once each year."
Room in your safe for another one?
"Absolutely, room for as many as you can get," he said with a smile.