|Keith Yandle finished third among all NHL defensemen with 59 points for the Coyotes last season. (Getty)|
While the future of the Coyotes in Phoenix remains uncertain, the status of star defenseman Keith Yandle is no longer in question.
The Coyotes inked the Milton, Mass., native to a five-year deal worth a total of $26.25 million on Tuesday, ending his brief tenure as a restricted free agent.
"Keith is an elite player and one of the game's best young defenseman," said GM Don Maloney. "He is an important part of our future and we are thrilled to sign him to a long-term contract."
Last season the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Yandle finished second on the Coyotes in scoring and ranked third among all NHL defensemen with 11-48-59 in 82 games. Yandle represented the Coyotes at the NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C.
He was also named the NHL’s Second Star of the Month in January when he registered 3-14-17 in 14 games. He had a plus-9 rating in the month helping lead the Coyotes to an 8-4-2 record. Yandle finished the month of January with a nine-game point streak, recording 2-12-14 in that stretch.
In addition, Yandle led the Coyotes in average time on ice (24:22) and tied for the team lead in power-play points (26). His 24 power-play assists ranked sixth best in the NHL among defensemen and his 26 power-play points were eighth best. He also finished second on the team in penalty minutes (68), third in plus/minus (+12) and third in shots (199).
Yandle, who has played in all 82 games in each of the last two seasons, is looking forward to taking on a bigger leadership role now that veteran defenseman and longtime Coyote Ed Jovanovski has signed in Florida with the Panthers.
"When you have a guy like 'Jovo' -- he was there for six or seven years, and just the respect he had in the locker room, playing against other teams' top lines, playing a lot of minutes, I want to be in that position," Yandle told NHL.com. "As an (alternate) captain, I want guys to come to me and talk to me. I want to lead on the ice and in the locker room. I see other guys play a lot of minutes and I want to be up there as one of those guys who plays the most minutes in the League or close to it."
Rumors began to surface this past week that the Coyotes might have been shopping their star blueliner, as arbitration began to look more likely in order for the two to reach an agreement.
Maloney was extremely pleased to avoid the process.
"Locking into a guy that you think is a core player, you'd like to do that in a negotiated fashion where there is no animosity versus going into an arbitration procedure and potentially souring the player on some of the things you have to say in order to get the best deal possible, which we have to do," Maloney said. "All in all, we were very, very happy with this negotiation.
"These signings (across the NHL) in the last few days have nothing to do with Keith Yandle, but in three years you can imagine the level of contract he'd be looking at. I thought this was a fair deal."
In five NHL seasons, the 24-year-old defenseman has recorded 32-112-144 and 172 penalty minutes in 283 NHL games.
Yandle was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the fourth round (105th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.