In a surprise move, the Phoenix Coyotes placed veteran defenseman Rusty Klesla on waivers Tuesday.
Klesla is in the final year of his contract and is due to make $2.975 million this season. That and his veteran presence could make him an attractive option for several clubs, although with several teams bumping against the cap, the cost could also be prohibitive. It had been speculated that Klesla could be part of a potential trade to bring a top-six wing to the Coyotes.
Klesla suffered a concussion in the preseason on a vicious hit from Los Angeles forward Jordan Nolan. He missed the first three games of the season while recovering and has only played in 15 games this season, posting a goal, two assists and a minus-1 rating.
Klesla had been an integral part of the Coyotes blue line the past couple seasons, adding grit and a physical presence the team needed on a defensive corps heavy on finesse players. But the team had not been happy with Klesla’s lack of physical play recently, and he had a brutal game in Chicago on Nov. 14 in which he was minus-3, leading to a healthy scratch the following game against Tampa Bay.
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Coyotes are looking to improve their defensive play and possibly shake up a team that has gotten away from what made it successful in past seasons.
The Coyotes acquired Klesla from Columbus for forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto on March 28, 2011. He was the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft.
The Coyotes are still uncertain whether defenseman Zbynek Michalek is ready to come off injured reserve (lower body injury). In the likely event he is not, they would either have to recall a defenseman from Portland of the AHL or acquire a player to give them seven healthy defensemen on the roster.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney noted last week that 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley (10th overall) is overdue for a shot at the NHL level. He also told FOX Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh on Tuesday that Chris Summers is playing very well defensively. Both are left shots, like Klesla, and currently playing with Portland.
Maloney declined further comment until Klesla’s waiver period ends on Wednesday.
Klesla practiced with the team Tuesday afternoon in Minnesota as it prepares to play the Wild on Wednesday. If he isn’t claimed by Wednesday morning, he will be assigned to Portland. If he is claimed, the Coyotes could free up money for another deal, which Maloney said last week would be a necessity in any move, but doesn’t appear imminent.