Chris Summers and the Coyotes started talks on a new contract about 10 days ago. On Monday, Summers was signing on the dotted line — a two-year deal worth about $1.2 million that will keep the defenseman with the franchise through 2015-16.
"It definitely was a relief to get it out of the way so fast — especially with free agency not starting until July 1," Summers said by phone from Grand Rapids, Mich. "My wife and I both are really happy we can just enjoy some quiet time now."
The 2013-14 season was an up-and-down one for Summers. He stayed with the club out of training camp and he played in 18 games overall, recording a career-high two goals. But he spent most of the season with Portland of the American Hockey League and "last year was also the first time I’ve been put on waivers (Oct. 10), so I told myself if I get the opportunity to come back to Phoenix, I’m going to take advantage of it."
Summers has always had strong skating ability, but the Coyotes wanted him to be more of a physical force on the ice and take advantage of his skating opportunities when they presented themselves.
"It’s not about running people over," coach Dave Tippett said. "It’s about taking away time and space with tight checking and being engaged — being a really good, hard defender who makes it hard for opponents to get to the net."
Summers had long talks with assistant coach Jim Playfair on those very topics.
"I’ve put a tremendous amount of work into making sure every time I’m on the ice I have a presence, and also making simple puck movements," he said. "My game has come a long way."
The Coyotes clearly agreed. Summers played all 18 of his games from March 8 to April 12.
"Chris took a big step forward this past season," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said in a statement. "He improved his puck game, was firm in all of his decisions and showed confidence to carry the puck up ice when the opportunity presented itself. He is the perfect example of the patience needed to allow draft picks to mature at their own pace."
Summers was the Coyotes’ first-round pick (29th overall) in the 2006 Draft. While he’s happy he and the Coyotes are finally seeing some return on their investments, he has greater goals.
"My situation coming into camp is pretty similar to what it’s been," he said. "We have some really good young talent coming up with (Brandon) Gormley and (Connor) Murphy and other prospects. It’s not going to be given to me, but if I can establish a role and have an effect on games, that will help.
"I’m not going to be a guy who asks 10 different guys to fight every single night, but I like the big hits, and if I have to protect a teammate, that’s not an uncomfortable thing for me.
"I’ve never played an entire season in the NHL, so that will be my goal this year."
Summers is a left-handed shot but has shown the ability to play the right side as well. He has a chance to play on the third defensive pairing or he could be the team’s seventh defenseman.
Aside from Summers, the Coyotes have had no talks with their other soon-to-be unrestricted free agents since the break-up meetings the day after the season finale.
The Coyotes have six players who finished the season with the club that can become free agents on July 1: forwards Radim Vrbata, David Moss, Jeff Halpern and Paul Bissonnette, defenseman Derek Morris and goalie Thomas Greiss.
The Coyotes are not expected to bring Morris back, and it would be a surprise if Greiss doesn’t test the free-agent market. He made it plain he wants to become a No. 1 goalie. In 25 games, he posted a 2.29 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
It is early in the process, so it’s no surprise that Maloney has not begun talks with those players. He is currently engaged in the search for a new assistant GM after Brad Treliving was named Calgary’s GM, and the team is still waiting for the full financial picture on the 2013-14 season, which will provide guidance on his budget.
The Coyotes are expected to tender an offer to restricted free-agent forward Brandon McMillan. Minor-league forwards Jordan Szwarz, Ethan Werek and defensemen Mathieu Brodeur and Justin Weller are also set to become restricted free agents on July 1. Minor league forwards Tim Kennedy, Brett Hextall, Brandon Yip, John Michell, Andy Miele and defenseman Cade Fairchild can become unrestricted free agents.
Dave Tippett would like to say he’s seeing the sights in Belarus. But the only sights he’s taken in since arriving to coach Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships are those readily visible on the road between his hotel and the arenas.
"It’s been all work because we were playing catch-up," Tippett said Wednesday via phone from Minsk. "Some of these teams have been practicing for a month to get ready. We basically had four practices. It feels like holding training camp while you’re playing regular-season games."
Canada’s roster is awash in youth, with 12 players 24 or younger.
"There’s positives with that," Tippett said. "There’s lots of energy, lots of giddyup and a desire to do the right things, but we’re still trying to get everything together."
After dropping its first game to France in a shootout, Canada rebounded to win its next games over Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Canada, which sits in second place in Group A, one point behind Sweden, next faces Denmark on Thursday at Chizhovka Arena in Minsk, Belarus.
In addition to Tippett, four members of the Coyotes organization are competing in Belarus: forward Mikkel Boedker (Denmark), defenseman Connor Murphy (USA), forward Andy Miele (USA) and forward Tobias Rieder (Germany).
Tippett said the stands have been packed for games at the tournament’s two venues in Minsk, with crowds engaged in songs and flag waving similar to what occurs at international soccer competitions. Despite the fact that Belarus borders Ukraine, Tippett said they haven’t had a whiff of the turmoil engulfing that country other than the tight security that exists at the arenas.
"It’s a great event," Tippett said. "You really get an appreciation for the different style of play and an appreciation for how well the European players play together and how committed they are to their countries."