Still up to his old tricks
Ray Whitney's most memorable trick didn't involve a stick or a puck. All it required was some theft detection powder, time alone in the Florida Panthers' dressing room, and an incredibly devious mind.
"I got a hold of some of this powder from my dad, who was a cop," Whitney said. "Police use it to mark dollar bills and catch people stealing because once you get it on your skin it turns purple and it takes about a week for it to wear off.”
Whitney's teammates found out the hard way after he sprinkled a little bit inside their gloves, skates, socks -- and Rob Niedermayer's underwear.
"He was pretty much Barney from underwear to toes,"Whitney recalled with a chuckle. "Everyone was soaking their feet in bleach just to get it off."
The final stroke of brilliance came in the planning. Whitney waited until the next-to-last day of the season so nobody could exact revenge or definitively identify the culprit.
"There really wasn't a whole lot of doubt who did it, but the thing I had going for me was that (Hall of Famer) Dino Ciccarelli was hanging out in the locker room those last few days and he hadn't been playing a lot,' Whitney said. "So I just blamed it on him."
Now 38, Whitney insists his days as a practical joker are over.
"They say when you get old, you get ornery so now I just verbally assault people,"he said.
But age hasn't slowed Whitney's offensive game. To the contrary, the past four seasons have marked the most productive four-year stretch of his career with 102 goals and 177 assists. In 2006, he helped the Carolina Hurricanes win their first and only Stanley Cup.
Whitney's game is creativity, both with the puck and in the way he manufactures time and space to create opportunities for himself and teammates. The Coyotes love that skill, but the bigger selling point was Whitney's penchant for power-play production.
Phoenix ranked 28th in the 30-team NHL last season in power play percentage (14.6 percent).
"If we had finished in the top 10 in the league on the power play we probably would have won the West because it would have given us a few more points and allowed us to win a few close games,"Coyotes captain Shane Doan said.
About a third of Whitney's 58 points (19) came on the power play last season and he has averaged better than 21 power-play assists over the past five seasons.
"When we started looking at free agents we identified two players in our price range that could come in and play a top-six forward role and help our power play,"Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "When we talked to Ray we knew he had a relationship with Phoenix because he belongs to a golf club here and has spent time here, so we thought there was a chance he'd be attracted to us.”
It was more than a chance. While other clubs were offering one-year deals based on Whitney's age, Phoenix offered him two years and about $6 million.
"I had some other offers and I believe some more were coming,"Whitney said. "I probably could have gotten two years from other teams but I would have had to squabble and haggle over it. What's the point? Phoenix came first, they were sincere and I got a chance to go play with one of the top 10 teams in the league last season. I was really comfortable with the decision.”
So how does a guy get better with age?
Whitney chalks it up both to the coaching of Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice in Carolina, and a chance to play with talented linemates such as Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour. But he has also benefitted from the post-lockout rules that took effect in the 2005-2006 season.
"I remember sitting in a meeting at the end of the lockout when we were kind of examining the status of the game,"Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We looked at the final period of the Stanley Cup Finals between Tampaand Calgary. If we had applied the new rules that limit hooking and holding, in that final minute I think there would have been 28 penalties called.
"The new rules made it much easier for smaller players to find time and space with the puck because the bigger guys couldn't use their reach and wrap their stick around you,"Tippett added. "Ray's a classic case of a guy who's benefitted from that. He's got a tremendous skill level and the ability to think with skill.”
There has been speculation that Whitney will play on a line with Doan and Wojtek Wolski, who the Coyotes will experiment with at center. But Tippett isn't ready to commit to that trio until he sees them in camp, saying only that the line is one of "several possibilities.”
Regardless, the Coyotes, to a man, are elated with the possibilities Whitney brings. And Doan, a notorious prankster himself, is happy he'll have someone with whom to share the mantle – someone who actually knows what he's doing.
A few years after witnessing the powder trick first-hand as a Florida Panther, defenseman Todd Simpson tried the trick on his new Coyotes teammates.
"It ended up costing Simmer a whole bunch of money because he didn't fully understand the power of that stuff or how much to use,"Doan said. "He had to buy a whole bunch of new practice jerseys and other gear that he ruined.
"He never should have tried to steal Ray's material. Whits is the king for a reason.”