Ray Whitney, a.k.a. “The Wizard”, is not through just yet. Although he is currently mulling retirement at age 42 after a season that saw his production drastically drop with the Dallas Stars, where he was relegated to being mostly a special teams player, there certainly is still some gas in the tank. Given the Arizona Coyotes current situation, if they can bring Whitney back for cheap, they should.
Even though the Coyotes have recently re-signed forwards David Moss, Brandon McMillan and Jordan Szwarz, McMillan and Szwarz were signed to two-way contracts and are not expected to be big contributors right away. Also, Moss is hardly the solution to Arizona’s scoring woes, but he does help bolster the defense on the third or fourth lines. So now, as free agency begins to wind down and the Coyotes slowly figure out what moves they have left to make, if the current roster that Arizona would be putting on the ice remains the same, the team would be entering the season full of question marks.
As it stands, they have a huge mixture of “what if” and “could be” players – players like new addition Sam Gagner and youngsters Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson – who are all hoping to make a big splash this season. However, if the Arizona Coyotes were to consider bringing back Ray Whitney, they would surely have a more proven and legitimate shot at putting a competitive team back on the ice, while allowing the front office and head coach Dave Tippett to find out the answers to the aforementioned questionable players.
Whitney, whose family currently resides in Phoenix, is hoping to come back and play in the “Valley of the Sun.” In a May interview with the Edmonton Journal, he stated that “Phoenix could be the easiest solution, but I don’t know what their plans are.” He goes on to mention that his family is done with moving and that it is time to get everyone settled in.
While playing for the Coyotes at the age of 39, Whitney helped lead Arizona to its first Pacific Division title and its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history. He also led the team that season in total points with 77. After signing with the Dallas Stars that offseason, he remained consistent at age 40, racking up nearly a point per game on their first line (29 points in 32 games). Last season, however, rang a different tune.
Whitney described these frustrations as well as his understanding of being downgraded to not much more than a special teams player throughout last season.
“After the first 10 games, I was on the second line, but the last three or four months, it was the fourth. They went with youth… I can’t deny that.”
He added that he still has the legs to compete. However, he stated that, at the age of 42, “it’s nearly impossible to get the legs moving when you’re playing eight to 10 minutes and only on the power play.”
Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between Ray Whitney’s playing time and his average points per game. In his first year with Dallas at age 40, Whitney’s average time on ice (ATOI) was 19:24 and he averaged .91 points per game (PPG). The very next year, his ATOI was cut down by nearly five and a half minutes to 13:58. Coincidentally, his average PPG was also nearly cut in half to .46. This trend has actually continued throughout his career. When his ATOI is above 18:30, Whitney has an average of .88 PPG. On the other hand, when his ATOI is below 18:00, his average PPG dropped to .69.
As it also turns out, this correlation has nothing to do with age. Whitney has averaged more than .90 PPG seven times in his career. Among those seven times, he was 35-years-or-older for four of them (35, 36, 39 and 40). Among current forwards on the Coyotes roster, Shane Doan at age 37 was closest to that mark, averaging .68 PPG.
If the Coyotes can find a way to get Whitney on the roster for cheap, Arizona would certainly improve its scoring and potentially help re-bolster one of the league’s top power plays after losing Radim Vrbata. The newest addition of Sam Gagner brings a lot of excitement to the desert, but in his 67 games played last season, he could only muster a total of 37 points with an ATOI of 18:23. In 69 games played and nearly four and a half minutes of less time on the ice (13:58), Whitney was only five points behind him. With those numbers, Gagner found a place on the team as a top line center. Given “The Wizard’s” averages and past success in coach Tippett’s system, Whitney could have a renaissance kind of year if he can get the playing time.
Although, even if Whitney could not find a place on the top two lines and his ATOI fell below 18:00, his 32 total points in under 14:00 per game last year were still more points in less ATOI than forwards Martin Erat (29 pts, 14:28), David Moss (22 pts, 14:39) and Lauri Korpikoski (29 pts, 16:05). Placing “The Wizard” on the third line, along with special teams, should notch his ATOI back up close to 17-plus minutes, which should drastically up his performance and numbers from a season ago.
Given the right amount of time on the ice, the man can score. Also, if Whitney’s age is of any concern for how time he should truly have on the ice, then simply ask Shane Doan if, at age 38 next year, he will be asking for less than his near 19 minutes per game from a season ago.
Ray Whitney may not be the answer in the long run, but for another year or two, as young players like Domi, Samuellson, Lucas Lessio and Tyler Guadet find their legs, the 42-year-old Stanley Cup winning veteran could turn out to be a big difference maker in the locker room and on the ice for the Arizona Coyotes. Also, if Erat or Gagner do not pan out or have the kind of year the front office would like or expect, they will have a player in Whitney who wants to play in the desert and has already proven that he can. Putting a winning team back out on the ice could very well be as simple as giving one last shot to the veteran playmaker. Given the right price and amount of playing time Arizona can realistically offer him, if Arizona can find a way to bring back Ray Whitney, they should.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Arizona Coyotes