Headed to the desert
Amonte chooses a four-year deal with CoyotesPosted: Friday July 12, 2002 3:04 PM
Updated: Saturday July 13, 2002 12:44 AM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Phoenix Coyotes signed right wing Tony Amonte to a $24 million, four-year contract Friday in the most significant move of general manager Mike Barnett's 11 months with the team.
The free spending reverses last season's trend of salary-dumping, cost-cutting and living through the growing pains of young players.
The deal includes a $4.8 million signing bonus, back-loaded so the bulk will be paid after the Coyotes move into a new arena which promises to turn their operating losses into profits. It also offers a fifth-year option at $6 million based on Amonte's scoring and playoff leadership.
Amonte, an unrestricted free agent who turns 32 next month, was signed for his offense. The Coyotes tied for 10th in the NHL in goals, but managed only seven in five playoff games as they were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the postseason.
Barnett said that experience made the front office reassess next season's needs.
"That's why we've got 25 players in the other room here, training in the middle of the summer to get stronger," Barnett said at a high-tech health club in nearby Tempe. "But in the end, you've got to have skill, and Tony Amonte brings skill. He brings speed, he brings finesse and the ability to get the puck into the offensive zone and generate scoring opportunities."
"I'm very excited to be joining the Coyotes," Amonte said in a statement. "They are building a great team and heading in a new direction. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Amonte made $4.5 million last season, his second as the Chicago Blackhawks captain. The durable native of Massachusetts played in all 82 games for the fifth consecutive season, recording 27 goals and 39 assists. He also scored six power play goals and four game-winning goals.
The numbers, although good, were his worst since the 1994-95 season was interrupted by a lockout. Amonte scored a career-high 44 goals in 1998-99 and the next season had 43 goals and 41 assists for a career-high 84 points.
"The way he's played the last five years of his career has been unbelievable," new teammate Kelly Buchberger said. "He's been one of the leaders of that team, Chicago. He scores big goals and the addition of him is, no question, going to improve our hockey team."
Buchberger, who signed with Phoenix on Sunday, was Edmonton's captain in the mid-'90s.
"When you have a mixture of young, energetic players and you mix in some experience and leadership, you build good chemistry, and that's what they're trying to do right now," he said.
In 861 career games over 13 seasons with the Blackhawks and New York Rangers, Amonte totaled 352 goals and 372 assists. His streak of 410 consecutive games played is the NHL's longest.
Barnett said the deal wasn't locked up until 6:30 a.m., when he received a call from Mike Gillis, Amonte's agent. The Coyotes didn't begin to pursue Amonte until a week ago, and Barnett said that as late as Thursday night, three to four other teams were in the running.
"We were fortunate to get a guy whose decision wasn't solely
based on economics," Barnett said. "Wayne just said to him,
'We're going in the right direction. We've got a great coaching
staff, everybody makes it fun here. We've got everybody pulling in
the same direction.' "