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Photobombs and Wizardry: Ray Whitney's Arizona Coyotes Legacy

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With thirteen days left until the Coyotes drop the puck on the preseason opener, it's time for a look back on the last guy to wear the number on a Coyote sweater.

Ray Whitney: Photobombing even while playing.
Ray Whitney: Photobombing even while playing.
Bruce Bennett

Where's Whitney?

It was a question asked in jest during Ray Whitney's short but memorable two-year stay in the Valley of the Sun. Often, it was in relation to Whitney's preferred pregame ritual, creeping into the background of the on ice interviews that took place before the opening face-off of Coyotes games. For example, take this classic one with Adrian Aucoin before a game in Chicago:

Where's Whitney?

A question asked over the past two seasons as the Coyotes failed to reach the postseason and equal the conference final trip the 2012 team achieved while led by the dangerous line combination of Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata and The Wizard.

Where's Whitney?

Currently unemployed, waiting for a chance to return to the NHL for his 23rd professional season.

Would the Coyotes be interested in bringing him back to the desert? Was Whitney's absence in the lineup a big deal these past two seasons? Let's look deeper at the veteran's two campaigns in the desert and what happened to the Coyotes after he left.

Whitney wore the number 13 for 157 games from the start of the 2010 season to the end of the 2012 year and the bittersweet conference final loss. The Wizard scored 41 goals, added 93 assists for 134 points in his two years with the Coyotes and scored 46 power play points (11 goals and 35 helpers). He played an average of 17:50 a game as a Coyote. He also added three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 20 playoff games in those two seasons while playing more than 19 minutes per game in the postseason. He also earned a little Hart Trophy consideration in the 2011-12 season for NHL MVP with 16 voting points.

As a Coyote, Whitney averaged .26 goals , .59 assists and .85 points per game. The goals per game number is down slightly from his career .29 mark, but he outpaced his career numbers in assists and points (.51 and .80 respectively) while in Phoenix. In fact, one could argue that the only places Whitney played better in his career than Arizona were his short stint in Columbus (3 years, .30 G/g, .63 A/g, and .93 P/g) and his memorable stay in Carolina (5 years, .32 G/g, .58 A/g and .90 P/g with a Stanley Cup to boot).

Whitney clearly played at a pretty high level as a Coyote, but how did it impact the team? Here are the Coyotes relevant offensive numbers with Whitney in both 2010-11 and 11-12 with NHL rank for that season:

Year Goals per Game Power Play % Shots per Game 5 on 5 goal ratio
2010-11 2.76 (14th) 15.9 (23rd) 30.3 (17th) 1.17 (4th)
2011-12 2.57 (17th) 13.6 (29th) 29.6 (16th) 1.11 (8th)

Here are what the Coyotes did without Whitney in the lockout shortened 2013 season and last year:

Year Goals per Game Power Play % Shots per Game 5 on 5 goal ratio
2013 2.52 (21st) 14.8 (25th) 30.9 (8th) 1.06 (11th)
2013-14 2.56 (20th) 19.9 (4th) 30.5 (13th) 1.00 (15th)

The team saw their goals per game number drop slightly from Whitney's tenure, while the power play significantly improved (although most of that credit should go to the coaching of Newell Brown). The shots per game have increased slightly while the five on five play has gone down. Most significantly, the team's record decreased, going from 99 points with a sixth seed in 2011 and 97 points with a division crown in 2012 to 51 points (prorated to 87 points in a full season) and 89 points the last two seasons with no playoffs.

How much did Whitney have to do with any of those team specific numbers is impossible to tell. Would the Coyotes have been a playoff team with a returning Whitney in 2013? No one will ever know. All that is known is Whitney was not interested in moving on from the Coyotes but the ongoing (at the time) ownership soap opera made him look for more stable climates for a multi-year deal.

He chose Dallas and was pretty good for a young Stars squad in 2013, with 11 goals, 18 assists and 29 points in 32 games during the lockout-shortened year. Last year was not nearly as kind, as the rigors of more than 20 NHL seasons and the inevitable march of time may have caught up to him. Whitney only produced nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points in 2013-14 seeing his playing time dip to a career low average of 13:58 per game.

The Coyotes attempted to replace Whitney on the cheap in 2013 with the Steve Sullivan signing. That did not work so well. They went all-in to get the cream of the free agent center crop the next season in Mike Ribeiro, who would just end up another guy no longer playing in Arizona. This year, the team made a potentially savvy trade to acquire Sam Gagner and there are hopes the junior skills of Max Domi will create a reasonable Whitney facsimile as a rookie. Hopefully it ends better than the previous two season's attempts to fill the void.

Whitney was an important part of the Coyotes during one of the team's most successful stretches of competition since moving to the state of Arizona. He added memorable moments, on and off the ice, and made history, scoring his milestone 1000th point in a Coyotes sweater.

Where's Whitney?

Gone but not forgotten in Coyotes lore. Long live The Creeper.