“Wait, he played for that team?”
Every NHL club seems to have a few of these guys in the record books. You know the ones – a team elects not to bring back a player, who then immediately has success in a different organization, thus burning his old franchise for years and sometimes even decades to follow.
Martin St. Louis and Brett Hull with the Calgary Flames. Dominik Hasek and the Chicago Blackhawks. Chris Pronger and the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes. Zdeno Chara and the New York Islanders. The list goes on.
Here are a few names who went on to enjoy long, successful careers in the National Hockey League after short, early-career stints with the Arizona Coyotes:
Former Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was well on his way to becoming a hockey journeyman when he played parts of two seasons in Arizona in 2005-06 and 2006-07. The Coyotes were his second NHL team – he failed to earn a full-time role with his draft club, the Philadelphia Flyers, splitting his time between the AHL and NHL during his first three years as a pro.
In Season No. 4, Seidenberg was dealt to Phoenix for an aging Petr Nedved and didn’t really do much after the trade, posting just 2 goals and 11 assists to go with a minus-13 rating in 66 games as a Coyote.
Less than a year later, Seidenberg was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes, then, after another stop in Florida, he finally found a home with the Bruins. Dennis spent seven seasons in Boston, posting 30 or more points in three of those. He was a member of two different Stanley Cup Final clubs, winning a championship on 2011’s team. Seidenberg then moved onto the New York Islanders for his final two NHL campaigns and retired on Oct. 24, 2019 with 44 goals and 207 assists across 859 career games.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t earn a full-time role in the league until his seventh professional season.
Another long-time NHLer who had a cup of coffee with the Coyotes is 1,009-game veteran and 2015 Stanley Cup champion Michal Handzus. Acquired with Ladislav Nagy in the March 13, 2001 trade that sent the original Captain Coyote, Keith Tkachuk, to the St. Louis Blues, Handzus played 89 games in Phoenix, posting 18 goals and 34 assists.
Handzus was then traded again, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 12, 2002 with Robert Esche in exchange for goaltender Brian Boucher. Boucher had a memorable NHL-record shutout streak with the Coyotes, but did little else of note during his career in the desert.
Handzus, on the other hand, went on to play another 11 years in the NHL, recording a total of 184 goals and 298 assists. The 6-foot-5 centerman was known more for his abilities at the defensive end of the ice and in the faceoff circle, but he also reached the 40-point mark during five of his NHL seasons after leaving Arizona.
He’s more known for his lengthy tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, where he played from 2005 to 2015 and became the first player from Newfoundland to win a Stanley Cup, but Daniel Cleary was a Coyote before heading to the Motor City.
A first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997, Cleary was signed by Phoenix after being bought out by the Oilers during the 2003 offseason. The buyout was the result of a slow decline which saw Cleary’s point output drop from 35, to 29, and, finally to 17 in 2002-03. The forward then posted an identical total of 17 points with the Coyotes in 2003-04, then spent the 2004-05 lockout in the Swedish Hockey League with Mora IK.
Upon his return to North America, Cleary was the last player to make the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp in 2005, and he carved out a nice role for himself there, playing 609 games across 10 seasons at Joe Louis Arena. Like Handzus, Cleary was a defense-first player, but, like Handzus, he also put up some solid offensive seasons, breaking the 20-goal mark three times with Detroit. He finished his career with 387 points in 938 NHL games.
Coyotes teams of the mid-to-late 2000s struggled badly at the defensive end of the ice, and didn’t make a playoff appearance from 2003 to 2009 as a result. They had some solid offensive players like Shane Doan, Ladislav Nagy, Mike Johnson, and Mike Comrie, but they could not keep the puck out of their net on a regular basis as they allowed the fourth-most goals in the league (3.05 per game) during a six-season span from 2002-03 to 2008-09.
Would those results have been different if the Coyotes had kept reliable role players like Seidenberg, Handzus, and Cleary in the fold?
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.