Langkow gets a chance to resurrect his career

Nicholas J. Cotsonika

On Monday morning, Daymond Langkow(notes) called his wife. He had just heard from Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster, who had an offer to send him to the Phoenix Coyotes for winger Lee Stempniak(notes). Langkow had a no-trade clause in his contract, so he and his wife had to make a decision. Should they stay, or should they go?

“It didn’t take too long,” Langkow said. “We decided that it would be a good move for us, and we did it.”

This is a great move for Langkow. Nothing against Calgary, where he spent the past six seasons and posted the best statistics of his career. But he’s familiar with Phoenix, where he played three seasons previously. He’s rejoining friend and former teammate Shane Doan(notes). The Coyotes have more opportunity at center.

And most important, this is a team that wanted him. Not only was it willing to take on his contract – with one year left at $4.5 million – general manager Don Maloney was looking longer term.

“He’s going to be an important player for us,” Maloney said. “We don’t see him as a one-hit wonder. Hopefully, he can come in and play well, and we’ll end up talking a new contract at some point in the future.”

Despite the past.

On March 21, 2010, Daymond Langkow called his wife. From an ambulance. He wanted to tell her he was OK.

Go to YouTube. Type “Daymond La … ” The search bar will fill in his name and suggest “Daymond Langkow injury” before “Daymond Langkow goal.”

Even now it’s chilling. Langkow sets up in front of the net on the road against the Minnesota Wild. Facing a shot from the right point, he’s sandwiched between two defenders. The one behind his right shoulder hits him in the back. He bumps into the one to his left and falls forward. His head ducks, exposing the back of his neck to the screaming puck.

The puck strikes him, he crumples to the ice and a split-second of action gives way to what seems like endless agony. He lies on the ice. Medical personnel tend to him for several minutes. He goes off on the stretcher, into an ambulance, to the hospital.

He suffered a fractured vertebra and a damaged spinal cord.

Soon afterward, he insisted that he would not let this freak accident cost him his career.

“No,” he said, according to a story on the Flames’ website. “Definitely not. No.”

But Langkow didn’t know the struggle that was to come. At this point last year, he thought he was making progress. Looking back Monday in a conference call with reporters, he said: “I thought I was a lot closer than I was. It was just something that nobody knew how long it was going to take to get back to 100 percent. It just took a lot longer than I expected.”

On Halloween, the Calgary Sun quoted an unnamed Flames official calling Langkow’s comeback “a 50-50 proposition.” After he had experienced numbness below the waist during heavy exertion, team doctors shut him down. He couldn’t help but wonder if that was it.

“As the year went on last year, the longer I was out of the lineup, you definitely … you start asking yourself that question,” Langkow said. “But fortunately, things worked out, and I was able to get back.”

Langkow came back for four games – four games in April for a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs, four games that couldn’t have been more meaningful to him.

He said part of the reason his comeback took so long was that he wanted to be sure he was 100 percent before he returned. He said if he had any doubts at all, he wouldn’t have played. Still, he said he was “very nervous” before his first game. Wouldn’t you be? He said he felt more comfortable the final three games. But more important than how he felt in those games was how he felt after them – and how others in the NHL felt about him, too.

“Definitely confidence-wise that was huge for me,” Langkow said. “If I don’t play those four games, who knows what I might be doing now?”

He might not be playing for the Coyotes. Maloney said he watched every shift Langkow took in those four games, and he recalled a play midway through the second period of the first one. Langkow took a wicked cross-check by a member of the St. Louis Blues. He shook it off. “That was probably a pretty good indication, when he got back up, that he would be fine,” Maloney said.

The Coyotes also talked to the Flames’ doctors, of course, and this trade is still contingent on Langkow passing a physical. “I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed that there won’t be any surprises,” Maloney said.

But barring a surprise, Langkow will have the chance to raise his career from the ashes in, fittingly, Phoenix. At worst, it doesn’t work out, he’s never the same, and the Coyotes, who aren’t far from the salary floor, spent some money and gave up some depth at wing for a one-year flier. At best, Langkow continues a comeback story that already has made him a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, which goes “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Langkow turns 35 on Sept. 27. But he’s a soft-spoken, hard-playing, two-way centerman, and the Coyotes had a huge hole in the middle. Langkow never played fewer than 71 games in a season from 1999-2010 – never fewer than 80 from '01-08. He never scored fewer than 20 goals in a season from '01-09.

“He sort of symbolizes what we’re all about here in Phoenix,” Maloney said. “There’s not a lot of flash and dash, there’s not a lot of high-end maybe speed, and yet I think he’s a very good player on both sides of the puck. He’s very responsible in the middle of the ice. I think his strength comes in taking care of his own end first, and yet he has enough creative ability to play with good players.”

By “his strength,” Maloney was speaking purely in hockey terms. In human terms, we all know Langkow’s strength comes from somewhere else.

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