INAUGURAL COLUMN

 

To all reading this, welcome to Sports Byline USAís new column: PUCKINĎ AROUND!!

For all of you who donít know me (probably most of you reading this!!), my name is Adam Hill. You may recognize the name from Sports Bylineís Video Game corner, where I reviewed FIFA and NHL 2002 by EA Sports. Well, not only do I encourage you to stay tuned for more of my video game reviews, but I also invite you to watch for my insights on what I think is the coolest game on earth, Hockey!!

I am an A+ certified computer technician, as well as an avid gamer and hockey fan. I eat, breathe and sleep hockey. It is my intention to bring you an informative and fun column, not just during the bangĎem, checkíem, high stickíem hockey season, but also during the summer and leading into the next season!!

WHEELIN' AND DEALIN'

For my inaugural column, letís take a look at the now just past trading deadline. The yearly frenzy every player dreads more than any other time of the year has come and gone yet again. Players hate this time more than any other time of the year. Rumors of who is going where and why run rampant. More often than not, the rumor mill is all for naught, as the actual deals made are nothing more than a last minute stock up or housecleaning, depending on what side of the playoff picture the respective team is on. Once again, there were more rumors this year than there were actual trades. However, a few of the rumors not willing to go away transpired into actual deals. This year saw some blockbuster deals go down.

The New York Rangers were busiest on this day and in the days leading up the deadline. They acquired winger Pavel Bure from the Florida Panthers for two defensemen, Igor Ulanov and Filip Novak. With the Rangers quickly fading from the Eastern Conference playoff picture, you knew they'd be busy.

Another blockbuster for New York brought defenseman Tom Poti and forward Rem Murray from the Edmonton Oilers to this same Rangers squad for forward Mike York. You will recall York was part of the F.L.Y. line in New York (Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros and York). Now he goes to an Oilers team also in danger of missing the playoffs, but should help bolster their top line of Mike Comrie and Ryan Smyth. On the flipside, the Rangers bring in a marquee defenseman in Poti, and bring in a third or fourth line winger in Murray. Personally, I think this trade was a big mistake for the Oilers. Sure, the fans booed Poti constantly, but what the fans didnít seem to understand is Poti is a blossoming young defenseman of Norris Trophy caliber. With the shortage of good defensemen in the league nowadays, you want to hang on to a guy like that. Donít tell me for a second Glen Sather doesnít still have an influence on that team. Kevin Lowe ought to be ashamed of himself for making this deal.

So fine, theyíve now rid themselves of a player the fans didnít like, but what about Murray? Put this guy on the third or fourth line and you have an offensive threat who could score a late goal or an overtime goal anytime. Unless they put York on a different line, they will have one major line the other team can scout and shut down. Sure this gives a younger or minor league defensemen a chance to step up, but why now in the midst of a playoff race?? What would the fans rather have, one offensive line that can easily be shut down to guarantee an early exit from the post season, or would they rather have a winning team? This was an absolute foolish trade if you ask me.

The Rangers made another deal a week prior to the deadline bringing Martin Rucinsky and Roman Lyashenko over from the Dallas Stars for former first round draft pick Manny Malholtra and Barrett Heisten. The Rangers have pretty much revamped their team in a last ditch effort to make the playoffs. One deal we didnít see was for aging goaltender Mike Richter to another team. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. With some of the talent Glen Sather has brought into the fold, they may want to hold on to him for some time yet and see if they can make a run for it (or find out if pigs can fly, whichever comes first!).

Missing out on opportunities to get Bure, Poti, or even Rucinsky, the New York Islanders got Dave Roche from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for minor leaguers Ben Guite and Bjorn Melin. Anaheim is a team better on paper than they are in the standings, and they will be looking to rebuild in the upcoming off season. Had they kept Teemu Selanne they could be playoff bound.

The New Jersey Devils quietly went into the trading deadline, re-aquiring Stephane Richer, a team he himself said he would never again play for. This deal made me wonder why, then the Devils pulled off a deal with Dallas, acquiring forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner for forwards Jason Arnott and Randy McKay. While the Devils lose veteran McKay, they get another veteran and proven playoff/Olympic scorer Nieuwendyk. Arnott will bring offense to a Dallas team needing it badly. This deal should make the Devils a slight favorite in the East. Unfortunately, it could be a story of too little, too late. This deal should have been made earlier in the season and not now at the deadline. It may have helped both teams in the long run. Dallas and New Jersey both are battling for playoff spots as this has happened.

Battling injuries, Eastern favorites the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Adam Oates from the Washington Capitals. They gave up backup goaltender Maxime Ouellett and 3 draft picks for Oates. Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau are both out with injuries, and while Oates will help short term, in the long term the Flyers may wish they had held on to Ouellett.

Stanley Cup favorites, the Detroit Red Wings, brought in defenseman Jiri Slegr to add to an already potent defense corps. The Red Wings really didnít need to make this deal, but they made it anyway to round out their defense and give them a better shot at the whole picture.

This is also true for last years cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche. They acquired Darius Kasparaitis from the Pittsburgh Penguins for forwards Ville Nieminen and Rick Berry. Nieminen should bring added offense to a Penguins team next year when Mario Lemieux will hopefully be healthy. This was clearly a cleaning house deal for Pittsburgh. You can also bet the Avalanche were watching last year when Kasparaitis scored the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Buffalo.

Rarely do you ever see a trade deadline deal guarantee a Stanley Cup. The favorites to win are already being picked or have been picked for some time. The trade deadline is a way for a team to fine tune an already fine team for the playoffs or for a not playoff bound team to get rid of some unwanted baggage going into the summer free agent market. Make no mistake, in the NHL there are 30 teams; 16 of which will make the playoffs, but only 1 will win it all. Make a wrong impulse move and the teamís chemistry can and will be severely affected. Weíve seen this time and time again. Two years ago, the Ottawa Senators made a deal with Pittsburgh that sent their #1 goalie Ron Tugnutt to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with defenseman Janne Laukannen for veteran Tom Barrasso. Tugnutt was second statistically only to Dominick Hasek, yet the GM of the Senators at the time felt they needed a "veteran" goalie to make it deep in the playoffs. This deal was made despite the fact Barrasso hadnít played in the NHL for over a year! Every hockey fan knows what happened after that. The Senators went on to lose 60% of their games for the remainder of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh on the other hand, went on to upset Washington in the first round and took Philadelphia to 6 games in the second round, or perhaps theoretically we could say 7 games, as one of the games ended up being the longest ever overtime game in Stanley Cup Playoff history, needing 5 overtime periods to decide it. Keith Primeau can tell you who scored the winner there.

Ironically, our friend Barrasso was on the trading block again. He now calls the Toronto Maple Leafs home. What did they give up? A draft pick. Forget the fact he has had a fine outing with the Carolina Hurricanes and he won a silver medal with the U.S. Menís Olympic Hockey Team. Heíll be an unrestricted free agent at seasonís end and Carolina made it quite clear they were not interested in paying top dollar for an aging goaltender. Theyíve proven that much by bringing in younger Kevin Weekes from the Tampa Bay Lightning and by trading away marquee defenseman Ozolinsh, and forwards Willis and Dingman. While weíre at it, why didnít we do an outside the NHL trade and send Tommy Salo to Belarus for Andrei Mezei? This would have made as much sense and the Leafs getting Barrasso. Sure, Curtis Joseph is injured, but Corey Schwab has proven that he can hold the fort in Cujoís absence.  And just how hurt is he really?  We all know he'll be back for the playoffs, no matter how hurt he is.

Aside from the Barrasso trade, the Leafs were actually very quiet this trading deadline. This was also true for two other Canadian teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks, both deciding to stick with the team they already have. The Senators acquired Benoit Brunet from Dallas for a draft pick as well as Juha Ylonen from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Andre Roy a few days prior to the deadline (or as an astute fan put it, Roy for a Yahoo), but nothing on deadline day.

The Calgary Flames got forward Blake Sloan from the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jamie Allison, proof they are giving up on the post season and perhaps getting rid of an escalating salary for next year. Columbus, on the other hand, perhaps are looking to the future as well by bringing in a proven center who has been known to put the puck in the net. Unfortunately, that wasnít going to happen in Calgary.

The busiest Canadian NHL team was the Montreal Canadiens. They acquired goaltender Stephane Fiset from the Los Angeles Kings for a draft pick. They also seized the opportunity to claim forward Bill Lindsay off of waivers from Florida. Clearly Florida is in a rebuilding mode, since they traded away a franchise player in Bure, along with a rugged winger in Lindsay. The Canadiens could be a dark horse if they make it into the post season, as they could also have back in their lineup forwards Saku Koivu, who is recovering from chemotherapy, and Donald Audette, recovering from a bad slash he suffered to his arm as a result of a freak collision with a playerís skate.

The waiver line was also busy at the deadline. Ted Donato continued to play musical teams between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings claimed Donato on waivers just over a month ago, then he was put back on waivers and claimed by St. Louis. Now he is a King again. One would wonder if either team can make up their minds? Both are in danger of missing the playoffs.

Another waiver claim was made by the Washington Capitals, claiming Benoit Hogue from the Boston Bruins. Hogue is another player that has been playing musical teams this year. Perhaps the Capitals are looking for a winger that can put up with Jaromir Jagr.

With the regular season so close to ending and the playoff races so close, all this wheeling and dealing begs the question, why bother having the trading deadline so late in the season? The NBA and MLB both have their trading deadline halfway through the season. With all the talk in the NHL about what rules should changed in the wake of the Olympics, why not start with making the trading deadline earlier? Gary Bettman, if you are reading this, "wake up".

While we saw a blockbuster trade or two, we saw that the rumors were simply that, rumors. Most general managers that have a legitimate Stanley Cup contender either made minor adjustments or stuck with the lineup they have had all season. We didnít see Dominick Hasek traded to New Jersey for Olympic Hockey Gold Medalist goalie Martin Brodeur. Nor did we see Joe Sakic traded to Chicago or any crazy deals like that. Most general managers are finally confident they have the team they need down the stretch and into the playoffs. If a deal was so good that it couldnít have been refused, it would have been made. As is true every year, we have seen a deal or two that will us you scratch our heads and wonder why. Ultimately, one thing will remain constant. Only one team will win the Stanley Cup.

A full list of all trades made this trading deadline can be found at http://www.nhl.com/onthefly/news/2002_gospel.html.

WHO IS THIS GUY?

Andre Savage is one of the leading scorers for the AHL's Manitoba Moose. Fans of the Boston/Providence Bruins and Michigan Techís hockey teams will know Savage. The Canucks Brian Burke should be ashamed of himself for not calling up this kid. The Manitoba Moose are the minor league affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Signed as a free agent in the off season, Savage has played the entire season in the minors for the Moose. He has played 63 games, the most of anybody on the roster. He has 27 goals, 21 assists for 48 points, plus he has 98 penalty minutes. So not only can he score, heís a tough customer to boot. The Canucks are quickly fading from the playoff picture in the NHLís Western Conference. They need depth at forward to fill in for injuries and who do they call up?? Todd Warriner. Donít get me wrong, Todd is a proven veteran. However, this year heís only played 30 games combined between the Phoenix and Vancouver systems. He only has 7 goals and 13 assists, and 32 penalty minutes. Statistically, plus/minus, heís a -6. Compare that to Savage, whoís a +9. Even compare that to Steve Kariya, Paulís brother, who only has 6 more points than Savage and is a -2. And, as if that isnít bad enough, Kariya has been called up already this season, not to mention other players that arenít as good as Savage statistically. Holden, Chubarov, Brown, BouckÖthe list goes on. I urge the Canucks to simply give this guy a try. He can put the puck in the net and wonít be a liability to the team. Also, heís one of the few players left out there who plays for the love of the game and not for the big bucks. Heíll be the first to tell you that even if he doesnít play in the NHL, heíll be happy anyway for just having had the opportunity to play. I donít know about you, but Vancouver could use a player like that down the stretch. Earth to Brian Burke. Hello. Are you listening???

HISTORY BITS

On March 13, 1998, Curtis Joseph signed a $25 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not bad for a player who was never drafted. Joseph signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent in 1989 and worked his way into the No. 1 role by the 1991-02 season. Two seasons later he was an all-star.

On March 14, 1986, Oilersí defenseman Paul Coffey tied Tom Bladonís record of eight points in a game by a defenseman, when he scored twice and assisted on six other goals in Edmontonís 12-3 walloping of the Detroit Red Wings. He would come within two goals in 1985-86 of becoming the first defenseman to score 50 in a season, although he did break Bobby Orrís single-season record of 46.

On March 18, 1996, Swede Peter Forsberg became the first NHLer to take the Stanley Cup to Europe. The Cup previously had traveled to Finland and Germany in 1994, but not with a Cup-winning player.

And finally, on March 19, 1981, The Buffalo Sabres establish the long-standing NHL record for most goals in a period, with nine in a 14-4 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is still a record to this day.

(Source: National Hockey League 2002 Desk Calendar)

In any event, thatís a wrap on my first Sports Byline hockey column. I recently attended the Ottawa Senators/Edmonton Oilers game, and what a great game it was (if youíre an Oilers fan). I witnessed something interesting there that Iíll share with you in a future column. For now, keep the adrenaline flowing, the blood pumping, and the coffee perculating!!

For questions, comments, disagreements, or just to say hi, please send E-mail to puckin45@puckinaround.net

 I will feature interesting e-mails in this very column, so stay tuned for much more.

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