Wednesday, February 25, 2004
On the list: Depth and defense
By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine
Last week, with an eye toward the March 9 trade deadline, we took a peek at the clubs that are ready to start selling off assets. Since then, the long-gone Chicago Blackhawks traded forwards Alexei Zhamnov (to the Philadelphia Flyers) and Steve Sullivan (to the Nashville Predators) and the Carolina Hurricanes shipped stay-at-home D-man Bob Boughner to the Colorado Avalanche.
With less than two weeks until the final day of dealing, here are those teams looking to trade for some additional help. Not every one of these teams will find trade-day satisfaction, but their respective general managers will be burning up the phone lines trying.
GM Mike O'Connell helped a thin blue line by adding depth D-man Jiri Slegr in a minor deal with the Vancouver Canucks in January. He's likely looking to make another addition to his back line. The B's could make a pitch for Brian Leetch. After all, Rangers GM Glen Sather is always looking out for his old pal, Bruins president Harry Sinden. If the Bruins can't get Leetch, they might want to look at Carolina's Sean Hill or Anaheim's Keith Carney. The Bruins also could use a second-line center. O'Connell is rumored to have an interest in Canes' vet Ron Francis, who's in the final year of his contract. Francis says he has no interest in leaving Carolina, but if the Bruins were to come up with a little extra cash, maybe Francis would change his mind.
A strong February has kept the Sabres in the hunt for a playoff spot. But conservative GM Darcy Regier might have missed the boat by not making a play for Boughner, who spent time in Buffalo during the late '90s. Right now, the Sabres' dinged-up blue line could use a little extra grit and toughness. With upcoming games against the Islanders, Senators (twice) and Leafs, Regier might be selling come March 9.
A seemingly insignificant transaction in November, the deal for goalie Miikka Kiprusoff probably ensured the Flames their first playoff bid since 1996. On Tuesday, GM/head coach Darryl Sutter added irritating left winger Ville Nieminen in a deal with the Hawks. Nieminen, who was a bit player for the Avs during their Cup run in 2001, gives Sutter a little more depth and flexibility. He'd like to add another forward, but the club's thrifty ownership might not be so willing to take on any more salary.
Pierre Lacroix is the most aggressive GM in the business. He pursues players he wants and doesn't rest until they're wearing an Avs sweater. He had been after Boughner for more than a year and likely outbid several suitors to get him from Carolina. Lacroix acquired Darby Hendrickson from Minnesota on Wednesday, but he likely isn't done acquiring veteran help for his bottom-six group of forwards. Also, Lacroix seems destined to add another goaltender. Would he be so bold as to trade for big-ticket Caps stopper Olaf Kolzig? Remember, Kolzig's contract calls for $12.75M over the next two years. FYI: Avs director of player development Craig Billington is a former creasemate of Kolzig's, and the two remain good friends.
GM Doug Armstrong might have figured he'd be a seller when his club was struggling during the first half of the season. In recent weeks, the Stars have regained their usual place in the NHL universe. As a buyer, the Stars could use a left-shot defenseman and a left winger. They could do one-stop shopping in New York by making a play for Leetch and LW Martin Rucinsky, who already has had one stint in Big D during his career. Leetch would fit nicely next to his former defensive partner, Sergei Zubov. Rucinsky, meanwhile, could skate on a line with center Mike Modano and right winger Jere Lehtinen, who is currently on the left side. The Stars also could make a pitch for Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who would be a better long-term fit, and/or Wild LW Andrew Brunette.
Detroit Red Wings
GM Ken Holland was beaten to the punch in his effort to acquire Zhamnov to center the club's second line. Some think the Wings have shifted their interest to Caps center Robert Lang. However, they'd have to be very interested to take on the remaining portion of Lang's contract -- three years, $15M. Holland probably could acquire Rangers right winger Alexei Kovalev for a song. If he really wants to take a chance, he could reel in another Ranger, center Eric Lindros, currently sidelined after suffering his eighth concussion in January. The Wings' D seems set with the imminent return of Derian Hatcher, who has been out since suffering a knee injury in the third game of the season. However, if the shoulder injury Chris Chelios suffered during the club's 4-2 loss in Vancouver on Tuesday is serious, Holland might begin trolling for some additional defensive help.
Los Angeles Kings
The injury-riddled Kings could use any NHL-level forwards or defensemen, as well as a goalie. Of course, there's no guaranteeing that anyone they bring in will remain healthy. They thought they had solved some short-term problems by dealing for Pens winger Martin Straka in November. That was until L.A.'s injury bug also claimed Straka, who went down with a knee injury in early January. Versatile forwards such as the Coyotes' Mike Sillinger or the Caps' Jeff Halpern would fit nicely in coach Andy Murray's system. That said, GM Dave Taylor won't be trading away his future to get immediate help.
The Habs are a little too small on the front line. GM Bob Gainey could use a big, strong winger who can handle the grunt work along the wall and around the net. Caps right wing Mike Grier is one player who fits that description.
Usually conservative GM David Poile gave his team a big boost by acquiring Sullivan from the Hawks. The talented Sullivan responded with 10 points in his first three games with the Preds. Now, Poile needs to find some help for his blue line. Panthers veteran Lyle Odelein might be a nice addition. Rangers D-man Boris Mironov and Wild defender Brad Bombardir would be worth considering.
New Jersey Devils
Like the Canadiens, the Devils need a bit more size on the front line. Coyotes center Chris Gratton could be had, but does he really help? GM Lou Lamoriello didn't make a major move at the deadline last year but still watched his team skate off with the Cup. Will he be just as conservative this time? With captain Scott Stevens' future uncertain because of post-concussion syndrome, Lamoriello probably will be seeking some depth on defense. Edmonton Oilers captain Jason Smith, a former Devils draft pick, would be a great addition.
New York Islanders
GM Mike Milbury would like to add a depth defenseman to a strong top four. He's rumored to have an interest in Caps D-man Brendan Witt, but the price tag might be too high. The Islanders got a bit of a boost Tuesday when RW Mark Parrish returned to the lineup. It will be interesting to see whether Milbury hangs on to the streaky Parrish or shops him for that defensive help.
GM John Muckler says he won't be trading for a goaltender and is comfortable with starter Patrick Lalime. Even after the addition of Peter Bondra, the Senators still can use some help on the left side -- preferably big and strong and nasty help. Did you say Rangers LW Chris Simon? He'd be a nice fit on a team that still gets pushed around.
By necessity, GM Bob Clarke did his shopping early, adding Zhamnov and goalie Sean Burke in the last three weeks. While Clarke will continue to monitor the trade market, he might be done dealing. Then again, if still-woozy Keith Primeau doesn't start to show any significant improvement from his post-concussion symptoms, Clarke might be looking for another center.
St. Louis Blues
The patchwork Blues could use a center or a right winger, a defenseman, and maybe a goalie. Kovalev would make sense in St. Louis. His contract expires at the end of the season, so the club wouldn't be obligated past the end of the year. A bigger deal for Kovalev and Leetch would help the Blues, but what do they have to offer? They've traded away several of their prospects (Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus and Mike Van Ryn) in recent years. New head coach Mike Kitchen might have to make due with what he's got.
San Jose Sharks
After being sellers last spring, the Sharks are buyers this year. That said, new GM Doug Wilson might not want to fool with the club's chemistry. With several young players in their lineup, the Sharks might look to add a versatile forward such as Sillinger or a pest such as Rangers RW Matthew Barnaby.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning GM Jay Feaster will be looking to add to his improving club, but he says he won't deal someone off the current roster because he likes the chemistry his team has developed. If the right deal comes along -- like the Bolts' January trade with the Blue Jackets for defenseman Darryl Sydor -- he'll take a good hard look at it. If not, he's prepared to enter the playoffs with his current group.
Toronto Maple Leafs
While Eastern rivals Ottawa and Philadelphia have made moves, the Leafs have been strangely quiet. That likely will change in the coming days. The Leafs are rumored to be very interested in Gonchar, who has expressed his interest in going to Toronto. Gonchar is among the elite defenders in the game. He'd be an excellent fit for the Leafs, who don't have a legit No. 1 defenseman. It will be interesting to see how first-year GM John Ferguson Jr. handles his first trade deadline in hockey-crazy Toronto.
GM Brian Burke says he won't blow out his budget or trade away good young players for short-term gain. Instead, the Canucks will try to fill some holes with affordable role players. The club has been rumored to have interest in Bombardir. Expect Burke to make a few minor moves to tweak his talented roster.
E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.