Thursday, March 4, 2004 Updated: March 11, 11:13 AM ET
Between Periods: Trading frenzy!
By Jeffrey Morris
Imagine the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, two annual buyers, having a fire sale that would make my beloved San Juantreal Expos look like Manchester United.
Of course, the Rangers have been on both sides of the folding table on this one as they were the ones who took on Jaromir Jagr and his 11 million reasons for a lockout in September.
But this week alone, Alex Kovalev is now a Hab. Petr Nedved is an Oiler. Brian Leetch is a Leaf.
And in Washington, the Capitals have made sports fans forget all about Stephen Davis' departure from the Redskins. In fact, it's a good thing the Redskins dealt Champ Bailey or the Caps would have done it for them.
First it was Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado.
Then Jagr was gone to the Rangers.
Then Peter Bondra to Ottawa.
Robert Lang was next going to Detroit.
And now, Sergei Gonchar has been unloaded to Boston.
This is as of Wednesday night, March 3. By the time you read this column, Olaf Kolzig, the stick boy, the popcorn vendor in section 312 and even the guy who wipes off the lips of the urinals in the men's room may be on their way out of D.C.
And for the buyers in these trades, all of them have made their teams better down the stretch.
Kovalev adds punch
In Montreal, it is refreshing to see the once mighty Canadiens once again in a building mode rather than a salary dumping mode due to slumping economies in Quebec and Canada. Things have changed, the economies are improving, and the Canadian dollar is 20 cents stronger this year, allowing the Canadiens to go out and find a needed offensive weapon with some size.
The Canadiens have been full of surprises for fans and fantasy players this year. Sheldon Souray's career year at the point came out of nowhere. Michael Ryder would be a Calder Trophy winner were it not for Andrew Raycroft's outstanding year. Mike Ribeiro has jumped to the next level. Kovalev, not in the lineup against San Jose last night, is expected to play in Phoenix Friday.
Kovalev will likely play on Montreal's first line with center Saku Koivu and left winger Richard Zednik, taking the place of the injured Jan Bulis. Considering Kovalev was considered by some to be the best offensive winger in the NHL before joining the Rangers, he will definitely bring a new dimension to the Canadiens offense. Their first line will become more aggressive, and Kovalev will add spark to their power play by playing down low or the umbrella.
For Bob Gainey, his first major move is being applauded. He gave up a good prospect in Jozef Balej, but the Canadiens have their fill of undersized, skilled forwards. Balej, Hamilton's leading scorer in the AHL this year, immediately joins Jamie Lundmark, Fedor Tjutin and Jason LaBarbera in the nearly bare cupboard of prospects with a big upside.
Gonchar adds speed in Boston
The Toronto Maple Leafs tried for nearly a month to work out a deal with the Caps for Gonchar, but the usually tight Bruins opened the vault and landed a prize that immediately makes them a better team.
Gonchar led all defensemen with 49 points at the time of the deal. He is also one of the best skating blueliners in the league, and one of Boston's weaknesses is their team speed at the defense position. Gonchar can not only score, but he can move the puck up the ice quickly, make the long breakout pass, and he can get back and beat opposition wingers to the puck on shoot-ins.
Look for Gonchar to replace Nick Boynton as the point man on the power play, and look for improved special teams numbers across the board for the Bruins.
Leafs land Leetch
As Gonchar is a great fit in Boston, Brian Leetch is a good fit in Toronto. The Leafs were in need of landing a top defenseman, and Leetch was made available for a couple of draft picks and prospects Maxim Kondratiev and Jarkko Immonen.
The Leafs play a more wide open game than many of the other elite teams in the NHL. They are not a trap-oriented team and play a more wide open game. They also encourage their defensemen to jump into the play, pinch in at the point and join rushes. This is a style of play that suits Brian Leetch.
The Leafs have had a great year with Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee and Tomas Kaberle anchoring the point. McCabe is having a career year with 41 points, good for second on the team in scoring, while Klee and Kaberle have 29 and 28 points. Kaberle leads the team with a plus-15 while McCabe is second at plus-11.
Leetch will also turn the Leafs' power play into a much better unit as he will play the point on the first unit and see time with snipers like Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Gary Roberts.
Can Nedved ignite Oilers?
The Oilers, just on the fringe of the playoffs, made a move for Petr Nedved to try and kickstart their sluggish offense and make a move for the playoffs. Nedved immediately becomes a top threat and he still is a great skater with the most dangerous wrist shot aside from Joe Sakic in the league. Nedved was often overshadowed by the celebrities on the Rangers' roster, and it was a gutsy move for Edmonton to see if he can make things work.
If the Oilers slide and the playoffs seem too far away by next week, Nedved and others, especially Tommy Salo, may be on their way out of Alberta.
Long term gain?
So how did the Rangers and Capitals make out?
The Capitals, though they have stripped the roster clean, have one of the brightest futures in the NHL. They have tremendous young talent in Portland, some top picks still in junior, and they will have three first round draft picks for the second time in three years. They were also able to add some players like Brooks Laich and Shaone Morrisonn as they continue to stockpile for their future.
The Rangers, on the other hand, will face criticism from their fans expecting more for their marquee stars. Could they have done better than Jozef Balej in the Kovalev deal? Montreal is deep at forward and although Balej is ripping up the AHL, he is not the blue chip NHL prospect that perhaps Marcel Hossa, Alexandre Perezhogin, Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec may be. The Rangers could have left a player on the table in the deal, and the second round pick they received could have been a first.
They will also take some hits from critics over the Leetch deal, in which they received two picks and two players. They were unable to pry Carlo Colaiacovo or Nik Antropov away from the Leafs. The first and second round picks are good, but Maxim Kondratiev is still considered a fringe prospect.
And for Nedved and Jussi Markkanen, feeling will also be that the Rangers could have done better than Stephen Valiquette and Dwight Helminen.
It is nice to see the Rangers, a team the NHL needs to be good and competitive, building for the future with more prospects and picks. But this is a team that has not drafted well over the past couple of seasons, and did they add the right players to their recipe for the future?
Time will tell...
Barnstorming: One sign of optimism in New York is that Eric Lindros may rejoin the Rangers this week. He has been out with his eighth career concussion since last month ... Kris Draper of the Red Wings is expected to miss a month with a torn rotator cuff ... Jeremy Roenick said Wednesday he will not retire, but he is unsure as to whether or not he will return this year ... Curtis Joseph is expected to rejoin the Wings from his sprained ankle next week. Is it just me, or is that like the fourth straight week we have reported that here? ... Derian Hatcher is expected to rejoin the Red Wings Monday. He has missed most of this season with a knee injury ... Martin Straka is expected to return to the Kings lineup tonight ... Niklas Sundstrom of the Canadiens is out indefinitely with a concussion ... Robert Lang had three assists in his first game with Detroit Sunday ... Peter Forsberg has missed seven games with his groin injury. It was also reported that Forsberg will return to Sweden to play for MoDo next season. His father, a Swedish coach, is widely credited with pioneering the left wing lock trap system. If that is in fact the case, it would be nice for all fans if Peter could take that back to Ornskoldsvik with him ... Eric Daze is hoping to return to Chicago's lineup March 7 after missing more than 60 games after back surgery ... Heading into last night's game, Patrik Elias had 14 points and a plus-11 in his last seven games ... Ryan Smyth has bounced back and has six points and a plus-4 in his last three outings ... Steve Sullivan continues to light it up since joining Nashville. He has six goals and seven assists for a plus-5 in his last seven games. He also has four power play goals in his last five games ... Scott Gomez had five points for the Devils Wednesday night ... Bill Guerin had a hat trick Wednesday and now has six goals in his last four games ... Teemu Selanne was pointless in seven games heading into Wednesday's tilt with Vancouver ... Tomas Vokoun has an 0.95 GAA in his last three starts for Nashville ... Jose Theodore was 5-0-0 with a 1.17 GAA and a .956 SP heading into Wednesday's game ... Rookie Tuomo Ruutu of Chicago has 10 points in his last seven games.
That's all for now. Until next week, I'll be somewhere in the 80s, when scoring was up and there was no trap, listening to my Communards with Jimmy Somerville CD.
Prescott, Ont. native Jeffrey Morris is a former NHL beat writer who is the V.P. of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards in Lynnwood, Wash. He can also be heard breaking down hockey regularly as "Ice Rink" on the Tony Bruno Morning Extravaganza. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.