What it means for next season: The acquisitions play into the hands of coach Ken Hitchcock, who is an expert at molding talented offensive players to the Stars' grinding style. There are plenty of ifs, but...if Hitchcock keeps centers Turgeon, Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk satisfied in their new roles, if Audette digs for pucks the way he did in Atlanta early last season and if Kamensky remains healthy and gives an effort worthy of his exceptional skill, Dallas will have the offensive diversity it has sorely missed in recent years and should emerge as the most menacing of Colorado's challengers.
New Trend in Trading
Cutting Bait On Big Fish
As more and more top players look toward free agency, NHL general managers have begun anticipating the loss of stars by trading them well before they're eligible to test the market. "You reach the crossroads with players a year earlier than in the past," says Mighty Ducks general manager Pierre Gauthier. "There are two reasons: First, salaries are so high that one player can throw your long-term budget out of whack, and second, there are so many free agents available that teams won't give you much just to rent a player for half a year. They know that in the summer they'll have other options."
In March, Gauthier dealt star sniper Teemu Selanne to the Sharks because Gauthier thought he couldn't afford to re-sign Selanne, who's set for free agency after next season. The Ducks landed blossoming 24-year-old forward Jeff Friesen and playoff-tested goalie Steve Shields in the deal because San Jose knew it would have Selanne for all of the coming season. Front-line forwards Bill Guerin (traded from the Oilers to the Bruins) and Keith Tkachuk (Coyotes to Blues) were also dealt last season, more than a year before they were to become unrestricted free agents.
Edmonton G.M. Kevin Lowe traded center Doug Weight to St. Louis last month not only because Lowe believed he was getting a strong return (gifted young forwards Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht) but also because he wanted to avoid any lingering uncertainty. Weight, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Blues, would have been eligible for free agency next July. "The clock was ticking," says Lowe.
Some teams wait longer before trading a star who is nearing free agency, but they still feel the need to unload him. Last season defenseman Rob Blake's approaching free agency was a distraction to the Kings until he was sent to the Avalanche in February, a month before the trading deadline. "We waited so long because we were really trying to sign him," says L.A. general manager Dave Taylor. "We only traded him once we felt sure we couldn't bring him back."
Overhaul in Buffalo
Out with the Old
Over the last two weeks the Sabres have traded goalie Dominik Hasek, 36, and former captain Michael Peca, 27; declined an option on wing Dave Andreychuk, 37; and allowed 31-year-old free-agent forwards Donald Audette and Steve Heinze to sign elsewhere. Also, 38-year-old center Doug Gilmour is expected to retire. The dramatic loss of veterans just two years after the Sabres went to the Stanley Cup finals, coupled with a modest hike in ticket prices, is the club's response to a harsh financial reality: Buffalo says it lost about $12 million in 2000-01 despite hosting seven playoff games. "We're worried about the perception among our fans," says general manager Darcy Regier, "but we think we can build a winner."
Indeed, Regier has brought in solid, inexpensive talent, including forwards Slava Kozlov, Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, without upsetting the Sabres' strong nucleus of skaters, among them forward Miroslav Satan. If goalie Martin Biron, 23, plays to his All-Star potential, Buffalo may be in better shape than its fans believe.