The Best Get Better

by Chris Maugeri

Well, itís finally over. The March 13th NHL trade deadline has come and gone quickly. As expected, several big names were dealt, and some were not. Perhaps the trade which will have the greatest impact, involves Phoenix Coyotes star forward Keith Tkachuk. Where did he end up? Letís take a look at his deal and several others that took place.

Apparently the St. Louis Blues feel comfortable enough with their defense until Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis return to the lineup, as both are sidelined with injuries. The Blues did, however, pull off the biggest trade of the day when they acquired Keith Tkachuk from Phoenix. In return, the Coyotes receive Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, prospect Jeff Taffe, and a draft pick.

Analysis: Anytime a team can get a player like Tkachuk, the deal has to be made. Tkachuk finally gives the Blues the left-winger they've been searching for to compliment Pierre Turgeon and Scott Young. St. Louis now has two formidable offensive lines, which will give opposing teams fits come playoff time. In the long run, Phoenix will make out very nicely as well. Injury-riddled center, Michal Handzus, will be an excellent offensive player for years to come, assuming he can remain healthy. Nagy and Taffe will also be solid players once they get worked into the Coyotes' system. St. Louis probably didn't need to make a move, but obtaining another great scoring threat to add to their arsenal is always welcomed.

Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, after being acquired several years ago from Winnipeg (now Phoenix), was traded to San Jose for goalie Steve Shields and forward Jeff Friesen.

Analysis: On the surface, this may look like an even trade. Some may even give the advantage to San Jose in acquiring the former 76 goal scorer, but here is why Anaheim got the better of the deal. This season, Paul Kariya and Selanne haven't had the same magic they showed in previous years with Anaheim. Kariya has erupted since the arrival of his new line-mate. Friesen is a great playmaker with good speed, excellent passing ability, and can also put the puck in the net. In what might be the key part of the trade, Steve Shields may prove to be the goaltender Anaheim has been looking for. Shields has a few years of experience under his belt, as he served as backup to the great Dominik Hasek while he was in Buffalo. Shields is more than capable of being a number 1 goalie, and this team needs him badly. In the future, people will be comparing Selanne and Friesen, however the real player that they should keep an eye on is Shields.

Defenseman Rob Blake, now formerly of the Los Angeles Kings, was one of the biggest names to be moved before the March 13th trade deadline. After heavily rumored to be headed to New Jersey for Scott Gomez, the all-star defenseman was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche along with Steve Reinprecht for gritty forward Adam Deadmarsh and defenseman Aaron Miller. Saint Louis was also very much involved in talks with Los Angeles for Blake, as their two stellar defensemen, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger are still nursing injuries. Ultimately, Blake landed in Colorado, where the Avalanche now showcase two of the greatest blue-liners to ever play the game in Blake and Ray Bourque.

Analysis: Los Angeles has to be out of their minds to allow Blake to go to Colorado for virtually nothing. Deadmarsh and Miller are two solid players, but the Kings should have demanded more for Blakeís services. Zoning in on a talent such as a Chris Drury would have much better suited LA, or perhaps even defenseman Martin Skoula to help compensate for the offense lost in dealing Blake. The Kings also handed over Steve Reinprecht, a very promising rookie center. In other words, this was not the best deal for Los Angeles to make. Now having the tandem of Bourque and Blake is a duo other teams can only dream about. Adding this to arguably the greatest goaltender of all-time, Patrick Roy, and the high-powered offense that Colorado displays game after game, expect for the Avalanche to be the team to come out of the Western Conference and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

In local news, the New Jersey Devils acquired goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck from the New York Islanders. In return, the Islanders receive the Devils backup to Martin Brodeur, Chris Terreri, and a ninth round draft pick.

Analysis: This is an excellent trade for New Jersey for several reasons. Firstly, although Vanbiesbrouck is getting older, he could still be the starter on many teams, as he was with New York. Brodeur has played in almost all of New Jerseyís games this year, and with the playoffs approaching, Vanbiesbrouck will allow Brodeur to take some games off and rest. Secondly, in trading Terreri, what do the Devils lose? In each of the past two seasons, Terreri has played only 12 games, and so far just 10 this year.

The New York Rangers have attempted to solidify their goaltending needs by claiming Guy Hebert off waivers from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After the season ending injury to Rangers netminder Mike Richter, New York was left extremely depleted at the goaltender position. Hebert was Anaheimís career leader in wins with 173 and will attempt to bring success to this organization next year, as it appears the Rangers are all but out of this yearís playoff hunt.

Analysis: After the Ducks acquired Steve Shields, Anaheim secured its goaltending position for the future, thus making Hebert expendable. It only made sense that Hebert would end up in New York, the place where he grew up. Now in his mid-thirties however, the Rangers have two aging goaltenders on their team in Hebert and Kirk McLean. It will be interesting to see what will happen next year when Mike Richter returns.

To recap, it appears that the elite teams in the NHL have significantly improved their teams for the short run, which is one of the main purposes of the trade deadline. Strengthening a team now for the playoffs could turn out to be tragic to the future of an organization. The only real way to acquire a star player is to trade away young players, prospects, and draft picks. These players may be the future of the NHL, but these are the risks that must be taken in striving towards every teamís common goal Ė The Stanley Cup.