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Who Found The Best Fit On Deadline Day?

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03/07/2009 12:25 PM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)

"Perfect fit."

That's the response you no doubt heard in more than a handful of press conferences around the NHL after deals were announced leading up to the March 4 trading deadline.

It's hard not to get caught up in the "who-goes-where-for-what" shell game. Big names? Big deals? But that's not always the best way to pay the price to make a team better at the NHL's trading deadline.

Mathieu Schneider in Montreal. Ryan Whitney in Anaheim. Chris Kunitz in Pittsburgh. Those were the pre-deadline day acquisitions of note. Then came the names of Olli Jokinen, Erik Cole, Mark Recchi, Bill Guerin and Olaf Kolzig as 22 trades were consummated on deadline day totaling a record 47 players. Lots of fodder for our "perfect fit" bunch.

Here's where we take the scenario one step further, adding focus, fire, flexibility and familiarity to the F-factor list to make a trade really work.

Flashback to last year for a moment, when we heard "perfect fit" in Pittsburgh when the Penguins acquired gifted scorer Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis in a big deal from Atlanta. We heard it in San Jose when the Sharks added offensive defenseman Brian Campbell. It was said in Washington as Russian center Sergei Fedorov was supposed to be the final piece to help fellow comrades Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin lead the Capitals to a long run in the playoffs.

But the best deal at the deadline came when the Detroit Red Wings obtained defenseman Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick in 2008 and a fourth-rounder in 2009. All Stuart did was take his minus-16 in Los Angeles with him to Detroit and, after being teamed with Niklas Kronwall, re-energized his career -- going plus-21 in 31 games, including the playoffs, in helping the Red Wings win their fourth Stanley Cup in the last 11 years.

At this point, you might say that just trading for Stuart, the No. 3 pick in the 1998 Draft by the Sharks, didn't work the previous February for the Calgary Flames, who lost in the first round of the playoffs. So why was this trade a perfect fit in Detroit? Maybe because the Red Wings took the extra step to make the deal work for both Stuart and the team a win-win situation for both sides.

They found the fit. They gave Stuart the focus so he could be more comfortable in his new setting, thereby creating a fire that maybe even Brad wasn't sure he still had after his road had taken him from San Jose to Boston to Calgary and then Detroit. Coach Mike Babcock added the flexibility and familiarity to make this deal, well, perfect.

"The Red Wings made the trade work for me," Stuart explained. "Coach Babcock spelled out what he wanted me to do, what he didn't want from Day 1. He told me, 'Keep it simple ... and if you see you can make a play or make a hit go ahead.' "

That proverbial next step is to make sure the player and the coach are on the same wavelength.

"I knew Stewie as a kid in Red Deer. Not personally. I watched him progress in Junior at Regina and with the Calgary Hitmen all the way up to his being a very high draft choice by San Jose coming into the NHL with high expectations," Babcock told me a night before this year's deadline.

Can you say familiarity?

"When we made the trade, I told him you're going to play our No. 4 slot (on defense behind perennial Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, two-time Stanley Cup champion Brian Rafalski and hard-hitting and burgeoning star Kronwall)," Babcock told me. "I told him we wanted him to bang people. I told him we wanted him to add some grit and give us solid minutes in key situations."

Babcock added that Stuart wasn't asked to play the power play, be in the top defensive pairing and, simply, do too much.

"We believe in creating a role for each player to put them in a position to succeed," Babcock added.

So Stuart hacked and whacked and played assertively and he also scored 1 goal and 6 assists in 21 playoff games, including the winning goal in Game 2 against Pittsburgh. And in the end, the Wings got that perfect fit.

So how do we look for this year's fit?

Most folks would point to Jokinen. But St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray and Detroit forward Dan Cleary urged me to pick former Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris. There was support for Kunitz and Schneider for what they've already done in their new uniforms. But, to me, the Chicago Blackhawks just got that Brad Stuart-like contributor in shutdown center Samuel Pahlsson from the Anaheim Ducks for depth defenseman James Wisniewski.

He’ll fill that spot behind the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Patrick Sharp (or current Troy Brouwer) line, plus the exceedingly productive Dave Bolland-Marty Havlat-Andrew Ladd line. Kris Versteeg and Sharp couldn't cut it at center behind them. Now coach Joel Quenneville will have Pahlsson to perhaps match up against the likes of Joe Thornton, Pavel Datsyuk or Mats Sundin in the playoffs.

 Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and also was a member of Team Sweden when it captured an Olympic gold medal at the 2006 Games.

"Winning breeds winning," GM Dale Tallon explained. "He has been successful as a defensive, two-way centerman against the top players in the League. He's a strong character guy who can play both ends of the rink and gives us that veteran presence up the middle."

Said Guerin, "I'd be thrilled. Who wouldn't be? But I'll play anywhere (coach Dan Bylsma) wants to put me."

Top six scorers? Pittsburgh now has plenty.

In the Nick of time -- Cooler heads prevailed in Minnesota before the deadline. Wild GM Doug Risebrough signed goaltender Nicklas Backstrom to a new four-year, $24 million contract to end speculation his star puckstopper might become a free agent July 1.

Reasoned Risebrough, "How can I begin to think I’m going to compete for a playoff spot by trading Backstrom?"

Deja vu? -- The Carolina Hurricanes aren't running away with first place in the Southeast like they were in 2006 when they reloaded with Mark Recchi and Doug Weight at the deadline. They are fighting for their playoff lives -- and that's why GM Jim Rutherford looked to Edmonton for a familiar face for a stretch run.

Said Rutherford, "We brought Erik Cole back because we think he can help our team down the stretch and ... (It's no coincidence that Cole and Staal have struggled without one another.)

"He had great chemistry with Eric Staal, who has been urging us to bring Erik back. Also, it's been our goal to faster and bigger -- and he gives us that. Plus, he still has a home here and we're hoping he plays like he's home."

Cole had 30, 29 and 22 goals in his last three seasons before being traded to Edmonton, where he struggled.

Ryan's song -- You could say the Anaheim Ducks got an immediate return from their trade of winger Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh for defenseman Ryan Whitney. And Ducks GM Bob Murray also found out a little more about the character of his new defenseman.

Whitney was already in Boston where the Ducks were to play the Bruins in their first game after acquiring the defenseman. Ryan was there to be with his mother, Sue, who underwent successful brain surgery. He played 24 minutes, 19 seconds in his first game with the Ducks, blocking three shots.

Murray, on adding to a defense that already includes Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger: "I'm a big believer in building from the back end, and our back end wasn’t good enough (referring to an injury in which the Ducks lost Francois Beauchemin for the season in November). It’s so difficult to find a young, puck-moving defenseman with that size and that ability. When a chance comes to get one, you have to do what you have to do."

He said what? -- The TV in the Ottawa Senators training room was on. Antoine Vermette was getting a pre-practice massage when ... everything went quiet.

"I was on the training table and was hearing my name," Vermette explained. "When the room got quiet, I asked, 'Did I hear him say I just got traded?' "

Columbus' pursuit of a center to enhance the skills of Rick Nash seems to take on a different life each year. Names come and go next to Nash. And, while no one is saying that will be Vermette's role, based on past history, he'll get a whirl between Nash and Kristian Huselius at some point.

Said Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, "With the emergence of Steve Mason in goal, we felt we could trade Pascal Leclaire and address a weakness in the middle of the ice. We feel we can put Antoine in a position where he can show off his many skills in the faceoff circle as a checker and with some offensive players."

A spring Jacket for Nash? Stay tuned.

Showing faith -- A few days before the deadline, Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer was talking about his power play -- and by extension players like defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who is a key part of the man-advantage situations.

Said DeBoer, "We're not sitting there just crossing our fingers and rubbing a Buddha hoping it gets fixed."

But Panthers GM Jacques Martin took the potential trade scenarios with Bouwmeester onto the gridiron, saying, "We're getting more and more like football, where the team you've built in the offseason is the team that carries you through the season, especially if you don't want to ruin the chemistry and you're in a playoff run."

No trade of Bouwmeester, the potential free-agent-to-be, shows faith, plus Martin's football mentality, eh?

Stopping in Detroit
-- As in puckstopping and the million questions Red Wings GM Ken Holland has had to face regarding the inconsistency in his goaltending tandem of Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin.

The night before the deadline, Holland was watching Osgood pitch a 5-0 shutout in St. Louis and got a little testy when someone asked him about a potential trade in net, saying, "Absolutely not, is that clear enough? I believe Ozzie's gonna play the way he can down the stretch. I like our one-two punch in goal. If we play good team defense, our goaltending is every bit as good as we need it to be."

It was the second straight solid start for Osgood after getting a 10-day tutorial to retool his skills -- that coming after a stretch in which Chris yielded fewer than three goals in a game only once in 10 games.

Not throwing in the towel -- Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger had this to say about rumors he was about to be traded to Boston or Philadelphia or St. Louis, "People start trying to read too much into it and throw out a lot of names. Like a wet towel; throw it against the wall and see if it sticks."

Maddening math -- Toronto GM Brian Burke knows the playing field, but he's understandably worried about the economic playing field in 2010-11 and beyond with the way teams spend in the NHL.

"Any mathematician will tell you that we're all crazy," Burke explained. "Collective pronoun. We're all nuts -- because there are 30 teams and there is one parade. After the first round, there are only eight teams playing. So after the first round, you get 22 teams on the sidelines. The math is horrible.

"The notion that you're going to add to your team and hope you win a round, the math defies that. But the human element is, first off, there's that optimism we all share, that belief we're missing that one piece. Second, your team expects it. Your players are looking to you to add weapons for this last part of the race. So we all get sucked in."

And while some GMs do make decisions that help them win in the short term, Burke says of deadline day, "It's an awful day, it's an exciting day, it's a day full of magic, and a day full of very poor decision making."



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