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More Trade Action
All-Star Weekend Witnesses Three Deals
by Michael Dell, editor-in-chief
The All-Star Break witnessed more than just a mediocre pick-up game between a bunch of international millionaires. There were also three significant trades made. The Tampa Bay Lightning used the time off to try and reinvent their modest roster with two separate deals, while the Philadelphia Flyers rolled the bones on a highly-skilled underachiever.
The Bolts kicked off the trade bonanza on Thursday, January 15, sending Patrick Poulin, Mick Vukota, and Igor Ulanov to Montreal in exchange for Stephane Richer, Darcy Tucker, and Dave Wilkie.
What the Bolts Get
This trade boils down to talent for toughness. With franchise leading scorer Brian Bradley still on the shelf with post- concussion syndrome, the Bolts are desperately trying to find anyone who can put the puck in the net. The men with lightning bolts on their pants have scored just 87 goals in their first 49 games. Wow, that blows.
The Bolts are hoping that Stephane Richer can help fill the net. The 31-year-old right winger is a two-time 50-goal scorer and a five-time 30-goal man. The only problem is that he hasn't scored 50 since 1989-90 and he hasn't bagged at least 30 since 1993-94. He has, however, scored at least 20 goals in each of the three seasons since then. That automatically makes him a major weapon for the Bolts.
Richer was in and out of the Montreal lineup this season with injuries, limiting him to five goals and nine points in just 14 games. The trademark of Richer's game has always been his cannon slap shot. Few players in the league can bring it like Richer. He's also an excellent skater with a powerful stride. And power is probably the part of Richer's game that often gets overlooked. At 6'2, 215 pounds, Richer is a big strong guy that isn't scared to play physical. Because of his rather blase attitude and some of his comments during his younger days in Montreal, a lot of people perceive Richer as a floater and a one-dimensional player. But that's not really true. He's vastly underrated when it comes to his overall game. He knows how to play both ends of the ice. Sure, Richer may not always be motivated to do so, but when he is he can be a force. He's played under Pat Burns and Jacques Lemaire, so he knows what it means to play smart, defensive hockey.
Darcy Tucker gives the Bolts something they're in dire need of, namely a center. Having lost Chris Gratton to free agency, Johnny Cullen to illness, and Bradley to numerous injuries, Tampa Bay is extremely shallow down the middle. Tucker was a scoring ace in juniors where he collected 64 goals and 137 points in 64 games in his final year with Kamloops (1994-95). But the 22- year-old hasn't had the opportunity to do much scoring in the big leagues. Last season Tucker got his foot in the door with Montreal, posting seven goals and 20 points in 73 games while playing mostly in a checking role with the likes of Turner Stevenson and Chris Murray. He was seeing similar duty this season, with just one goal and six points in 39 games with the Habs.
One reason Tucker was used as a checker in Montreal was his grittiness. Despite being just 5'10, 178 pounds, Tucker plays a physical style of hockey and isn't shy about sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. He had 110 penalty minutes last season with the Canadiens, including 10 fights, and rang up 57 more minutes at the start of this year. Tucker knows how to score, he has toughness, he's young, and he plays center. He'll be a welcomed addition to the Lightning lineup.
David Wilkie was Montreal's first-round pick (20th overall) at the 1992 Entry Draft. Like Tucker, Wilkie was also a product of Kamloops. The 6'2", 202-pound defenseman gained a reputation early on as a mobile guy that could move the puck and put points on the board. In his last year of juniors (1993-94), which was split between Kamloops and Regina, Wilkie racked up 38 goals and 77 points in 56 games. The next year he moved up to Fredericton of the AHL and continued to produce, potting 10 goals and 53 points. He split 1995-96 between Fredericton and Montreal before becoming a full-time Canadien last season, when he appeared in 61 games and notched six goals and 15 points. Before being traded to Tampa, Wilkie had dressed for just five games with the Habs this season and earned a single goal.
Wilkie definitely has the tools to be a significant contributor along the blue line. He's good with the puck and owns a heavy wrist shot. He could develop into a very competent pointman on the power play. But at 23, Wilkie still needs to earn experience in his own zone. Defense is the toughest position to learn and it often takes youngsters a while before they can contribute. He should be given that time in Tampa.
What Montreal Gets
Montreal made this trade to add some toughness and tenacity to its small, skilled lineup. Obviously, Mick Vukota was acquired to bust heads. The 31-year-old earned the reputation as one of the game's premier fighters during his 10 years on Long Island. In 510 games with the Isles, Vukota had 16 goals and 45 points to go along with 1,879 penalty minutes. Over the summer Vukota jumped ship and swam to Tampa, where he had one goal and 116 penalty minutes in 42 games with lightning bolts on his pants. The Canadiens want Vukota to protect their talent up front. If anyone starts running Saku Koivu and the boys, Vukota will be around to drop the hammer.
When Patrick Poulin first broke into the league with the Hartford Whalers in the early 90s, the left winger was ticketed to be a perennial 30-goal scorer. Hey, remember when Upper Deck called Poulin the next in line to Brett Hull? And Michael Nylander was next in line to Wayne Gretzky? Aw, that was great, that was fun. Needless to say, those lofty expectations never came to fruition.
Though this is his sixth full season in the NHL and the Habs are his fourth club, Poulin is still just 24 years old. So there's still plenty of time for him to find his old scoring magic. But don't bet on it. Poulin has never scored more than 20 goals in a season, and he did that in his rookie year of 1992-93 when he hit an even 20. While he has never lit the lamp as expected, Poulin did develop into an excellent checking line winger and penalty killer during his nearly three years in Tampa Bay. He'll add some quality depth to the Montreal forward ranks, bringing a hardworking presence to the club's talented array of scorers.
Igor Ulanov has been somewhat of an enigma over his six-year NHL career. The 28-year-old Russian blueliner gained the reputation as a hard-hitting, borderline cheap player during his early days with the Winnipeg Jets. But unfortunately he didn't come to play with the same intensity every night. That same tag stuck with him in two forgettable stints with Chicago and Washington before moving on to Tampa in 1995-96. Ulanov seemed to find some of his old rage with the Bolts, once again making a name as a banger. He waged an absolute war with Eric Lindros in the '95-96 playoffs, matching the Flyer behemoth hit for hit. When he brings the intensity, Ulanov can impact a game with his physical play. That's something the Canadiens have been looking for since they let Lyle Odelein go to the Devils. Dave Manson hasn't really been the answer.
Outlook: The edge has to go to the Bolts on this one. Both teams got what they were looking for in this deal. The Bolts get a young scrappy center in Tucker, a youthful blueliner with potential in Wilkie, and a proven scorer in Richer. The Habs get their puncher in Vukota, another physical presence in Ulanov, and a hard-working role player in Poulin. But over the long haul, the youth of Tucker and Wilkie will serve the Lightning well. How much of an impact the inconsistent Ulanov and the oft-injured Vukota can have in Montreal is anyone's guess. But mine is not much.
What the Bolts Get
Tampa Bay has had some major goaltending problems ever since Daren Puppa's back gave out at the start of last season. With Puppa expected to be healthy this season, the Bolts traded Rick Tabaracci back to Calgary over the summer. Bad move. Puppa has once again been plagued with injuries, forcing Tampa to play Corey Schwab and Derek Wilkinson between the pipes night after night. Yeah, that'll suck. The Bolts know that if Puppa is healthy they're set in goal. But they needed a proven backup netminder that could step in and do the job when called upon. That's why the phone rang in Florida.
Mark Fitzpatrick has served as John Vanbiesbrouck's backup in Florida since the Panthers joined the league in 1993-94. While he knew the Beezer was the man, Fitzpatrick often clamored for more playing time. Well, he'll get his wish in Tampa.
Fitzpatrick, 30, is a big (6'2", 198 pounds) standup goaltender that relies on strong angle play. He's not exactly nimble in net. In fact, he can resemble Herman Munster at times with his stiff-legged movement. He can get used side to side. And now that you mention it, while Fitzpatrick does have good size, he doesn't look all that big in net. He's pretty thin in there. He can also get picked apart upstairs by quality shooters.
So all in all, Fitzpatrick isn't exactly an elite level netminder. He's been a backup for a reason. But then again, he has been a backup. It's that experience that makes him a valuable commodity to the Lightning. He's definitely better than anything else they have.
Jody Hull is another original Panther. The 28-year-old right winger fit in well with that club's disciplined defensive style. Hull's got good size (6'2, 200 pounds) and knows how to use it along the boards. While he isn't exactly the most agile of skaters, Hull has some pep in a straight line. He's the prototypical checking winger that can also chip in between 10 and 15 goals a campaign. Hull also displayed some versatility this season with the Panthers by skating a few games on defense when the regulars were nursing injuries.
What the Panthers Get
Dino Ciccarelli pretty much forced Tampa GM Phil Esposito's hand a few weeks back when he came out and criticized the injured Brian Bradley, questioning the center's heart. Needless to say, Bradley wasn't too happy about being ranked by Dino and said that he would never play on a team with Ciccarelli again. Whether Esposito took this into consideration when making the deal isn't clear, but what is clear is that Dino was causing some unneeded grief in the room. His departure should help heal team chemistry, especially if Bradley ever returns.
The Panthers were glad to take advantage of Dino's personal conflicts in Tampa and add the aging scorer to their veteran roster. Even at 37 years of age, soon to be 38, Ciccarelli is still a dangerous scoring threat up front. He's coming off a 35- goal season last year with the Bolts and had 11 more red lights in his first 34 games this season. While it's doubtful Dino will ever hit 35 goals again, he should be good for at least 20 to 25. This guy has 598 goals in his career. He's not just gonna forget how to put the puck in the net. He does most of his work within five feet of the goal crease. And it's a good thing that he's so good in front, because he's slower than Marlon Brando's metabolism. Dino's not exactly gonna blow wide on the defense and pipe one from the wing. All his goals are ugly. But they don't ask you how you score them, just how many. Dino also has another attribute. He remains a major pest. He can get under anyone's skin... even his teammate's.
While Dino brings goals to Florida, Jeff Norton brings speed. He's simply one of the best skaters in the game. Norton's effortless in his stride and seems to float above the ice once he gets it cranked up. He'll just add to the mobility of an already swift Florida blue line corps, which features the likes of Robert Svehla, Rhett Warrener, and Gord Murphy. Norton is also excellent with the puck. He can rush it himself or launch pinpoint passes all over the rink. His shot isn't overpowering, but it's good enough. Put all the skills together and Norton can man the point with the best of them.
Outlook: Tampa Bay did well in this deal, too. Sure, on the surface Norton and Ciccarelli are the better players, but there's more to this one than just talent. Getting rid of Ciccarelli could be an excellent example of addition by subtraction. He's not exactly the most likeable guy in the world. His absence should help Tampa's team chemistry and it opens the door for Bradley to return when he's healthy enough to go. Dino and Norton also each pull down hefty paychecks, so the Bolts are saving some scratch. They've also addressed two weaknesses on their roster by acquiring a proven backup netminder and a veteran role player with some character.
This deal could pay off for the Panthers if Dino and Norton can provide the Florida offense with some spark. But how much longer will Ciccarelli be able to produce? And with his reputation, it's almost not worth bringing him into the dressing room. Norton's got talent, but he never seems to be involved with a winning team. There's gotta be a reason for that. He was apart of the five-man unit that carried the Sharks to their first ever playoff appearance, but that was when he had free reign to wheel with Sandis Ozolinsh, Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, and Johan Garpenlov. Unfortunately, Ozolinsh and the two Russians are nowhere to be found in Florida.
What Philadelphia Gets
Oh, that wacky Alexandre Daigle. When he was drafted first overall at the 1993 Entry Draft, he was supposed to become Ottawa's franchise player and the game's next great French- Canadian superstar. Instead, he became the posterboy for a rookie salary cap and found new ways to disappoint on a nightly basis. Now he calls Philadelphia home.
The Flyers have long felt they needed more speed up front to counterbalance their surplus of size. And when it comes to just skating, few are better than the 22-year-old Daigle. Yeah, it seems like he's been around forever, but Daigle won't turn 23 until February 7. Which reminds me, I'll turn 23 on February 17. Send cards. And money. Send cards with money. But I digress...
There's no doubt that Daigle can motor. It's the rest of his game that's got worry. He's got problems finishing the plays that his speed creates. But that's a confidence thing. There was so much pressure on him in Ottawa that it was easy to have heavy hands. The Flyers are hoping that Daigle will be able to relax in his new atmosphere, where Eric Lindros and John LeClair shoulder the weight of the team, and finally start to produce the numbers expected of him. He had only seven goals and 16 points in 38 games with Ottawa.
One area of his game that Daigle has to improve is his defensive coverage. He's gained the reputation as one of the weakest defensive players in the league, thanks in large part to finishing at a league-worst -33 last season. It'll be pretty hard to finish at a minus in Philly, but if anyone could do it, it's Daigle.
What the Senators Get
The Senators needed depth up front, that's why they finally relented and parted with Daigle. The bad news is, they got Pat Falloon in return. Yes, good ol' Pat Falloon will now be able to taunt and tease a whole new city of fans with his blazing wrist shot and deft scoring touch. Daigle may have had his woes, but Falloon is Mr. Disappointment. He's about as reliable as a two- bit wristwatch. This guy will look like an All-Star for a few shifts, then go into a brutal prolonged slump where he resembles little more than a life-long minor leaguer. It's frustrating just talking about him...
Vaclav Prospal, on the other hand, looks like he could be the real deal. The 22-year-old Czech center has big-time playmaking skills. He doesn't have much of a shot, but he's an incredible passer and knows how to distribute the puck. He's wise beyond his years when it comes to handling the biscuit. Prospal won't score many goals himself, but he could have a field day setting the table for Daniel Alfredsson or Alexei Yashin.
Outlook: This deal pretty much hinges on Daigle. He still has a lot of upside potential and could become another Pat LaFontaine. Then again, he might not. He definitely has the speed to stretch the opposing defenses. That's what the Flyers wanted, so they have to be happy. The orange and black won't even miss Falloon and there just wasn't enough ice time for Prospal with Lindros, Gratton, Rod Brind'Amour, and Joel Otto already on board.
The Senators gambled when they gave up on Daigle, but they allowed him ample opportunity to make it in Ottawa. A change was needed. They also freed up a major chunk of change since Daigle was scheduled to make $4 million over the next two years of his contract. Ottawa GM Pierre Gauthier has hopes for Falloon, but that tune's been sung before. Prospal is the key to this deal. He could be a swell playmaker for years to come. The main problem at the moment is he's out of the lineup for at least the next six weeks with a broken leg suffered against, of all teams, the Senators. Of course, a wise selection with that second-round pick would go a long way to swinging the deal in Ottawa's favor.
SINCE THE TRADES
Tampa Bay: Despite bringing in the five new players, the Lightning have gone 0-3-0 in their first three outings since the All-Star Game. Mark Fitzpatrick was in net for all three losses, getting beaten by the Capitals (3-2, 27 saves), Sabres (4-1, 31 saves), and Leafs (5-2, 27 saves). Darcy Tucker has been the best of the new arrivals, collecting an assist in each contest and playing at a +3 while centering Alexander Selivanov and Jason Wiemer. Dave Wilkie has had his problems, failing to register a point and finishing at a -2 in each game. Stephane Richer and Jody Hull are also looking for their first points, although Hull played in only one of the contests.
Florida: The Panthers are 0-2-1 since acquiring Dino Ciccarelli and Jeff Norton. Dino's got one goal in three games and is a -2. Norton has a pair of helpers and is a -1. New backup goaltender Kevin Weekes saw his first action in place of Fitzpatrick in Florida's 8-3 spanking in Anaheim, stopping 15 of 19 shots.
Montreal: The Habs are 1-1-0 since the break. Patrick Poulin has been a pleasant surprise, scoring a goal in each contest. Mick Vukota only played in the 4-3 loss to Carolina, but dropped the gloves with Stu Grimson and earned seven minutes total for the game. Igor Ulanov hasn't been quite so lucky. The mad Russian tried to take a run at a Bruin in the first period of his first game as a Hab and ended up colliding with teammate Peter Popovic. As a result, Ulanov blew out his left knee and will be lost for the season. Hard to get happy after that one.
Ottawa: The Senators are 1-1-1 since bidding Daigle farewell. Falloon has a goal and an assist in the three games. Prospal continues to mend.
Philadelphia: The Flyers are 2-1-0 in their last three. Daigle has one assist over that time, registering four shots and playing at a +1.
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