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Familiar Face Has Patching Up to Do

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oleg Tverdovsky picked up the telephone at his Moscow apartment. It was 4 a.m.

“My agent started telling me I’ve been traded to the Ducks,” Tverdovsky said recently from Moscow. “I said, ‘Are you playing a joke on me?’ When my head cleared, I understood and I was thrilled.”

Tverdovsky returned to the Mighty Ducks on Saturday in a draft-day trade with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Ducks sent center Travis Green and their first-round pick to the Coyotes for the 23-year-old defenseman.

“The Ducks were my first team and I had a lot of good memories with them,” Tverdovsky said. “They had a very good team, a very quick team, last year. It will be a lot more fun playing with Paul [Kariya] and Teemu [Selanne] than it was playing against them.”

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Tverdovsky was sent to the Coyotes, formerly the Winnipeg Jets, in the deal that brought Selanne to the Ducks. A year later, Tverdovsky angered Duck fans when he said he “hated” his former team and “wanted to kick their butts” before Phoenix and Anaheim met in the first round of the playoffs.

He has been booed by fans at the Arrowhead Pond ever since. Tverdovsky, who took his Orange County home off the market this week, is intent on mending fences.

“What I said, I said,” Tverdovsky said. “I can’t change it. I don’t know what it is going to take to win them over. Whatever it is, I’m going to do it. I guess I just have to prove to them I’m a good player.”

The Coyotes, apparently, weren’t so sure any more, or were attempting to improve their own chemistry. Tverdovsky had feuded with Keith Tkachuk and had even scuffled with Jeremy Roenick on occasion.

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“I don’t really know why they traded me,” Tverdovsky said. “I think it was one of those business decisions.”

Tverdovsky’s production had dropped as well. He scored 55 points in 1996-97, but the next season had only 19 after holding out. He scored seven goals and had 25 points last season, which was the final year of a two-year, $3.1-million deal.

The Ducks are hoping the deal is the answer to their biggest concern: defense.

Tverdovsky gives them speed and skill in the back, something that was lacking last season.

Besides Tverdovsky, the Ducks picked up Niclas Havelid, a 26-year-old defenseman from Sweden, who was their third-round pick. He probably will play with the team next season.

Duck General Manager Pierre Gauthier is expected to concentrate on building a checking line, tapping some of the free-agent talent. Players can begin negotiating with teams Thursday. Gauthier already has acquired Boston left wing Ted Donato, who agreed to a one-year contract Tuesday.

Gauthier seemed most pleased about bringing back Tverdovsky, who plugs a gaping hole in the defense.

“We want to be able to move the puck to our forwards better,” Gauthier said. “I felt that was the weakest part of our game.

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“You need the right chemistry back there. We have hard guys: Ruslan Salei is well rounded, but tough; Kevin Haller gets everyone aggravated; Jason Marshall is a tough customer. Now our mix is better.”

Moving the puck out of their end was a problem that Kariya discussed with Coach Craig Hartsburg during the season. Tverdovsky should help in that area.

He also will take some pressure off defenseman Fredrik Olausson. At 32, Olausson finished fourth among NHL defensemen with 56 points last season but faded toward the end.

Gauthier said he already has had preliminary talks with Tverdovsky’s agent on a new contract. Tverdovsky is one of several restricted free agents the Ducks have to sign, with Kariya topping their list. Salei and Marshall are also unsigned.

“We gave up a significant asset in a first-round pick,” Gauthier said. “We wouldn’t do that unless we got a good young player in return.”

Additionally, the Ducks on Tuesday signed center Torrey DiRoberto from Seattle of the Western Hockey League.


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