Where have you gone Patrice Tardif? Roman Vopat played last season in Germany. Craig Johnson is still a King, having scored four goals and nine points in 26 games this season.
On Feb. 27, 1996, the Kings sent the greatest player in the history of the game to the St. Louis Blues for Tardif, Vopat, Johnson and two draft picks, who turned out to be Matt Zultek and Peter Hogan.
The question you have to ask yourself today is this: By trading Wayne Gretzky, did the Kings improve the team? If your answer is, “No, of course not,” then we agree that it was a bad deal for the Kings.
I bring this up because the Kings gave away another of the finest players in their history last week when they sent defenseman Rob Blake to the Colorado Avalanche.
At least that seems to be the thinking of some angry fans, who wrote to this newspaper and dialed various call-in shows last week. It also was difficult to find a local columnist who wasn’t upset about the trade.
The Kings screwed up. They traded Blake, made the Avalanche mortal locks for the Stanley Cup championship and left the cupboard bare at Staples Center. That was last week’s conventional wisdom.
To be sure, there aren’t many players like Blake in the NHL. He’s an impact player, a respected leader in the dressing room, a franchise cornerstone.
But ask yourself this question: After trading Blake, is the team improved? Remember, the Kings also sent rookie Steven Reinprecht to the Avalanche.
So what do you think? Here’s my opinion: The Kings put one over on the Avalanche.
Certainly, it would have been nice if goalie Patrick Roy had gone to the Kings in the deal. Or if the Kings somehow had pried center Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic away from Colorado.
But the Kings did get two established NHL players in forward Adam Deadmarsh and defenseman Aaron Miller. They also got a first-round draft pick, a player to be selected from a group of prospects, and another first-round pick if Blake re-signs with Colorado or a second-rounder if he doesn’t.
I’ll agree that Blake was something of an icon in Southern California, a solid citizen who fought the good fight for 11 seasons with the Kings. But he hadn’t exactly led them to the Promised Land. The Kings advanced to postseason play only twice in the post-Gretzky era and were swept out of the first round in 1998 by the Blues and last season by the Detroit Red Wings.
Hockey, unlike most other team sports, truly is a team game. One man can make a difference, but it’s not as if he’s out there for every pitch or possession. In hockey, there is strength in numbers.
Blake’s hip checks and slap shots from the point on the power play made for good highlight-reel fodder, but how much impact did he have in bottling up opposing forwards? Actually, very little. He’s not a steady Eddie-type defenseman, which the Kings desperately needed if they hoped to rally into a playoff spot. Going into Monday’s games, the Kings had given up 188 goals, second most in the Western Conference.
The Kings have plenty of scorers. They have several flashy players. What they needed was more grit, more passion and a different mentality in the dressing room. They needed more players who despise losing, who don’t mind fighting for every inch of ice. They needed a couple of warriors like Deadmarsh and Miller, guys who can take a hit, give one back and keep skating without altering their courses.
You’ll recall that Deadmarsh got knocked out in a fight earlier this season with burly Vancouver Canuck defenseman Ed Jovanovski, suffering a concussion and missing several weeks. When Deadmarsh returned, it was for a game against Vancouver. Instead of avoiding Jovanovski, Deadmarsh went right after him, holding his own in a rematch.
That says something about the sort of person the Kings acquired last week.
Before you lump the Blake trade in with the Gretzky deal, think about what the Kings received and what Deadmarsh and Miller will bring to the lineup. Deadmarsh is a better player than Reinprecht and Miller is better in his own zone than Blake.
It’s that simple.
Now, about re-signing Luc Robitaille. . . .
THE AVS AND HAVE NOTS
It’s generally assumed that Colorado soon will take the Stanley Cup for a parade around downtown Denver.
Certainly, the Avalanche has a great deal of firepower on the blue line now, what with Blake and future hall of famer Ray Bourque. Roy is perhaps the league’s best playoff goalie. Forsberg and Sakic are having tremendous seasons.
However, let us not forget that the Avalanche reached Game 7 of the Western Conference finals the last two seasons and was swept aside by the grittier Dallas Stars each time.
Dallas is playing well again this season. The San Jose Sharks have a rookie-of-the-year lock in goaltending phenom Evgeni Nabokov. The St. Louis Blues are formidable. And what about the Red Wings, who are one point behind the Blues in the Central Division?
It would seem that Pierre Lacroix, Colorado general manager, has put a great deal of effort into building the Avalanche into a Cup contender for this season. But what about the future?
“The way this season will end probably will dictate how we’re going to manage our contract situation, with not only Rob Blake but Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque,” Lacroix said.
In other words, one or more of those unrestricted free agents probably won’t be re-signed if the Avalanche wins its first Cup since 1996.
CHOKING DOG UPDATE
A day after squandering a three-goal lead in a 6-3 loss to the Red Wings, the Phoenix Coyotes finally got something right. Cliff Fletcher, the team’s newly installed general manager, gave goalie Sean Burke a well deserved multiyear contract extension.
Where that leaves unsigned free agent Nikolai Khabibulin is uncertain. The Coyotes were expected to sign Khabibulin and trade Burke, once Gretzky and Steve Ellman gained control of the franchise.
But dumping Burke in favor of Khabibulin, who has sat for the better part of two seasons, makes little sense. Fletcher was smart to make a commitment to Burke, a candidate for most valuable player who has a 22-15-10 record, a 2.14 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 48 games.
Roy showed his depths after sinking to them. He phoned a Montreal columnist last week to apologize for lashing out at him two weeks ago over a headline over a story about his return to the city to play the Canadiens.
The Teemu Selanne trade rumors have quieted because Pierre Gauthier, Mighty Duck president and general manager, has returned from a lengthy scouting trip. Selanne was rumored as going to whatever town Gauthier was in last. Look for Selanne to remain a Duck. Gauthier is said to be receiving offers for veteran goalie Guy Hebert, who has been demoted to backup behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The Stars are counting the days until they depart the cramped and overheated Reunion Arena for their new digs across town at the American Airlines Center. No question it will be like an upgrade from coach to first class. And here’s hoping the ice conditions are superior to Reunion’s, which have been among the worst in league history.