Rooting through the NHL bargain bin Wednesday, the Kings believe they unearthed an undervalued gem.
By sending only a second-round pick in the 2004 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers, they picked up Czech goaltender Roman Cechmanek, who in each of his three seasons has finished second in the league in goals-against average and no worse than tied for fourth in save percentage.
The acquisition ends the King career of Felix Potvin, who after nearly 2 1/2 seasons with the club will become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
And despite Cechmanek’s numbers, including a 1.83 goals-against average last season, some in Philadelphia will say the Kings swapped the Cat for a dog.
For all his success in the regular season and in international play, including three world championships and an Olympic gold medal as Dominik Hasek’s backup in the 1998 Winter Games at Nagano, Japan, Cechmanek, 32, was unable to take the Flyers beyond the second round of the playoffs.
He was basically booed out of Philadelphia, where fans turned on him and management gave up on him, Flyer General Manager Bobby Clarke telling reporters two weeks ago that it would be “very difficult to bring Roman back” and suggesting that teammates had lost faith in the goaltender.
Clarke’s public declaration of no confidence did little to enhance Cechmanek’s value, and the Kings jumped at the chance to nab him on the cheap.
While the timing of the trade smacked of one-upmanship, what with the Mighty Ducks grabbing the headlines by reaching the Stanley Cup finals, the Kings denied it. They said they had to act fast to get their man.
The goaltender’s agent, Peter Svoboda, said that the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks also were interested in Cechmanek. And with Patrick Roy announcing his retirement Wednesday, the Colorado Avalanche presumably also will be in the market for a goaltender this summer.
“Once we decided to go in this direction and the Flyers were prepared to make the move, we didn’t see any reason to wait,” King General Manager Dave Taylor said during a conference call with reporters. “We have had discussions with Bob Clarke and the Flyers going back a couple of weeks, but we were able to complete the deal today. The timing really has no significant relevance.”
Cechmanek said Los Angeles was his first choice for a new NHL address. Asked why, he said, “I don’t know why.”
Perhaps because it’s about as far from Philadelphia as he could get and still be in the NHL. He called the Kings a “great” team, even though he was 2-0 against them last season with a 0.50 goals-against average and .975 save percentage.
Cechmanek, due to make $3 million next season and $3.5 million the following season after signing a three-year, $10-million contract extension in January 2002, was 92-43-22 with the Flyers. His 1.96 goals-against average is the lowest in nearly 60 years for goaltenders appearing in at least 150 games.
Still, Clarke called him inconsistent in the playoffs, where he was 9-14, and first-year Coach Ken Hitchcock often said last season that, because of the goaltender’s unorthodox style, watching Cechmanek play scared him.
“In the playoffs, maybe it wasn’t great,” Cechmanek said Wednesday from the Czech Republic. “But not bad.”
In the conference semifinals this season, Cechmanek twice shut out the top-seeded Ottawa Senators but also gave up nine goals in 46 shots as the Flyers lost the last two games of the six-game series, 5-2 and 5-1.
The goaltender asked reporters why fans hated him and reportedly told teammates that he wanted out of Philadelphia. A year earlier, he had asked to be traded and Clarke had refused. This time, the Flyers were only too willing to unload him.
And the Kings were only too happy to give him a new home. Potvin and Jamie Storr, their goaltenders last season, were not the answer, they had decided.
“We looked at a number of options,” Taylor said, “but we felt Roman was the best fit for us [because of] a combination of the success he’s had in the league and the price that we had to pay for him.”
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A look at Roman Cechmanek’s seasons in the NHL:
*--* SEASON TEAM GP MIN GA SO AVG W-L-T 00-01 Philadelphia 59 3431 115 10 2.01 35-15-6 01-02 Philadelphia 46 2603 89 4 2.05 24-13-6 02-03 Philadelphia 58 3350 102 6 1.83 33-15-10 Totals 163 9384 306 20 1.96 92-43-22
NOTE: Cechmanek played six seasons in the Czech Republic before joining the NHL.