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SATHER MAKES ANOTHER GREAT TRADE; ESPOSITO GETS SWINDLED AGAIN

Rating the major trades at the NHL trading deadline and some of the people who made them:

Philadelphia defenseman Janne Niinimaa to Edmonton for Dan McGillis and a second-round draft pick: Is Edmonton general manager Glen Sather the best trader in the business or does it always just look that way? He gives up tough-guy defenseman McGillis for a young defenseman with good-to-great offensive skills who played 26 minutes a game and was an all-rookie-team standout last season. McGillis is a slow-footed guy who hits but has no puck-carrying skills. This is a better deal than the one Sather made earlier this season when he stole Roman Hamrlik from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sources claim half the general managers in the NHL thought Niinimaa was an untouchable. Sather gets him for a plugger.

Vancouver defenseman Dave Babych and a sixth-round pick to the Flyers for a third-round pick: Philadelphia adds another veteran defenseman in an attempt to bulk up for a perceived showdown with New Jersey. Good idea, but Babych is old and slow, and he won't be able to hit what he can't catch. Not Bobby Clarke's best day.

New York Rangers send Brian Skrudland, Mike Keane and a conditional pick in 1998 or '99 to Dallas for Todd Harvey and Bob Errey: Rangers general manager Neil Smith spit out the bit on this year's playoff run and dumped two salaries while picking up a quality young prospect in Harvey. No steal here, however, because the Stars get two heady playoff veterans in Keane and Skrudland. A sidelight to this deal is Dallas GM Bob Gainey gets Keane, a player who was rumored to be going back to conference-rival Colorado. Good deal for both Smith and Gainey. Sabre fans might remember that Errey once played here and was thought to be finished when the Sabres let him walk.

St. Louis sends former No. 1 draft pick Joe Murphy to San Jose for defenseman Todd Gill: Gill provides the leadership and experience the Sabres were rumored to be seeking for a defense that was thin in that area. Murphy is next-to-finished with back problems and age slowing his once-honest scoring effectiveness. Blues also dump a fat contract, perhaps freeing up cash to sign Brett Hull and/or Al MacInnis in the offseason. Edge to St. Louis.

Toronto sends defenseman Jamie Macoun to Detroit for a fourth-round pick 1998, and Detroit sends youthful Jamie Pushor and a fourth-round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Dimtri Mironov: Not a big deal on paper, but the Wings fortified themselves with a usable defenseman in Macoun for the playoffs. Wings also add a solid, mobile offensive defenseman in Mironov for the slow-footed Pushor. Wings GM Ken Holland adds more depth on defense and gets a power-play player to quarterback the defense in Mironov.

Calgary tough guy Sandy McCarthy and two draft picks (third- and fifth-round) to Tampa Bay for forward Jason Wiemer: McCarthy is a big-time tough guy, much more so than Paul Kruse, who looks to be Buffalo's second choice after this deal. Calgary gets a young forward with some upside potential (a former first-round draft pick). Hard to figure what the Flames were thinking here. Wiemer could turn his career around in Calgary's rebuilding program, but Flames lose a lot of toughness. Not a great deal for either team, especially since the Flames could have had Matthew Barnaby, an emotional spark they've been missing.

Florida's forward Tom Fitzgerald for Colorado's Mark Parrish and a third-pound pick: Consolation prize for Colorado, which lost out on reacquiring Keane and settled for this underrated defensive forward. Another good pick-up.

Tampa Bay sends defensemen Bryan Marchment and David Shaw to San Jose for Andrei Nazarov, future considerations and a conditional exchange of first-round draft picks:

Tampa Bay general manager Phil Esposito will see the door after this season. Add this up and he actually traded Roman Hamrlik, a No. 1-overall five years ago, for Nazarov, one of the league's bigger statues. Nazarov is a bum. Marchment is a marked man, and giving him up won't hurt long-term. The exchange of draft picks just gives Tampa the security of getting Sharks first-round pick if they win the lottery, but so what? Sharks already got the Tampa first pick in a previous deal, so even if Tampa wins lottery, Sharks still get either the first- or second-best player in the draft. Initial draft ratings say the top two prospects are about equal. Another dumb deal for Tampa.

Florida sends former Sabres sniper Ray Sheppard to Carolina for goalie Kirk McLean: Sheppard has had a brutal season. McLean likely will be the Florida No. 1 when the Panthers lose John Vanbiesbrouck as a free agent this summer. Sheppard could rebound, but right now Panthers win.

Sharks send defenseman Rich Brennan to the Rangers for backup goalie Jason Muzzatti: Muzzatti is an also-ran goalie. Brennan is a U.S. college grad who was the AHL's second-best scoring defenseman last year. If Brennan continues to improve, the Rangers are big winners.

Washington ships center Mike Kennedy to Dallas for an eighth-round pick: The Stars add some depth at a spot where they've had injuries and maybe a piece to what could be a Stanley Cup team. Put all the Dallas deals together and they came out on top.

Sabres' debt not debilitating

There seems to be a great deal of concern about the reported financial losses the Buffalo Sabres have incurred. There shouldn't be.

The Rigas family and Adelphia Communications Corp. do inherit some substantial debt, debt that would seem to indicate poor management and decision-making over the last few seasons, but it's not insurmountable.

The Rigas family gets a decent hockey team with one superstar player, depth at several positions, a new and usable facility and a market that's receptive to quality hockey.

Compare that to what's going on in Tampa, where there is a similar debt load, a horribly run franchise that is underfinanced, questionable ownership as well as few good hockey players.

The new expansion franchise in Nashville cost some $80 million and it has no players yet.

A lot of the acquired debt is in relation to the building and the Sabres may need some help in refinancing that debt, but the new owners have the financial wherewithal to make it happen.

"It is not our intention to alarm the public," said John Rigas. "We made a commitment when we bought the team and we want to make it succeed in Buffalo. It won't be easy, but that's our goal."

Kariya's season probably over

Mighty Duck Teemu Selanne became the first player to hit the 50-goal milestone this season when he scored the game-winner in the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks March 25. It's the third time in Selanne's six-season career that he's reached that milestone. He had a rookie-record 76 goals in 1992-93 (matching then-Sabre Alexander Mogilny) and 51 goals last season. "I think getting 50 goals this season was harder than the other times," Selanne said. "Every game, I'm always going against their best defenseman."

The Ducks became the first team to have a 50-goal scorer in three consecutive seasons since the St. Louis Blues' Brett Hull accomplished the feat with five 50-plus seasons from 1989-90 to 1993-94. The Ducks 50-goal run was started by Paul Kariya in 1995-96.

Kariya, suffering from the effects of a long-term concussion is not expected to play again this season. He was in Chicago Thursday to see Dr. Jim Kelly, a concussion specialist. Pat LaFontaine was to test under Kelly this weekend.

Selanne not letting up

A historical flashback on Selanne's 76-goal season.

Selanne was red-hot that season, his first in the NHL, but he couldn't shake off Mogilny. In the Winnipeg Jets' last regular-season game against Edmonton, he got an early one on Bill Ranford, to get to 76. Shortly thereafter word drifted down to the Jets' dressing room that Mogilny had also scored that night and finished the season with 76.

The Jets devoted the third period to getting Selanne the goal-scoring title. He set up in the slot for most of the entire 20 minutes and fired half a dozen shots at Ranford, who stopped everything.

"That was a funny night," Selanne said, before adding, "I'm going to make them earn it this time. I'm not going to give it away."

Some troubled troupe

Explain this:

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the decision to move the Hartford franchise to Carolina.

In that time:

The team toured four cities to find a new home, including an empty airplane hanger and an unfinished arena in Fayetteville, N.C. It announced it was moving to N.C. It sold 3,089 season tickets. It announced its nickname will reflect a disaster that caused billions of dollars in damage to the state just months before it arrived.

Its mascot will reflect the top environmental problem in state history, hog waste. It put a man in a hog costume inside a Zamboni on opening night and nearly killed him. It started the season 1-7-2.

It was dubbed a "Natural Disaster" by Sports Illustrated. Its top goalie and team MVP (Sean Burke) was arrested for allegedly beating his wife, fueling local outrage from woman's groups when he was not suspended. Its top scorer from a year ago, Geoff Sanderson, entered a monumental slump that saw him go to Vancouver and then to Buffalo. It had crowds as low as 3,000 and had players insult some of the few fans by saying it wasn't a hockey area.

It traded for Enrico Ciccone and traded him away. It traded for Kirk McLean and traded him away. It vaulted the entire NHL salary structure to a new high by signing Sergei Fedorov to a $38 million offer sheet. It is poised to miss the playoffs for a record sixth straight season.

Earlier this month the NHL and the New York Rangers gave Carolina owner Peter Karmonos a Lester Patrick Award for contributions to hockey in the United States.

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