Rob Blake's name hasn't been inscribed on the Stanley Cup just yet, so we should take a few minutes to examine the Colorado Avalanche. Obviously, their lineup is stacked, but Blake arrives at what cost? Are they really a better team?
More times than not, Cups are won because teams come together like Abbott and Costello. This isn't baseball, folks. It's not like acquiring a dominant reliever for the pennant run. Hockey, as we know all too well in our town, revolves around chemistry. The science is more finding the right mix at the right time than it is finding the best players.
Granted, talent helps. The slightest tweak can bring a team together, but it takes less to tear one apart. Take the Sabres. They assembled a good team in 1999, but they reached the finals because everything snapped into place in the playoffs against Ottawa. They gained confidence and surfed momentum for three rounds. Last season, with basically the same team, they were fortunate to make the playoffs and were goners five games later.
The early returns say the NHL should just skip the playoffs and hand the Cup to the Avs now that they have Blake, but his arrival could bring more harm than harmony. West Seneca native Aaron Miller and winger Adam Deadmarsh were popular figures in the dressing room, which explains why their departures last week were greeted by solemn teammates after an 8-2 win over Boston. The fact should not be ignored.
"I guess if you put in a trade for a guy like Rob Blake, it can only help our team. He should be a huge asset for us in the playoffs," grim-faced goalie Patrick Roy said after the game. "But right now, it's tough to think about guys like Deader and Millsie leaving. . . . I'd like to leave it at that."
Deader and Millsie? Anyway, Miller's stay-at-home style along the blue line wasn't just respected by the Avs; it was required. He's Buffalo, a stand-up guy in the room, accountable for his play, hard-working and underappreciated. He often went unnoticed on the ice, which says plenty about how he balanced a team loaded with stars. Deadmarsh, too, was revered in the room. He's a tough, team guy. He was sent packing days after his wife gave birth to twins, a fact duly noted in the room.
Peter Forsberg couldn't bring himself to discuss his views of the Avs' acquisition of a Norris Trophy winner because he was too wrapped up in the departures of Miller and Deadmarsh. The three go back some seven seasons when the Avs were the Nordiques. That's chemistry.
The Avs were contenders without Blake, who comes with rookie Steve Reinprecht while the Kings also get a first-round choice, a prospect and future considerations. His arrival merely accentuates the deep-sea pressure to win the Cup this season. Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy are set to become unrestricted free agents in July. Combined, they're making nearly $21 million this year for the Avs, who have the NHL's third-highest payroll. And here we are, in Western New York, thinking the Sabres are funneling big money into this season for another kick at the Cup.
"The way this season will end is probably the way it's going to dictate how we're going to manage our contract situation with not only Rob Blake, but with Joe Sakic, Patrick and Ray Bourque," GM Pierre Lacroix said.
This is the third straight year the Avs acquired a top player before the trade deadline in hopes of winning a title. Theoren Fleury couldn't lift them two years ago, and Bourque wasn't enough last season. Rob Blake is a rental, insistent on shopping his services through unrestricted free agency. He wants some $9 million per season, Chris Pronger money. He's a good guy, but he's not one of the guys.
Consider the talented teams during the last few years that fell apart in the postseason. St. Louis was a first-round casualty last year. The top three teams in the Eastern Conference two years ago were on the golf course after one round. Even last year's Cup winners, the Devils, were in trouble. They were nosediving down the standings only to be rescued by a new coach, Larry Robinson, who found the right chemistry. They were in a 3-1 series hole to the Flyers before, suddenly, it all came together en route to the Cup.
At the beginning of the season, I liked the Avs to win the Cup but we'll see. Don't be surprised if their quest ends without the parade. They just might look back in a few months and think, "Why did we go after Blakey when we already had Millsie?"
All talk, no action
Now for the biggest trade that didn't happen.
Maple Leafs GM Pat Quinn was upset about not acquiring Eric Lindros, but he and Flyers GM Bob Clarke might be counting their blessings later. The proposed deal, on many fronts, never made sense.
The Leafs were giving up too much for the oft-concussed Lindros, who was trying to wedge his way onto his favorite team. The deal fell apart when the Flyers and Leafs couldn't agree on whether Toronto would give up Danny Markov or Tomas Kaberle plus Nik Antropov and a first-rounder. It ended with Quinn and Clarke trading verbal shots over how the deal became unglued.
Certainly, the Leafs need help but they should have concentrated on a move for Blake -- with the intention of re-signing him -- or Phoenix winger Keith Tkachuk. Instead, all the talk over Lindros did a number on the Leafs' dressing room because players weren't sure who was coming or going. It's difficult to perform for a team with the idea that it might be your last game in the organization.
The Flyers also were taking a risk just in case Lindros survived long enough to haunt them down the stretch or in the playoffs. General managers these days are reluctant to trade within the conference for that reason alone, and it's understandable.
The Leafs now hope they can rebuild the chemistry -- there's that word again -- that was damaged over the last few months by the whole ordeal. You wonder if Clarke dangled Lindros for the pure pleasure of watching Big E squirm. Quinn and Lindros are just left wondering.
The prodigal son
Could the Sabres be interested again in Michal Grosek? Don't laugh. It might not be a bad idea.
Coach Lindy Ruff asked a few of Grosek's former teammates, after the Rangers waived him, whether they thought the winger deserved another chance. The answer was yes.
Grosek told acquaintances in New York that he made a big mistake with the way he handled himself in Buffalo and wished he could return. The Sabres always admired Grosek's strength and skill. Their concern was over Grosek's mental approach. His goofiness has become dressing room folklore.
The Sabres are probably the only team that could set Grosek straight after his career bottomed out. He cleared waivers with the Rangers and is playing for the AHL Hartford Wolfpack. A move to the Sabres could be made if the Rangers recalled Grosek and waived him again or with a trade for future considerations.
It's still a long shot, but imagine this: The Sabres, in a year or less, would have Grosek and the two players who were exchanged in the deal for him with Chicago -- Doug Gilmour and J.P. Dumont -- and $3 million sent along by the Blackhawks.
Veteran goalies needed
Mike Richter's torn anterior cruciate ligament did plenty more than end his season with the Rangers, who appeared ready to move the goaltender before the trade deadline.
St. Louis was interested in obtaining Richter for the playoffs. Roman Turek is a good netminder, but the Blues fear he might repeat his performance from last year when he played poorly and led them to an early exit.
The Blues most likely will take their chances with Turek and rookie Brent Johnson for the postseason. St. Louis' problem is there just aren't many goaltenders who are playoff proven and available. Tom Barrasso is looking better every day, but the aging unrestricted free agent hasn't played all season.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will probably make a move for a goalie in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs. Nikolai Khabibulin or Sean Burke, whoever survives the ownership change in Phoenix, would be among their choices. Khabibulin, who has been out nearly two full seasons in a contract dispute, began speaking with the Coyotes' new management last week about a new deal.
Former Sabre Steve Shields, who has rebounded from a terrible start, might be had from San Jose for a good center and has been mentioned as trade bait. But the Sharks aren't likely to unload him with rookie Evgeni Nabokov untested in the playoffs.
Teams target Peca
Rumors that Michael Peca could be headed to Colorado gained momentum last week when the Sabres sent two scouts to Pittsburgh for the Penguins' game against the Avalanche. Many thought Adam Deadmarsh was headed for Buffalo. Obviously, Deadmarsh went in the opposite direction.
Vancouver is among the teams interested in Peca, but the Canucks aren't happy with the price: A top player in return. The Canucks aren't about to surrender captain Markus Naslund, especially with Andrew Cassels coming back from a knee injury. Todd Bertuzzi's name has surfaced, but his minus-12 rating going into the weekend stood out like Dominik Hasek at a Weight Watchers convention.
Others who have shown interest include Anaheim, Chicago, Philadelphia, the Rangers and the Islanders. Isles defenseman Kenny Jonsson appears to be going somewhere. He would help the Sabres, but keeping Peca in the conference might be too much for them.
Audette ups the ante
Former Sabre Donald Audette has increased the ante for a new contract with the Thrashers, and his new price tag might be enough to send him to the trading block with unrestricted free agency looming after the season.
Audette initially was seeking a three-year deal that would pay him less than $3 million per season. He moved past the $3 million mark after Chicago's Steve Sullivan sign a three-year deal worth $9 million. The winger's first choice is to stay in Atlanta and finish off a career year. Audette's agent, Gilles Lupien, has yet to hear from Thrashers GM Don Waddell after submitting the new proposal.
"I think that must mean he's unhappy," Lupien said. "But one guy signs at $3 million and (Audette) wants to be close to that, which is normal to a certain point."
Leafs coach Pat Quinn on whether he would speak with the Flyers again about acquiring Eric Lindros: "I'm not going to slop around anymore. I'm not very happy with how all this transpired. I don't think you ever say 'never' in this business, but my motivation right now is that I'm not sure what theirs was in this whole thing, and why play any more games with them?"
Around the boards
The Islanders and winger Mariusz Czerkawski are putting the final touches on a three-year contract extension worth about $7 million. The deal would keep him signed through the first year he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency. . . . Alexander Mogilny's abdominal strain appears to be more serious than first expected, and he's out indefinitely. . . . Panthers coach Duane Sutter should stay behind the bench beyond this season but there's no denying the boost he has received from goalie Roberto Luongo, who has been nearly unbeatable in recent weeks. . . . Speaking of Sutters, Ron Sutter's signing with Calgary last week extended the family streak. At least one Sutter brother has been in the league since 1976, starting with Brian. . . . Rob Blake Trade Rumor of the Week: To Colorado with rookie center Steve Reinprecht for Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, a first-round pick, a prospect and future considerations. I knew we'd nail it down.
Dominik Hasek. The Dominator went into the weekend with a 7-1 record, 1.56 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in his last eight starts. He was 4-0 and allowed two goals since the Rigases announced he wouldn't be traded. Hey, Dom, you planning to come back next season?
Valeri Bure. Kirk Cameron's brother-in-law had three goals in his first 28 games before rebounding with 17 in his next 30. He's a Flameout no longer. Unfortunately, his team will be watching the playoffs again.
Alexei Yashin. "When I come to Ottawa, I am strictly there for him," girlfriend Carol Alt said. "I take care of Alexei and make him breakfast. I do things that I have never ever done for anybody else in my entire life." Enough said.
Aaron Miller and Adam Deadmarsh. The Avalanche teammates go from first to 10th in the Western Conference in a matter of minutes when they're traded to the Kings in a package that includes Rob Blake.
Pat Quinn and Bob Clarke. Who knows the details in the deal between the Maple Leafs and the Flyers for Eric Lindros? Certainly not these two.
Guy Hebert. The $3.6 million goalie has been demoted to backup for the Ducks, which is bad enough. He had not started since Feb. 9. Call me crazy, but maybe his 0-11-2 record, 3.63 GAA and .886 save percentage were considered.