At the time, Todd Marchant was confused if not worried. He had played one full season, endured the lockout and was 18 games into the third-year of his six-year contract. New rules had shifted toward his style, which was built on speed. And he wasn't good enough for the Columbus Blue Jackets?
Let's be honest. The future doesn't look promising when the Jackets waive you. Marchant sat around for eight days last season before Anaheim plucked him off waivers in a curious move. This after the Ducks sent superstar center Sergei Fedorov to the Blue Jackets for what amounted to a bag of pucks and three rolls of tape.
You know the rule. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. In the NHL, if a player is waived for no apparent reason and a recent dance partner unexpectedly picks him up, it must be a general manager circumventing a no-trade clause. Or so it appeared.
The Williamsville native appeared headed down a dangerous detour before finding the road to success. But he should thank Jackets GM Doug MacLean for this move. It has been a blessing. Last year, the Ducks turned around a slow start immediately after he arrived and wound up in the conference finals. This year, he's playing between the third and fourth lines on the best team in the NHL.
"I couldn't have asked for a better situation," Marchant said by telephone last week. "I couldn't have asked for a better organization to play for, especially with the way the entire thing went down. I was sitting home, not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. To be able to come to a team like this and have the success that we've had has been great."
Marchant will not play against his hometown team this season unless both reach the Stanley Cup finals. It's possible. Buffalo and Anaheim reached the conference finals last season, and both have become popular choices to take the season a step farther.
"The odds are obviously against it," Marchant said. "Hypothetically, it would be fantastic."
The Ducks were 7-10-4 last season before Marchant arrived but skated into the weekend with a 64-22-18 mark since the move. The Jackets were 5-13-0 before acquiring Fedorov and entered the weekend 44-50-7 since the swap. Marchant was hardly the only reason for the turnaround, but he certainly was one of them.
Ducks GM Brian Burke deserves much of the credit for understanding the importance of having good role players. It's especially important now that the Ducks have been hobbled by injuries. They skated into the weekend without their top two goalies, J-S Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Marchant, slowed recently by an abdominal strain in his 14th season, isn't just a checking-line center, as he was in Edmonton. He leads a line that serves as secondary support. It means playing sound defense, killing penalties and scoring when possible. He had eight goals and 19 points in 38 games while playing mostly with promising rookies Dustin Penner and Ryan Shannon.
"It's a very balanced group," Marchant said. "This group of players, and it's a tribute to the organization, has clearly defined what they expect of you. Each player knows where they fit in. That, in itself, gives us the ability to be successful."
Youth hurts Renney
Rumors were percolating last week that Rangers coach Tom Renney could be in trouble if the Blueshirts continued to struggle. New York had lost seven straight games, including two in which it led going into the third period.
The Rangers' problem isn't Renney, who established himself last season and led New York to the postseason. They figured to be better this season after adding Brendan Shanahan, but Renney isn't getting enough from key young players who produced last season.
Petr Prucha, who had 30 goals while playing with Jaromir Jagr last season, had six through 36 games this season. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a 3.12 GAA and an .897 save percentage, neither of which was in the top 25.
Jim Schoenfeld could be in line should the Rangers kick Renney to the curb. Schoeny is running the show in Hartford. He deserved another shot somewhere.
Not out for blood
Stars winger Brenden Morrow had a frightening experience against Chicago last week when a skate blade sliced open his arm and severed tendons in his wrist. He's expected to be sidelined for two to three months.
Morrow had stitches at the arena before going to a Chicago hospital, where a hand specialist surgically repaired the tendons. He can't begin rehabbing the wrist until the tendons heal.
"I never looked at it, so I'm not really sure how bad it was," Morrow said. "I can take stitches, I can take shots, but I don't like the sight of my own blood. I just kept telling myself, 'Don't look down, don't look down.' "
Muck's hands tied
You never know with GM John Muckler, but the Senators might be forced into fighting through their struggles this season without making a major move. Almost every team is looking for youth in an effort to keep payroll in order.
Ottawa can't afford to start dumping prospects such as Nick Foligno, the son of former Sabres captain Mike, because it would compromise its future. The Senators could be forced into shipping a veteran, such as Chris Neil, to shake up the team.
Phoenix is shopping several players, starting with Mike Comrie, Ladislav Nagy and Shane Doan. The three had combined for 18 goals going into the weekend, which hardly justified their combined $9.382 million salary for this season. All three can become unrestricted free agents after the season.
Several ex-Oilers were sharing stories last week about an annual golf outing with Gerald Ford and visits to the late president's home in California. Ford and former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington were good friends.
Amid tales about spilled drinks and errant golf shots was a gem about winger Dave Hunter, who excused himself to use the bathroom and had the toilet overflow.
"I looked around and said, 'Geez, they must have a plunger somewhere.' But they didn't," Hunter said. "There was water everywhere. The guys were hanging around outside the bathroom. Who started coming down the hall? Mrs. Ford. I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed."
Around the boards
*Who led the dangerous Red Wings in goals? Why, it was none other than journeyman winger Dan Cleary, who had a career-high 17 going into the weekend. His previous career high was 14 goals and 35 points in 2000-01 with Edmonton. He was on pace for 37 goals and 62 points with the Winged Wheels. Not bad for $650,000.
*Tampa Bay was seething last week over a flaw in the replay system after losing to Atlanta on a controversial goal with 8.1 seconds remaining. The Lightning complained Jim Slater deflected the winner with a high stick. Off-ice officials had only Atlanta's feed, which was inconclusive. Tampa Bay's feed had better evidence.
*Todd Bertuzzi was expected to miss four to eight weeks after having back surgery, but the Panthers have delayed his return by an additional five weeks. He isn't expected back until February. Something tells me he'll give himself enough time to make an impact, just before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
*Only in Montreal can you find the following stat: The Canadiens have not won a road game on Dec. 23 since 1945. The Habs are 0-9-1 in their last 10 games played on that date.