[LOS ANGELES, CA] -- Though I've
frequented Las Vegas both personally and professionally, I'm not much
of a gambler.
The table games and games of chance
rather bore me and I've always figured that there are better ways to
spend the money.
But if I was to drop an Andrew Jackson
or two on the roulette wheel or in a slot, there's one guy I wouldn't
want sitting next to me; former Los Angeles King and, after a few
trade day maneuvers, current Edmonton Oiler Patrick O'Sullivan.
There's an old saying for those less fortunate, "if it weren’t for bad
luck, they'd have no luck at all."
For young Mr. O'Sullivan, the twists and
turns of professional athletics have entered the fray much sooner than
O'Sullivan's luck, or lack thereof, has
been well documented in Canada but has gone with little mention in the
lower 48 states.
He had the terrible misfortune to have
an abusive father, which was both mental and physical. The situation
escalated to such a flashpoint that one night not long after the 2004
World Championships, a fist fight between father and son resulted.
Patrick's only option to protect himself was to have a restraining
order out against his own flesh and blood. Despite such obstacles, and
only because he had a great advocate in his mother, Cathie Martin, did
Patrick develop into a star at the junior level. He had the numbers
and skills to warrant a first round selection in the NHL draft.
As the days drew closer to the Entry Draft, the clouds started to form
around O'Sullivan again. His father, possessing the knowledge that the
restraining order could only be enforced in Canada, had every
intention of seeing his son be selected among hockey's young elite.
When his arrival was eminent, the NHL did what they had to do and
assigned two bodyguards to the younger O'Sullivan. The security had to
stay around Patrick far longer than anyone expected; he drifted out of
the first round and deep into the second round before the Wild
selected him. His former coach, the bombastic Don Cherry, went on the
record when no NHL team officials would.
"That (the family situation) hurt him
because he had the numbers," Cherry said. "He should have been a first
rounder all the way. So a general manager would look at him and say...
'Don't want the problem.' "
But Patrick went on to embody the word "perseverance" with his
performance in the AHL after signing an entry-level contract. He had a
huge first year for the Houston Aeros in the AHL, a 93-point season
begat a Rookie of the Year award and there wasn’t a brighter star in
the Wild system than O'Sullivan. But then that luck took hold of him
Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough, thinking that his team needed more
veteran scoring, opted to trade O'Sullivan and a first round pick to
the Los Angeles Kings for established scorer Pavol Demitra; a smart
move for the Wild but not so good for young O'Sullivan.
While the Wild have been a perennial
playoff team, Patrick arrived on the shores of the Pacific to play for
a team that was nose-diving towards a rebuilding scenario. Last season
was the culmination, a 71 point, 29th place overall finish but once
again, he refused to let a bad situation and an overbearing male
figure (in this case, former Kings mentor Marc Crawford, who was much
more suited to steward veteran talent) keep him down. He carved out a
solid first full NHL season, scoring 22 goals and 53 points, was one
of the better defensive players on the roster and possessed one of the
hardest shots on the team.
"I like that O'Sullivan; he's got a
wicked shot and plays with a mean streak. I'd love to have him on our
team," was an unsolicited analysis by one Atlantic Division scout when
chatting about the Kings a few weeks ago.
With Kings GM Dean Lombardi selling to ownership that the only way was
to build through wise drafting and player development, it looked like
O'Sullivan was finally set up to win.
From all appearances, he was one of the
crown jewels of the franchise along with the like of Anze Kopitar and
Dustin Brown, who would bring this franchise into serious contention
for a Stanley Cup, something that’s never appeared in the City of
Angels. In addition to his dynamic on ice game, he was well liked
among the Kings' faithful as witness by the amount of "12 O'Sullivan"
jerseys in the stands most nights at Staples center.
But then that luck again... this time
brought on by some poor off-ice judgment; probably a move O'Sullivan
would never make on the ice.
At the end of the 2007-08 season,
Patrick's original rookie contract expired and with little leverage
(unrestricted free agency would have to wait until end of his next
deal), it was assumed that O'Sullivan would sign another deal that
would insure he'd be with the team until the end of the decade.
Under the advisement of agent Pat Morris, Patrick decided to holdout
of the beginning of training camp, a rarity in theses of salary caps
and arbitration. If it was a team with a more settled situation and a
player with a greater body of work, maybe such a ploy would have paid
dividends. In this case, Terry Murray replaced Crawford as the Kings
coach over the summer and had never seen O'Sullivan on the ice.
Murray correctly theorized in the early
days of camp, "I don't know what I'm missing if I've never seen the
player play," using logic that no one could fault.
So while Patrick remained in Canada
awaiting word, Murray was trying to jigsaw line combinations together,
a practice that affected O'Sullivan the most among the team’s top six
forwards during the first half of the season.
As it turned out, GM Lombardi lurking in
his office probably never let the holdout go. Although he bounced from
line to line as Murray tried to find his way, Patrick put together a
representative season for a team in transition. While he'll fall a bit
short of his production level of last season, he's showed once more
than he's a two way player; he was one of only a few forwards on the
roster with a "+" in front of his plus/minus rating.
Operative word: Was.
In one of the most curious trades of this or any NHL deadline day,
Lombardi quizzically shipped O'Sullivan and a 2nd round pick to the
Carolina Hurricanes for former All-Star Justin Williams.
The move was curious due to the fact
that at the time of the trade Williams was sidelined with a broken
hand, causing him to miss the last eight matches for Carolina. The
deal grew more curious because in the 32 games he did play in,
Williams managed only 3 goals, not exactly the type of production a
team that struggles to score every night needs.
The probable explanation for the lack of
production makes this even more curious, it seems he missed the first
25 games of the season with an Achilles tendon injury. The cherry on
top of the sundae is the lists of injuries Williams has incurred since
making his NHL debut. In order, a broken finger, sprained right
shoulder, strained left shoulder, sprained left knee, broken left
wrist, bruised ankle and the jackpot winner, a torn ACL.
You don't have to be a member of the
Professional Hockey Writers Association to deem this player injury
prone, do you?
Now the Kings will tell you they know this Williams guy. Their GM,
assistant GM (Ron Hextall) and head coach were all in Philadelphia
when he was drafted in the first round back in 2000. They know what
the other 28 GMs don't know, that once Williams heals, he's a big time
scorer, basing that hope on two seasons in Carolina, although one
season he put up a poor -11 rating while scoring 33 goals.
If I'm a Kings fan, I'm wringing my
hands because the last time Lombardi and Company took a flier on an
oft injured player, it was Michal Handzus who has crawled back to
respectability but still doesn't justify his $4 million a year
paycheck... and going further back, one can reference Alyn McCauley
and Dan Cloutier. In those cases, Lombardi knew McCauley from San Jose
and Cloutier was Crawford's goalie but neither manager knew the
player's situation as well as they should have.
What strikes me as the final curiosity
in this case is the timing of the deal. None of the other 25 teams
still believing they have a shot at the post season would take an
active player off their roster for a broken handed three goal scorer,
so it's unlikely Carolina GM Jim Rutherford rustled up a market for
Williams. If the player was there for the taking, why not make the
deal at the draft table in June and get 20 game of productivity from
O'Sullivan and why throw in a 2nd round pick? Rather than dealing a
healthy productive player off your NHL roster, why not throw
Rutherford a pick and another conditional one if he hits certain
The Kings are deep in talent throughout the organization due to wise
drafting and our thinking is that pick could have been used for a
scorer in the upcoming draft or could have yielded additional NHL
The reality is that Williams may never
return to his 30 goal scoring days, now two full seasons removed.
Moreover, the Kings fan base, which bought into the rebuild because
they could see the young talent develop before their eyes this season,
now has a bitter taste in their mouths as the Kings has skidded to the
brink of to the point of elimination from post season contention. Many
of the Kings fans probably feel the same way as one message board
responder: "I am a firm believer in the Kings' 100-year plan, though."
That may the biggest liability in this
tale, a deal such as this can reverse all the currency built up with
the season ticket holder base this season.
Lombardi responded in the Los Angeles Daily News by saying: "It was
about getting the guy. He's a proven 30-goal scorer and only 27 years
old. He is arguably just entering his prime. He's really competitive.
We know him intimately from Philadelphia. We didn't want to trade him
when we were there, but he was part of the [Danny] Markov deal. He's a
really smart player. Those are the two things that jump out at you,
right from his draft year through on. He's really smart and really
"The difference, too, when you look at
this guy and his numbers, when he's healthy, is that he did it on a
Stanley Cup winner. He brings a ring and he's only 27 years old. The
other thing is, he makes us bigger on the wings. He's not a 6-4 guy,
but that's a major issue for our team. We go and face a team like San
Jose, and we're very small on the wings. We've got to continue to
address that. He helps that. We're not done there, but it is an issue
and he helps address that."
He responded to O'Sullivan's tenure by remarking, "the front end
(forward line combinations), you look at it and it's just not in sync.
So that was what we spent the whole trade deadline looking at, is for
players who fit in your top six, and then how that fits with your
seven through nine. We sort of like certain combinations. Wayne
Simmonds seems to go with Handzus. [Jarret] Stoll and Brown have kind
of hit it off a little bit, but do we really have that right guy with
Anze Kopitar? And does that depend on where [Alexander] Frolov is?
This is what I'm talking about with Williams too.
"With Williams' game, he's a really
smart player. He can do a lot of things for you and, again, he has
proven he can play in the playoffs. I think he's a better fit for us.
Now, would I have done this if Justin Williams was 31 years old, or a
rental player? No. That was the other thing I was looking at the
deadline. We weren't looking at any rentals. Anybody we were going to
get, it had to be somebody who fits with us next year and the year
after. So this was a good fit, on all accounts. He's signed, he's
bigger, he's more experienced but still only 27 years old, and I think
he's a better fit in our top six. Again, that's not taking anything
away from Patrick, but I think there is a little bit of...where
exactly does he fit with the guys we were going with? He would
probably still be a player with upside. I think he has showed a lot of
upside in his last 24 months. Now there's another step that needs to
be taken. But with the opportunity to get a guy like this (Williams),
we felt that this works for us now and down the road. With the injury,
it's tough, but we do have Oscar Moller, so we're going to keep him.
I'm OK with Oscar holding the fort for now, and then Justin comes in
when he's ready.''
Hmm, a lot of talking but not much
problem solving; considering the equally curious move of acquiring
another right winger when the team is dying for some help on the left
Reaction among others was mixed; Dave Joseph, ESPN710 Los Angeles
Sportscenter anchor, thinks it's a gamble but sees the logic in the
"I don't think it's a bad move for the
Kings, I'm not knocking O'Sullivan skills, he's a true goal scorer, I
think that Williams is a more proven guy and will bring leadership to
the dressing room," Joseph said. "Give him time to get healthy and
Justin is a 25 goal scorer. With the Wild and now the Kings letting
O'Sullivan go, there may be something there that the public doesn't
know about. I know he's had a tough time and with all the youth they
have here, it appears he was expendable. I think he’ll score a lot of
goals in Edmonton."
A member of the Kings' organization
concurred about Williams' leadership ability but cautioned that it's
not a sure thing.
"From all reports I hear, his teammates
are going to love him," he said. "Another issue is that you're going
from someone who can help you now versus someone that can help you in
the future. As far as injuries, a broken hand is really no big thing,
it's just a bone injury, and I'd be far more concerned about that
The momentary irony for O'Sullivan was that he was slotted to play
near his birthplace of Winston Salem, NC but as we've documented, that
luck was to turn in just minutes following his removal from the Los
In the hopes of re-capturing lighting in
bottle like Lombardi hopes to do with Williams, Carolina's Rutherford
spun O'Sullivan to Edmonton for the once and future Cane, Erik Cole.
Now Patrick will get to skate on that
lovely sheet on ice at Northlands Coliseum for 41 games a year and
play an up tempo game for 82. It's likely he'll move back to his old
position, center, and when he turns to his side, he just may see a
talent like Ales Hemsky waiting for a pass. For a guy that's had
little luck in his life, maybe the Curious Case of Patrick O'Sullivan
won’t have such an unlucky ending.
DEADLINE DAY BLOWBACK
The O'Sullivan case notwithstanding,
there were definitive winners and losers in the final hour of frenzy
as contenders and pretenders exercised their best asset management to
get to the second season. We'll throw in our three cents on the major
Calgary – As stated on
The Fourth Period radio show
Wednesday afternoon, the sound you now hear is San Jose and Detroit
not being nervous. Though the acquisition of Olli Jokinen was the
biggest name moved (a statement in its own right), it doesn't make the
Flames any more dangerous than they were on Tuesday.
They now have three solid second line
centers if you include Daymond Langkow and Craig Conroy but lack a
game changer in the pivot. Add to the fact that Jokinen holds the
record for the most games played without appearing in a playoff match
and you’ll see why we think that the Flames will regret shipping away
Matthew Lombardi AND a first round pick to get him.
Rangers – Glen Sather's exercise
in rotisserie style GM management continues. He got some badly needed
puck moving talent in Derek Morris and backed that up with major
softness with Nik Antropov, who they need to sign in the off season to
make the dealing of a 2nd round pick and conditional a total waste of
Add Sean Avery's distracting ways to the
mix and it's impossible for new coach John Tortorella to create
chemistry in the final 20 matches. If they are fortunate enough to
squeak into the eighth spot in the easy, they're an easy first round
elimination against the Bruins. What a mess.
San Jose – GM Doug Wilson's deal
with Anaheim signals one thing, he knows he doesn't have enough
experienced playoff performers in the room to win sixteen post season
games. Both Kent Huskins and Travis Moen continue the theme started by
the signing of Claude Lemieux and with Jeremy Roenick's status unsure,
Moen is a young and frankly better option on the third or fourth line.
Boston – Old sports proverb:
"Sometimes the best trades are the ones you never make." So while you
had reports of Pronger coming in and Kessel going away, the biggest
deal was the acquisition of Steve Montador from the sell, sell, sell
Ducks. Frankly, the Bruins picked the wrong time to hit a rut, a
mini-losing streak combined the Devils bringing major heat created a
lot of rumors (and nothing more) as the deadline approaches. With all
their major parts intact, no major moves were the best moves, some
other media outlets should check their sources better next time.
Anaheim – Had they known that so
many parts around them would be dealt away, maybe Chris Pronger and
Scott Niedermayer would have been asked to be shipped out on that same
bus. To subtract that many solid citizens off this team makes it
impossible for them to make a serious run, especially the solid
checking line pivot, Sami Pahlsson, one of the most underrated
contributors to the franchise’s recent success. At least they got a
young defenseman back in James Wisnewski but Ducks' fans know it's
back to the drawing board after winning the Cup two years ago.
Philadelphia – Martin Biron and
Antero Niittymaki in net gonna win you the Cup? Next question. And
what exactly did Scottie Upshall do to get moved off this team for an
enforcer who won't get any ice time in the playoffs?
Detroit – When reached for
comment, the Detroit locker room responded, "Watch us with Ozzie and
Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL
Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Los Angeles
Correspondent for The 4th Period Magazine and a Columnist