March 4, 2010
Trading Places; Kings and Ducks make moves
Dennis Bernstein evaluates how the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks did at the trade deadline

[LOS ANGELES, CA] -- As the NHL trade deadline clock struck noon PT, the two Southern California hockey franchises were in the midst of getting in position for the final push into post season.

One team firmly entrenched in a playoff spot chose to make a small splash in the trade pool, while the other needed to make major moves to shore up a defense that their general manager defined in a word as "disappointing."

Over the past decade, you'd identify the former franchise as the Anaheim Ducks and the latter, the Los Angeles Kings.

But 2010 has brought winds of change to the SoCal hockey landscape, so it was Anaheim GM Bob Murray making the bold move while his counterpart, Kings GM Dean Lombardi, stood pat.

The Kings were looking for scoring help on the wing and probably didn't get it. They took a flyer on Columbus left wing Fredrik Modin, who has the adjectives "oft-injured" and "former 20 goal scorer" in front of his name these days.

This season, Modin has missed 40 games with a right knee injury and bruised feet, the predominant reason Lombardi only gave up a conditional 7th (and last) round pick for his services. If he's healthy, he'd be playing for a final contract at age 35, but Kings fans shouldn't expect a revival of his Tampa Bay days as an All Star.

The other move brought back a less known name, but in fact was a better play.

Lombardi continued to bring character into his locker room by bringing in solid citizen Jeff Halpern from Tampa Bay. A checking line pivot, his presence gives Kings Head Coach Terry Murray increased versatility along the forward wall. With increased production from Michal Handzus and Alexander Frolov on the current checking line, you could see them graduate to 2nd line duties with Wayne Simmonds. Though Jarret Stoll is great on face-offs, he may be spending more time on the wing with Halpern as his center.

Regardless of the new acquisitions' contribution or how lines are configures, the bigger story is what Lombardi didn't do. Since the L'Affair de Kovalchuk wound up, the Kings GM has been consistent in his steadfast refusal to deal away his young core players for established talent. He resisted Atlanta GM Don Waddell's advances when the stakes were high, refused to give in to Carolina's Ray Whitney demand for a multi-year extension and didn't want to get into the mix for Columbus forward Raffi Torres (who would have been a good fit in our estimation, but was dealt to Buffalo). Those rumors you heard about Frolov going or Edmonton's Ethan Moreau coming indeed were just silly.

Using a poker analogy, Lombardi will go all in holding a live hand knowing he's playing with house money this year because that's what budding contenders do. Lombardi told us earlier this season he's patterned his team after the Chicago Blackhawks, so wouldn't their mirror image appear if Kovalchuk materialized in Los Angeles this summer like Marian Hossa did in the Windy City last July?

As for the Ducks, GM Bob Murray is still trying to undo the effects of deciding Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin weren't suitable for his defense. The Ryan Whitney experiment lasted all of 82 games when he was shipped to Edmonton (poor Ryan) for Lubomir Visnovsky.

Murray took the high road, saying that Whitney was miscast in the role powerplay quarterback but his miscalculation cost the Ducks six years in age (Whitney is 26) although Anaheim will save $1 million over the entire term of both player's deals.

To back this bet, the Ducks made a smarter move in getting Aaron Ward, a stay at home defenseman who's won three Stanley Cups.

The Ducks are in sniffing distance of a playoff spot and as Phoenix and Colorado show signs of taking on water, Murray feels better going into the 20 game sprint with his newly constituted defense. Anaheim also reconfigured their back up goaltending by shipping in Joey MacDonald and Curtis McElhinney in favor of Vesa Toskala and Justin Pogge, moves that make little difference in the Ducks' playoff destiny as Jonas Hiller could easily start every game remaining.

Did the Ducks get appreciably better over the last 24 hours? It's debatable.

While Visnovsky is a better powerplay quarterback than Whitney and stands to produce more offensively, the Ducks are sixth in the NHL with the man advantage, not a team weakness. The addition of Ward makes them more physical on the back line, a trait that left Anaheim as soon as Pronger landed in the land of Cheesesteaks.

On a grander scale, the Ducks have four starting defensemen that will hit free agency or retirement (Scott Niedermayer) at season's end and these deals do nothing to improve the Ducks over the long term, so expect the rebuilding of the Ducks needs to continue over the summer and beyond.

Dennis Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Los Angeles Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com. You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.

  Archives:
Feb. 18, 2010 Kings fans happy with Kovalchuk decision
Jan. 20, 2010 The First City
Dec. 29, 2009 From Us to You
Dec. 02, 2009 Not so Quick, my friend
Nov. 16, 2009 Selling the Avalanche
Oct. 26, 2009 Sometimes reality is worse than the perception
Sept. 30, 2009 Brooins Brewing for a Cup
Sept. 03, 2009 Ray to Heatley's rescue


 

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