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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Guns Reloaded
The Western Conference's elite teams all got better with big-name
trades and signings

The mind-boggling player movement of the past two weeks has
proved that the high-powered Western Conference is nearly as
exciting in the summer as it is during the season. Each of the
West's top four teams made dramatic moves. "Maybe we still have
holes, but every team has holes," says Red Wings general manager
Ken Holland, who acquired Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. "We're
all trying to make the deal that puts us over the top."

Here's a look at how the Big Four have positioned themselves for
what should be another glorious season of showdowns in the wild,
wild West.

Avalanche: Re-signed goalie Patrick Roy, center Joe Sakic and
defenseman Rob Blake. Lost or traded defensemen Ray Bourque and
Jon Klemm and forwards Chris Dingman and Dave Reid. What it means
for next season: The return of Roy, Sakic and Blake ensures that
the Stanley Cup champ will be the team to beat. The blue line
losses make Colorado vulnerable on the back end of its defense,
so Martin Skoula, 21, will have to make significant progress
after an uneven sophomore season.

Blues: Added forwards Doug Weight and Mike Keane, goalie Fred
Brathwaite and defenseman Rich Pilon. Lost or traded forwards
Pierre Turgeon, Jochen Hecht and Marty Reasoner and goalie Roman
Turek. What it means for next season: The Blues were heartbroken
that the Wings beat them to Hasek. Veteran Brathwaite is a decent
complement to talented sophomore Brent Johnson, but St. Louis has
the most suspect goaltending of the Big Four. Expect the team to
deal for a veteran, such as the Rangers' Mike Richter, late next
season. Weight is a dazzling playmaker who could turn winger
Keith Tkachuk into a 50-goal man again. Keane is a puckhound who
thrives under pressure.

Red Wings: Added Hasek and left wing Luc Robitaille. Lost or
traded forwards Slava Kozlov, Martin Lapointe, Doug Brown and Pat
Verbeek. What it means for next season: Hasek, the Vezina Trophy
winner, should cover the blemishes of Detroit's aging defensive
corps, and now the Wings can trade former No. 1 goalie Chris
Osgood, who's only 28, for a snarling blueliner. Robitaille adds
a dangerous sniper to one of the top two lines.

Stars: Added forwards Turgeon, Donald Audette, Valeri Kamensky
and Rob DiMaio. Lost forwards Brett Hull (a free agent who's not
expected to re-sign with Dallas) and Keane. What it means for
next season: The acquisitions play into the hands of coach Ken
Hitchcock, who is an expert at molding talented offensive players
to the Stars' grinding style. There are plenty of ifs, but...if
Hitchcock keeps centers Turgeon, Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk
satisfied in their new roles, if Audette digs for pucks the way
he did in Atlanta early last season and if Kamensky remains
healthy and gives an effort worthy of his exceptional skill,
Dallas will have the offensive diversity it has sorely missed in
recent years and should emerge as the most menacing of Colorado's

New Trend in Trading
Cutting Bait On Big Fish

As more and more top players look toward free agency, NHL general
managers have begun anticipating the loss of stars by trading
them well before they're eligible to test the market. "You reach
the crossroads with players a year earlier than in the past,"
says Mighty Ducks general manager Pierre Gauthier. "There are two
reasons: First, salaries are so high that one player can throw
your long-term budget out of whack, and second, there are so many
free agents available that teams won't give you much just to rent
a player for half a year. They know that in the summer they'll
have other options."

In March, Gauthier dealt star sniper Teemu Selanne to the Sharks
because Gauthier thought he couldn't afford to re-sign Selanne,
who's set for free agency after next season. The Ducks landed
blossoming 24-year-old forward Jeff Friesen and playoff-tested
goalie Steve Shields in the deal because San Jose knew it would
have Selanne for all of the coming season. Front-line forwards
Bill Guerin (traded from the Oilers to the Bruins) and Keith
Tkachuk (Coyotes to Blues) were also dealt last season, more than
a year before they were to become unrestricted free agents.

Edmonton G.M. Kevin Lowe traded center Doug Weight to St. Louis
last month not only because Lowe believed he was getting a strong
return (gifted young forwards Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht)
but also because he wanted to avoid any lingering uncertainty.
Weight, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Blues,
would have been eligible for free agency next July. "The clock
was ticking," says Lowe.

Some teams wait longer before trading a star who is nearing free
agency, but they still feel the need to unload him. Last season
defenseman Rob Blake's approaching free agency was a distraction
to the Kings until he was sent to the Avalanche in February, a
month before the trading deadline. "We waited so long because we
were really trying to sign him," says L.A. general manager Dave
Taylor. "We only traded him once we felt sure we couldn't bring
him back."

Overhaul in Buffalo
Out with the Old

Over the last two weeks the Sabres have traded goalie Dominik
Hasek, 36, and former captain Michael Peca, 27; declined an
option on wing Dave Andreychuk, 37; and allowed 31-year-old
free-agent forwards Donald Audette and Steve Heinze to sign
elsewhere. Also, 38-year-old center Doug Gilmour is expected to
retire. The dramatic loss of veterans just two years after the
Sabres went to the Stanley Cup finals, coupled with a modest hike
in ticket prices, is the club's response to a harsh financial
reality: Buffalo says it lost about $12 million in 2000-01
despite hosting seven playoff games. "We're worried about the
perception among our fans," says general manager Darcy Regier,
"but we think we can build a winner."

Indeed, Regier has brought in solid, inexpensive talent,
including forwards Slava Kozlov, Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt,
without upsetting the Sabres' strong nucleus of skaters, among
them forward Miroslav Satan. If goalie Martin Biron, 23, plays to
his All-Star potential, Buffalo may be in better shape than its
fans believe.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL WIPPERT The addition of Hasek, the Vezina Trophy winner, makes the Red Wings Cup contenders again.



whom would you Rather Have Signed?

Mike Sillinger
The 5'10", 190-pound 30-year-old has averaged 20 goals for the
past two seasons, wins about 60% of his face-offs and last week
signed a three-year, $5.25 million deal (plus easily reachable
incentives) to become Columbus's second-line center.

Yanic Perreault
The 5'10", 185-pound 30-year-old has averaged 21 goals for the
past two seasons, wins about 60% of his face-offs and last week
signed a three-year, $8.4 million deal (subject to Quebec's heavy
taxes) to become Montreal's second-line center.

The Verdict: Even at the higher price, Perreault's unfailing work
ethic and superior offensive skills make him our choice over the
versatile Sillinger.