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What's the Deal Here? With labor strife in the air, deadline deals are made for different reasons

In any other season last Friday's trade of Capitals center Robert
Lang to the Red Wings would be ridiculed around the league.
Washington received two draft picks (a first-rounder this year
and a fourth-rounder in 2006) plus a top minor league prospect,
far less than what one of the NHL's top scorers would normally

But with the March 9 trade deadline looming, standard logic is
skewed by the prospect of a work stoppage before next season.
Owners want a salary cap--the major obstacle in negotiations with
the players for a new collective bargaining agreement--and as a
result many G.M.'s are trying to clear out big contracts while
stockpiling prospects.

In that sense Washington G.M. George McPhee swung a smart deal.
He got Detroit to take on all of Lang's remaining contract,
saving the Capitals $15 million over the next three years. (The
wealthy Red Wings have few players signed beyond this season and
therefore can afford Lang's long-term deal.) All told, McPhee's
fire sale--since last October he's also dealt captain Steve
Konowalchuk (to the Avalanche), Jaromir Jagr (Rangers) and Peter
Bondra (Senators)--has slashed $15.5 million in 2004-05 salary

Because few teams have Detroit's payroll flexibility, straight
salary dumps will be rare. But there will be a flurry of activity
before the deadline as some clubs gear up for the playoffs and
others look to next season with uncertainty.

Here are three players likely to be moved.

Sergei Gonchar, Capitals Philadelphia G.M. Bobby Clarke speaks
for many when he says, "The most valuable players [on the trade
market] are good veterans with short-term contracts." Gonchar,
29, a restricted free agent after this season, fits that
description and at week's end was the league's top-scoring
defenseman (49 points).

Brian Leetch, Rangers The 36-year-old defenseman is due to make
$6.4 million next season, but his experience and power-play
expertise make that a reasonable price for a contender.

Jeff O'Neill, Hurricanes A restricted free agent after this
season, the former 40-goal man is having an awful year (33
points), but there is demand for a proven scorer.

Here are three teams who are willing to deal.

Avalanche With an injury-riddled backline and the solid but
inexperienced David Aebischer in net, Colorado needs to bolster
both areas. Despite his high salary ($13 million over the next
two years), Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig is high on the Avs' wish

Bruins Desperate to upgrade their power play, they covet an
offensive-minded defenseman. Boston is one of several teams in
the Gonchar derby and has also inquired about Leetch.

Maple Leafs A terrific offensive team, Toronto needs defensive
help and is looking for a top-flight blueliner. But the Leafs
will have to part with either Nik Antropov, 24, or Matt Stajan,
20, both prized young forwards, to get him.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA The Caps sent top scorer Lang (far left) to the Red Wings; theRangers' Leetch (below) could be on the move.

COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISAAC/BBS [See caption above]