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  • Behind the scenes of the trade deadline

    Behind The Scenes Before
    The Trade Deadline
    By Larry Wigge

    (03/04/04)

    Trade deadline day. You could call it the last chance to improve your team this season. Last year, St. Louis Blues G.M. Larry Pleau called the final minutes leading up to the deadline God’s time.

    You may recall that Pleau had already completed a deal for right winger Valeri Bure earlier in the day, sending defenseman Mike Van Ryn to the Florida Panthers in that trade. But the big one was for a goaltender -- and it went right down to the wire.

    We had been hearing the names of Phoenix’s Sean Burke, Edmonton’s Tommy Salo and Carolina’s Arturs Irbe. But Chris Osgood was the netminder Pleau was really after.

    A couple of days after the trading had ended Pleau sat down and told me the story of his time in a San Jose hotel room talking to New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury and racing the clock to complete a deal.

    ''I think one time in the past I went back and looked at the telephone bill after a trading deadline. Wow!'' Pleau said, chuckling. ''Ninety-nine percent of the deals you work on, sometimes that means weeks, don't work out. But you owe it to your bosses, to your team to TRY to do something that might improve you club.

    ''This year seemed to be different than other deadlines. It was the busiest -- by far. There were a lot more buyers and sellers out there looking to make a deal.''

    Finding that perfect/or close to perfect match, however, is always the key.

    ''It's all about timing,'' Pleau admitted. ''With three weeks left before the deadline, there were teams out there who wanted to make a deal, BUT they weren't sure whether they were buyers or sellers, whether their team was still in playoff contention or not.

    ''I can recall zooming in on 15, 16 or 17 teams at that point. Some turned out to be dead ends. Some matches weren't exactly right, so we tried to get a third team involved.''

    That’s when the names of Blues defensemen Barret Jackman and Bryce Salvador were being bandied about on talk radio.

    ''Usually I won't speak out when there are names of players out there on the internet and in the newspapers and on radio and TV, but the Monday Morning Quarterbacks in this instance, with Jackman and Salvador, were out there in Fantasyland somewhere,'' Pleau told me. ''Sometimes I don't mind hearing names mentioned, it's all a part of the game that is being played before the trade deadline. But in this case I didn't want to hurt the chemistry of our team, having players worry about whether they were or were not going to be traded and having it affect the way they were playing.

    ''Jackman and Salvador were never offered to anyone. Period. They are guys who epitomize the type of Blues player we want in our lineup -- FOR A LONG TIME.''

    The point of fact in what led up the acquisitions of Osgood wound around Burke and Bure and Phoenix getting Brad Ference (a Bryce Salvador type of physical defenseman) Florida getting Van Ryn, etc. In the end, when Toronto went after Ference from Florida and the Coyotes, who are cash-strapped, were able to unload the final three years of Tony Amonte's four-year, $24 million contract and Brad May's $1 million-plus deal, they told the Blues that if they really wanted Burke it would cost them Jackman and three first-round draft choices.

    That final Burke proposal came with about five minutes left before the trade deadline. The lines of communication from Phoenix started to become silent the weekend before the trade deadline when the Coyotes acquired Ference from Florida, thereby quashing a three-team deal -- and that put Pleau back on the phone with the Islanders talking about Osgood.

    ''Again, there were other names and bigger deals at one time or another,'' Pleau remembered.

    Some say Brad Isbister, who eventually went from the Islanders to the Edmonton Oilers in another deal, reportedly was part of the Blues' conversations with the Islanders.

    In the end, it was Osgood for center prospect Justin Papineau and Bure for Van Ryn.

    ''We worked on the Osgood trade for about three/four weeks, Bure went back to September and training camp,'' Pleau said.

    That deal was basically done the night before the deadline and after the two sides slept on it, Pleau and Florida GM Rick Dudley finished off a few minor details at 6 a.m. San Jose time on March 11.

    Hunkered down in the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose for the final four days before the deadline, Pleau could be seen in sweats (taking his cellphone to the hotel gym for workouts, weights, etc. between phone calls). John Ferguson and CEO Mark Sauer were constant companions.

    ''We even had Mark Sauer get us coffee a couple of times ... but he forgot the sugar,'' laughed Pleau.

    Said Sauer, ''I had to go get batteries, too, for my calculator. I was running all of the potential dollars and cents coming in and going out on all of the scenarios we had going and my calculator went dead.'' (''When all was said and done, we came in under budget following the signing of Martin Rucinsky, Tom Barrasso and the trades for Osgood and Bure, because of the dollars we got from the insurance for the disability to Chris Pronger,'' Pleau emphasized.)

    Sorry to take all of the glamour out of the trade deadline, but it is a time of opportunities and missed opportunities, of deals and non-deals, of chemistry in and chemistry out.

    It is a time of perception ... and with five minutes left when the Coyotes called and said if you want Burke it will cost you Jackman and three No. 1s that shifted the direction to Osgood and the Islanders.

    In fact, Pleau was on the phone with Milbury, while Ferguson was on the cellphone with the NHL informing them of the particulars the two teams were talking about so that a deal could be completed OFFICIALLY before the deadline.

    Pleau remembered thinking about adding Osgood and his two Stanley Cup rings, but ... ''To me its more than winning a Stanley Cup, its the experience that you go through -- more than the winning. Its the adverse experience. It's Ozzy having to watch Mike Vernon win Detroit's first Cup in 1997 after he was the regular goaltender there all season.''

    After Pleau got off the phone, he walked over to the window of their hotel room and looked out at the church across the street. The clock on the steeple said there was TWO minutes to spare.

    ''I was hoping that God's clock was right and we had a deal,'' Pleau said, obviously looking for some divine intervention to make sure the deal went through in time.

    When the Blues got off the phone with the league, Pleau, Ferguson and Sauer were so excited that they didn't even hear the chimes from the church as the clock struck noon Pacific Standard Time.

    This year, with the Blues struggling to make the playoffs and with so many other teams making trades in the weeks leading up to the deadline, it’s anyone’s guess what the team might do.

    Right winger to aid a sputtering offense? That seemed to be first and foremost, unless Pleau’s recent acquisition of center Mike Sillinger from the Phoenix Coyotes for goalie Brent Johnson lights a productive fire under Pavol Demitra or Peter Cajanek. Defenseman to help fill in for the injured Jackman and Al MacInnis? Eric Weinrich from Philadelphia for a fifth-round draft choice has already proven to be a bargain, but unless MacInnis makes a miraculous recovery another D-man could help. Goaltender to take some of the load off of Osgood?

    There have been a lot of names bandied about in the rumor mills, mostly forwards like Martin Rucinsky from the New York Rangers, Geoff Sanderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chris Drury from the Buffalo Sabres and others.

    Regardless of all of the many transactions already completed, somehow, methinks there’s still a lot that will be going on before the 2 o’clock Tuesday trade deadline.

    Mighty we be looking at ''God’s clock'' once again?

    # # #

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    Wigge's usually better than that.

    He and Pleau are - obviously - friends.
    And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

    -The Artist formerly known as King in KC

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    • #3
      Fire Wigge too!
      Go Cards ...12 in 13.


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