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COMMENTARY : The Dealing Ducks : How to Improve in a Flash : They Entered a Brave New World, Which Is a Long Way From Forum

February 08, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trading Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger to the Winnipeg Jets for Teemu Selanne contradicts everything the Mighty Ducks have ever said about building through the draft and relying on their kids--but it's a terrific deal.

The Ducks' philosophy has been to be patient and develop their own talent, which is the only way to construct a stable and durable foundation. Free agency is the avenue to take when a team needs one or two players to become a serious contender. It's not a route to be traveled frequently because of the still-daunting free-agent compensation rules.

But in giving up two 19-year-old players for a 25-year-old, the Ducks aren't sacrificing their future for the present. By the time Selanne turns 30, they will have had ample opportunity to draft other talented youngsters who can replace Kilger and Tverdovsky.

They're giving up potential, but they're getting a prolific and proven scorer. Selanne has 306 points in 231 games, an average of 1.32 points per game. That's more than Mark Messier, Joe Sakic, Denis Savard, Brett Hull and Pat LaFontaine have averaged. For their careers, only five NHL players have averaged more points per game than Selanne has in less than four seasons: Wayne Gretzky (2.11), Mario Lemieux (2.05), Mike Bossy (1.497), Bobby Orr (1.392) and Steve Yzerman (1.33).

"I have a feeling that I just became about 20% smarter in the NHL as a head coach," Duck Coach Ron Wilson said.

The Ducks were disappointed with Tverdovsky's lack of progress this season. That's not to say he won't become a top-notch defenseman. Finesse is central to his game, meaning he needs more time to mature than a defensive-oriented defenseman. To be successful, Tverdovsky has to read plays; he wasn't doing that this season. The Ducks' power play, which he was supposed to quarterback, was last in the NHL.

Kilger may develop into a rugged center, but that isn't what the Ducks need. They needed an offensive catalyst. Selanne can be that player.

"We're getting a great young player, and we're giving up two guys who are not going to have a major impact on Winnipeg making the playoffs this year, I don't think," Wilson said.

"This definitely wouldn't have happened if he were 30 years old. . . . I think this is going to boost everybody's confidence. He's going to make everybody better."

King Coach Larry Robinson agreed. "I think Anaheim gave up a couple of good young kids, but they got a marquee player. Sometimes, that's what you have to give up to get."

The Ducks' move looks especially bold compared to the Kings' acquisition of Rick Tocchet for Kevin Stevens. Tocchet and Stevens are alike, down to the injuries that sapped their aggressiveness. The Kings traded a feisty but hobbled right wing who wasn't scoring for a hulking left wing who wasn't playing big. At best, that will be a lateral move.

King General Manager Sam McMaster said he spoke to Winnipeg General Manager John Paddock about Selanne more than a year ago, but Paddock wanted defenseman Rob Blake in return. "We weren't prepared to make that deal," he said. He asked about Selanne this week, during the annual general managers' meetings in Tucson, but no names were mentioned and the Jets never called him back.

Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira deserves credit for making the first call to the Jets and for being persistent. Until now, Duck management has given fans little reason to believe the organization was committed to winning. As long as every home game was sold out, the club had no incentive to open its wallet to a free agent or an established star. The return on such an investment would make no sense from a business standpoint.

Acquiring Selanne, who is in the first year of a five-year, $15-million contract, says the Ducks are serious about winning. They're putting their money where it will help most--into players--instead of spending it on mascots and cheerleaders. At last look, Wild Wing had no goals this season.

"All the guys are encouraged by Jack going out and acquiring a player of the caliber of Teemu Selanne and improving the team not only now, but for the long range," Duck captain Randy Ladouceur said. "It betters our chances of getting into the playoffs."

This trade is also a loud and appropriate message to Wilson. With Selanne in his lineup, he can no longer moan about the his team's lack of depth and scoring punch. If he doesn't get the Ducks into the playoffs now, in a lamentably weak conference, he has no one to blame but himself.

The Ducks got Teemu Selanne on Wednesday. The Kings, by promoting two players from their Phoenix farm team, got Dan Bylsma--who tripped over his feet on a two-on-one rush with Gretzky earlier this season--and Steve Larouche.

There's a message in that. It means there's at least one gutsy, forward-thinking general manager in town.

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