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Ducks Dial Up for Assistance: Here's Sykora

Hockey: Anaheim hopes the 25-year-old forward, acquired in trade for Tverdovsky and Friesen, will add punch to one of the league's worst offenses.

July 09, 2002|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Petr Sykora finally answered the telephone Saturday. It had been ringing periodically at his home in the Czech Republic and he finally relented.

"The phone had been ringing the whole night," Sykora said. "I couldn't figure out who would be calling. I finally answered and it was my agent. He told me I was traded."

Goodbye New Jersey. Hello Anaheim and welcome to the Mighty Ducks, words that could have caused deep depression in past summers.

But Sykora's arrival may change the landscape.

General Manager Bryan Murray pulled off the Ducks' biggest trade since the team acquired Teemu Selanne in 1996; the key figures were defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and left wing Jeff Friesen going to the Devils and Sykora coming west.

There is still no rush to line up for playoff tickets, and the Ducks have to at least partially fill Tverdovsky's role of puck-handling defenseman. But acquiring Sykora and signing free agent Adam Oates should address the Ducks' biggest problem: offense.

Only Columbus scored fewer goals than the Ducks, who also ranked last on the power play last season.

With Sykora on the right and Oates at center, left wing Paul Kariya becomes a bigger threat. And the power play has a point man (Sykora) and one of the NHL's all-time leaders in assists (Oates).

Unlike Oates, who will turn 40 next month, Sykora is 25 and in his prime.

"It is going to be different," Sykora said. "In Jersey, they played four lines. It didn't matter if you were great or not. You played your role. I'm going to get more ice time than I'm used to, so it will really be a challenge. But playing with Paul Kariya, that's not a bad thing."

Sykora, a childhood friend of Duck defenseman Pavel Trnka, is coming off a down season. But he still scored 21 goals. He had 35 in 2000-01, including nine power-play goals. He had 15 power-play goals in 1998-99.

The adjustment for Sykora will be going from the Devils, who won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and reached the finals in 2001, to the Ducks, who have made the playoffs only twice in nine seasons.

The Ducks hope that Sykora and Oates will put them in the playoffs. They finished 35 points out of the playoffs last season and needed to make significant moves to keep up in the tough Western Conference. Dallas, which missed the playoffs last season, already has signed Bill Guerin, one of the top free agents on the market.

The Ducks searched for a point man for the power play all last season, trying every option. Sykora can fill that role. He played the point on the Devils' top power-play unit the last three seasons.

"What was sorely missing was scoring and scoring on the power play," assistant captain Dan Bylsma said. "Our defense is fairly solid and the goaltending is good. If we could have added 40 more goals to the power play, we would have been in contention for a playoff spot. That is obviously what Bryan is searching for right now."

What Murray needs to search for next is a defenseman with puck-handling skills. He is unlikely to find one as good as Tverdovsky, who is among the best defensemen on offense.

Tverdovsky was expendable in part because he and Murray, the Duck coach last season, did not mesh. With Sykora, the Ducks upgraded considerably from the disappointing Friesen, who was acquired in the deal that sent Selanne to San Jose in March 2001.

The trade frees up about $2 million to use toward a defenseman or to sign forward Stanislav Chistov, the Ducks' top pick in the 2001 draft. Tverdovsky will make $3.6 million and Friesen $3 million next season. Sykora, who won the largest arbitration ruling in NHL history last summer, will make $3.535 million next season.

The other two NHL players the Ducks acquired in the deal will make less than $1 million--defenseman Mike Commodore ($500,000) and goalie J.F. Damphousse ($175,000).

"My memories of Jersey are awesome," Sykora said. "They gave me a chance to play in the NHL. I won a Stanley Cup there."

*

The Ducks announced their exhibition schedule, including home games against Minnesota (Sept. 20), San Jose (Sept. 27), the Kings (Sept. 29) and Phoenix (Oct. 4). They also play the Kings Sept. 22 in Bakersfield.... The Ducks signed free-agent right wing Cory Pecker, who played in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

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