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Kings Retreat, Ducks Charge

Anaheim shores up weakness at forward by acquiring Niedermayer, Thomas for little cost.

March 12, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The Mighty Ducks, usually sellers on trade-deadline days, were buyers Tuesday, acquiring forwards Rob Niedermayer from Calgary and Steve Thomas from Chicago.

The trades give the Ducks two solid, physical players with playoff experience up front, where the team was thinnest, at low cost. The Ducks sent defenseman Mike Commodore and goalie J.F. Damphousse, both of whom have spent the season at minor league Cincinnati, to Calgary for Niedermayer. Thomas was acquired for a fifth-round pick in the June draft.

"The first thing this does is show our team and our fans that we went out and got players who can help," General Manager Bryan Murray said as the Ducks prepare to finish off their surprising turnaround this season. "We improved our depth. We added size, grit, character, determination, whatever you want to attach to these two guys.

"They are the type of players who give you a chance."

Said goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere: "For a while now, we've known we were a pretty good team and we should make the playoffs. This trade gives us a team that can do something when we get there. We're going to win more 50-50 battles along the boards."

Murray was able to make these moves while giving up little in return. Neither Commodore nor Damphousse fit firmly into future Duck plans. Both were acquired in a trade that brought Petr Sykora to the Ducks and sent Oleg Tverdovsky and Jeff Friesen to New Jersey last summer.

"It was nice that Bryan was able to get these guys without giving up anyone in the dressing room," team captain Paul Kariya said. "We can keep the chemistry going.

"I have played with both of these guys before [in international competition]. Rob is a real good skater who gets to the net. Steve has a heavy shot. They are going to help us down the stretch."

The moves will increase the Ducks' payroll, already the highest in franchise history at about $43 million.

Niedermayer is making $2.1 million this season and has an option that kicks in at 55 games that will pay him $2.1 million again next season. Thomas is in the final year of a contract that pays him $1 million.

"What Disney and Bryan have done is put the heat back on the players," Coach Mike Babcock said. "We had only 20 players here for a while. You can't get mad at anybody. You have to compete to be successful. Players have to compete against each other for playing time."

The Ducks, tied for sixth in the Western Conference -- the top eight teams make the playoffs -- had been making do with 12 forwards, among them Mike Leclerc, who has been playing on a sore left knee. Niedermayer and Thomas will go into the lineup tonight, when the Ducks play the Chicago Blackhawks at the Arrowhead Pond.

"I've been smiling ever since the trade went down," Niedermayer said. "It will be nice to help them win, hopefully. It will be nice to get another taste of the postseason. There's nothing worse than not playing for a playoff spot in the last 10 or 15 games. To go to a playoff team and help them battle should be a lot of fun."

Niedermayer, 28, has never lived up to the promise he showed in 1995-96, when he had 26 goals and 61 points in helping the Florida Panthers reach the Stanley Cup finals. He has eight goals this season.

"He was never going to be a big goal scorer," said Murray, who as the Panthers' general manager made Niedermayer the fifth player taken in the 1993 draft. "He is a top-six forward who can score 20 goals a season."

Thomas, 39, has four goals and 17 points this season, but has scored 401 goals during a 19-year career with Chicago, Toronto and the New York Islanders. He has played in 147 playoff games.

"I'm ecstatic to be going to a team that is going to the playoffs," said Thomas, who was on the Blackhawks' bus, heading to the Pond for practice, when he learned of the trade. "I'm happy to get this opportunity.... This might be my last chance to kick at it."

*

Center Andy McDonald and left wing Kevin Sawyer skated for a second consecutive day for the Ducks in their attempts to return from concussions.

McDonald, who has missed 24 of 28 games, is hoping to practice within a week, but said: "It's hard to say how long it is going to take me to get back into game shape."

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