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Budget Is In, Havelid Is Out

Ducks, under Disney mandate to trim payroll, trade defenseman, then draft Czech Smid.

June 27, 2004|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The Mighty Ducks began mandated payroll reduction before Saturday's NHL draft, trading defenseman Niclas Havelid to the Atlanta Thrashers for Kurtis Foster, a little-known defenseman.

Officials from Walt Disney Co., which owns the team, desire a $12-million payroll cut and the Ducks have already committed $33 million to 13 players for next season. Something had to give, or rather someone had to be given away.

"We're trying to give us as much flexibility as we can," Duck General Manager Al Coates said. "We're certainly not where we need to be right now. I can't tell you who that is, or what it is, but we're still looking to make some changes.

"It's about finances, but it is also about changing the mix of the team a bit. We need to create openings to do that. It's little bit of a chess game, to tell you the truth."

Havelid, 31, became a pawn in that effort. He was a likely choice to create payroll room, with two years left on his contract at $1.6 million a season. He is coming off a subpar season, as he ranked near the bottom in the NHL in plus-minus.

This will not be the Ducks' only move, if team officials have their way. Forward Vaclav Prospal, forward Petr Sykora and defenseman Ruslan Salei are on the trading block.

"We have some things we're working on and an indication it might materialize," Coates said. "Until we have something on the dotted line, it's clearly not done. At the moment it is just optimism."

In return for Havelid, the Ducks get Foster, a second-round pick of Calgary in 2000. Foster, 22, could not crack the lineup on a Thrasher team that was in need of defensemen. He has played in five NHL games.

Losing Havelid's salary can cover part of Keith Carney's two-year, $5.6-million option, which the Ducks will pick up, a source said.

But forward Rob Niedermayer, defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski and Salei will be unrestricted free agents on Thursday. Salei, who made $1.75 million last season, seems to be the preferred choice to go.

In the draft, the Ducks selected Ladislav Smid, a Czech defenseman, with the ninth overall pick. Smid, regarded as one of the top defensemen from Europe, will play for Liberac in the Czech league next season.

Smid said through a translator that he knows a few Ducks, fellow Czechs Prospal, Sykora and Martin Skoula.

Whether he will ever be able to play with Prospal and Sykora is to be seen, as management is trying to adhere to Disney's budget demands.

Prospal, a cornerstone free agent signed last summer, is owed $10 million over the next four seasons. Sykora will be in the second year of a three-year deal worth a little more than $12 million.

Finding teams to take the hefty contracts of Prospal and Sykora may be difficult.

"We're keeping all options open to get to where we need to get to, with some preferences and priorities.... We know what we want to do and know how we want to end up, but it is not the easiest era to be in to try to accomplish those things," Coates said.

Havelid became more obsolete in the eyes of Duck officials after Skoula was acquired from Colorado in February. Like Havelid, Skoula is a more offensive defenseman. The Ducks also have Sandis Ozolinsh, who is the team's best defenseman at handling the puck.

The Ducks were focused on defensemen during the draft, taking Jordan Smith, an 18-year-old from Ontario Sault Ste. Marie, in the second round and Kyle Klubertanz, an 18-year-old from Green Bay in the United States Hockey League, in the third round.

They drafted center Tim Brent in the third round. Brent, who played juniors for Toronto St. Michael's, was a Duck pick in 2002 but was returned to the draft this year after the team failed to sign him.

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