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At trading deadline, Ducks stay in the hunt as Kings stay out of it

HELENE ELLIOTT ON THE NHL

Ducks get good returns for players who couldn't commit, showing they want to try to make the playoffs now. Kings make lone move that signals fans will have to wait some more.

March 05, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

The Ducks became deeper up the middle and on defense in the frantic hours before Wednesday's trading deadline, getting good returns for players who had won Stanley Cup rings but wouldn't commit to staying through a roster renovation.

The Kings' lone deal brought them right wing Justin Williams, on injured reserve because of a broken finger.

To acquire him from Carolina, they gave up 24-year-old Patrick O'Sullivan, who scored 22 goals on a terrible team last season and has produced at every level, and a second-round draft pick.

The Ducks' trades said they want to make the playoffs now. If they miss, which is likely, they have restocked enough talent and promise to rightly feel optimistic. They don't have to rebuild from the ground up.

The Kings' trade said fans who have endured four decades without a Cup title will have to wait again.

Wait two weeks to see Williams, twice a 30-goal scorer but a victim of knee, Achilles' tendon and hand injuries the last two seasons.

Wait until next season for the team's first playoff berth since 2002.

Wait for a day that never seems in sight.

Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he traded O'Sullivan to the Hurricanes --who flipped him to Edmonton -- because Williams was a proven top-six player and a better fit, not to avenge contentious contract talks that kept O'Sullivan out of training camp until four days before the season opener.

But indirectly the dispute might have been a factor.

"Would he be further along as a player if he doesn't hold out? I think that's a possibility," Lombardi said of O'Sullivan, who had 14 goals and 37 points in 62 games this season.

"Missing training camp at that age, to me, is nothing but hindering and that could have affected that maybe we didn't get more out of him."

He also said the "big dogs," impact players such as Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk, Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and Minnesota's Marian Gaborik, weren't available or carried steep price tags. Nor was he inclined to trade a front-line player for someone he might lose to free agency July 1.

Lombardi, a scout for the Flyers when Williams began his career there, said he made the Kings better by adding a player who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006 but is young enough at 27 to blend into a young team. He said the injury made a bargain out of Williams, who will earn $3.5 million for each of the next two seasons and might not have been available this summer.

Lombardi has salary-cap space to upgrade his team through free agency or trades, but we're still waiting on that too.

"Unlike past trade deadlines where I was just selling, selling, I was certainly looking," he said. "I don't have 10 boxes to fill. I'm looking for specific players that address those needs and there weren't a lot of them out there."

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray put sentiment aside in trading players who had served the team well but told him they planned to test free agency this summer.

"What we tried to accomplish here over the last few years while chasing another Cup, we've let assets get away from us and got nothing for them," he said. "And that had to stop now."

So he sent rugged left wing Travis Moen and defenseman Kent Huskins to San Jose for junior-age goaltender Timo Pielmeier, promising Boston University center Nick Bonino and a draft pick conditional on the Sharks' playoff fate.

Bonino was the key. "We've got to get help at center ice. No way I'm dealing with Doug Wilson unless I get this guy," Murray said of San Jose's general manager, his defense partner during their playing days in Chicago. "I can't emphasize enough how good we think this player is."

Murray also dealt center Samuel Pahlsson, a free-agent-to-be, to Chicago for defenseman James Wisniewski, whom he called "a heart and soul guy," and minor-league center Petri Kontiola.

After following Finnish center Petteri Nokelainen for eight years, Murray snared him from Boston for defenseman Steve Montador. Murray also sent prospect Eric O'Dell to Atlanta for Erik Christensen, who could end up flanking Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line. Nokelainen might be the next Pahlsson, strong on faceoffs and a gritty, two-way player.

"I fully expect this team to run for a playoff spot. I don't think we're anywhere near out of it," Murray said. "I expect our players to make a good shot at it. I see no reason why they can't."

Maybe there's the difference between the two teams.

The Ducks wonder why they can't achieve their goals. The Kings wonder whether they ever can.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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latimes.com/sports

A lot of moves but no really big ones

There were 22 trades involving 47 players and 21 draft picks, but very few familiar names are involved.

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