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января 2002 года.
Canes trade Ozolinsh //newsobserver.com
Carolina gets Bret Hedican, center Kevyn Adams and a defensive prospect from Florida for All-Star Sandis Ozolinsh.
By J.P. GIGLIO, Staff Writer
Raleigh -- In a move to save money and shore up their defense, the Carolina Hurricanes ended the Sandis Ozolinsh experiment on Wednesday and traded the six-time All-Star defenseman to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Bret Hedican, center Kevyn Adams and defensive prospect Tomas Malec.
The Panthers also received center Byron Ritchie, a minor-leaguer who played the previous four games with the Canes.
The Canes signed Ozolinsh to a five-year contract worth $25.5 million in July of 2000. Billed as an "offensive" defenseman, Ozolinsh is a gifted passer with uncanny vision. He had 67 points in 117 games with the Canes.
But a year and half into his contract, his gambling style led to a minus-29 rating, the occasional boos and viewed by the Canes as a defensive liability.
His play just didn't fit with the Canes grind-'em out mentality, general manager Jim Rutherford said Wednesday. But he defended Ozolinsh's contract, saying it "is what he should have got."
Still, Rutherford said, "[Sandis] was overpaid in our organization on how we were using him."
The move is not solely a salary dump for the Canes. Hedican, an 11th-year defender, possesses speed and skating ability few in the league can match.
He is in the final season of a $1.8 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Thus, Carolina sheds itself of Ozolinsh's contract and could free up money to re-sign Sami Kapanen ($2.5 million), Jeff O'Neill ($1.75 million) and Aaron Ward ($819,500) -- all three will be restricted free agents this summer.
"That wasn't the reason we did the deal," Rutherford said of creating salary space in the future. "We feel we're getting three good players."
While not as skilled as Ozolinsh, Hedican is also considered an "offensive" defenseman. He has three goals and seven assists in 31 games this season -- he missed 14 games with a broken jaw. He had a career-best 29 points with the Vancouver Canucks in 1995-96.
"I'm very happy about going to a team that's going to the playoffs," said Hedican, who is married to figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi. "I'm not going to try to do more than what I'm capable of doing. I'm going to play a sound game and do whatever they ask of me."
The Canes also picked up Adams, a faceoff and penalty-kill specialist who adds grit and depth at center. And Malec, a 19-year-old from Slovakia, was the defensive rookie of the year in Quebec major junior hockey last season and is regarded highly by the Canes' scouts.
As for Ozolinsh, the fans voted him an All-Star starter for the second straight season and he has four goals and 19 assists this season. But the Canes expected more for their money.
Only six defenders will make more than Ozolinsh's $5 million this season, according to the NHL Players Association. He and Ron Francis, who also makes $5 million, are the highest paid players on the team. Ozolinsh is due $5.5 million in each of the next three seasons, and the Panthers confirmed the Canes will pick up $1 million for each of the remaining seasons.
Ozolinsh, in his 10th NHL seasons, hasn't been used on the first power-play unit and is rarely used to kill penalties. That adds up to less than 20 minutes per game. The NHL's highest-paid defenseman regularly log more than 25 minutes.
Ozolinsh flew to south Florida on Wednesday morning and was unavailable for comment. He was scheduled to play for his new team against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night. Hedican and Adams are expected to play for the Canes in tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens.
The size of Ozolinsh's contract didn't concern Panthers general manager Chuck Fletcher, who said Florida had also tried to acquire Ozolinsh from the Colorado Avalanche before the Canes got him for defenseman Nolan Pratt, a first-round draft pick and two second-round picks in the 2000 draft.
"We're trying to untap our offensive potential, we felt acquiring [Ozolinsh] would do that," Fletcher said. "We need to score more goals, plain and simple, we're not a very good team this year. "
Trying to do too much may have been Ozolinsh's biggest problem, said goalie Arturs Irbe, his best friend on the team and Latvian countryman. Irbe added the pressure of living up to the contract proved to be a burden on Ozolinsh's confidence.
"We all were expecting more out of him," Irbe said. "He couldn't put his skill to use the way he wanted to. He couldn't blend 100 percent."
Ozolinsh excelled with the Avs with four 50-plus point seasons in his five season there. He had 19 points in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs as the Avs won the Cup. He followed with a career-high 68 points in 1996-97. He flashed signs of that brilliance with the Canes, notably a hat-trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 4 of last season.
Symbolic of Ozolinsh's time in Carolina, he made a perfect set-up pass to Bates Battaglia in the third period of Tuesday's 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. With an empty net in front of him, Battaglia bounced Ozolinsh's pass off the right post.
Groomed in the Western Conference and with the Avs, maybe the highest-skilled team in the NHL, Ozolinsh took a lot of chances in front of his own net. The long, sharp breakout passes that led to goals in Colorado ended up as goals against the Canes.
"With the style we have, it didn't suit him as well," Canes defenseman Glen Wesley said. "Obviously the talent Colorado has, not to take anything away from us, but we have a different philosophy on how we have to play to win hockey games."
The low point for Ozolinsh came this season during a 4-0 home loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 25. On the same power-play, Ozolinsh's miscues led to two short-handed goals. For the remainder of the game, he was booed each time he touched the puck.
Ozolinsh' numbers could rebound in Florida under coach Mike Keenan, who loves to work his defenders, and with pure goal-scorers Pavel and Valeri Bure.
"I think Sandis will be a better fit on our club," Fletcher said. "We
have physical defenders, but we needed a different dimension."