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(Elise Amendola)
(Elise Amendola)

NHL Notebook

Pittsburgh's pain could be Boston's gain Add to ...

I'm trying to remember which trade scenario dragged out longer - all the Tomas Kaberle chatter, which finally wrapped up Friday with his move to the Boston Bruins after more than a year of speculation and close calls; or the 10-plus seasons it took the Ottawa Senators to finally ship Radek Bonk out of the town.

Probably Bonk wins, if only for longevity reasons.

Rumors about Bonk's imminent departure started not long after Ottawa made him the third pick overall in the 1994 entry draft. He was going everywhere for everybody - and almost did get swapped for Vinnie Lecavalier once upon a time. When the Sens finally shipped him out - at the 2004 entry draft, originally to the Los Angeles Kings, who then flipped him to the Montreal Canadiens - I'm sure everybody double checked their sources one final time just to make sure it really truly finally happened. Ding dong, Bonk was finally gone.

Same, on a smaller scale, with Kaberle Friday, who finally joined the Bruins in a deal for a first-round pick, plus prospect Joe Colborne and future considerations that hinge on if he signs in Beantown over the summer, or explores NHL options elsewhere.

Colborne is the Calgary kid who played two seasons for Camrose in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and shot up the draft charts in 2008, going 16th overall largely because of his wingspan (6-5, 216). The Bruins turned him pro after two seasons at Denver University and he's had a decent first year in Providence, after playing six games there at the end of the NCAA season last spring.

Centres with size that can ultimately play are a difficult commodity to find; Colborne just turned 21 last month, so he's got time on his side to develop. The biggest knock against him is the one that many players of his size get saddled with - that while he may be big, he doesn't always use his size as effectively as he could.

To complete the Kaberle deal, the Bruins had to shuffle the deck a few hours earlier in order to make the salary cap numbers work, shipping out Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley and prospect Boris Valabik.

In all, it was an interesting series of moves for Bruins' general manager Peter Chiarelli, beginning with the fact that Peverley is a useful versatile forward that can fill the void caused by Marc Savard's absence; and maybe lessen their reliance on the teenage Tyler Seguin down the stretch.

With Chris Kelly there as well, they have made major upgrades to a team that was already a legitimate playoff contender, and they did it without trading away the Leafs' 2011 first-rounder, which figures to be no worse than a top-10 choice; and, depending upon what Toronto does here down the stretch, might be top-five.

In short, it looks as if the Bruins sense a championship opportunity this year that might not be there again any time soon.

Think of it this way: Pittsburgh is reeling because of the injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, making them a question mark in terms of their ability to go all the way this year. Washington hasn't quite figured out their new defensive approach - in the 7-6 win over Anaheim, they looked a lot like last year's explosive but vulnerable team, which flamed out in the opening round against Montreal. The two clubs, both of whom started the year as potential Eastern Conference powerhouses, are vulnerable now, but may not be next year, or any time soon after that.

So did Chiarelli see a narrow window of opportunity suddenly open up and decided to seize the moment? Looks like he did, and if that's what precipitated the changes, then good on him for being so bold. It would also explain Philadelphia's continued dabbling - adding to its depth by acquiring Kris Versteeg from Toronto. They've both figured it out: Pittsburgh's pain has a chance to be somebody else's gain.

ETC ETC: The Los Angeles Kings have responded well to the challenge of a massive 10-game road trip - they were 5-0-2 seven games in until losing to the Rangers Thursday night, which also snapped a 10-game points streak (8-0-2)... Colorado's lengthy losing streak has dropped the Avs out of the playoff chase. Might Milan Hedjuk be available? Everybody's looking for a sniper to play a top-six role. Hedjuk would fit the bill ... The Columbus Blue Jackets' Derick Brassard was in the midst of a breakout year - 39 points in 57 games, a career high already with more than a quarter of the season to go - until he broke his hand in a game against the Los Angeles Kings last Monday. He's out indefinitely, probably two to three weeks. Columbus is 8-3-3 in its last 14 and making up no ground whatsoever ... It's the same in St. Louis, where the Blues went into the all-star break five points out of a playoff spot, lost only once in regulation in the next six games and now find themselves nine back. It doesn't help that Jaroslav Halak injured his blocker hand in practice Wednesday and immediately went on IR. The Blues could join Colorado as sellers in the next week and that means Eric Brewer will be a prime candidate to move to a contender. Nice quote from Brewer to the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week: "There's only two teams below us, right?" he said. "So every team is a team we have to beat. "

AND FINALLY: We're Duck watching these days. The Anaheim Ducks represent one of the NHL's more heartening success stories, two thirds of the way through the season, a team not getting much notice or attention even as they've quietly crept up the Western Conference standings.

The fact that they did so, in a month when they were missing their leading scorer, Ryan Getzlaf, is even more encouraging and speaks volumes about the supporting cast they've developed around goaltender Jonas Hiller. The question is: Can they survive Hiller's loss for any extended period, if the dizziness and lightheadedness that forced him to be placed on IR this week lingers?

Hiller was dinged twice on the mask during the all-star weekend, which may or may not be a contributing factor to his current issues. He was feeling better earlier in the week; played a game, and even shut out the Edmonton Oilers, but then found the issues had recurred.

Without Hiller, the Ducks fell in that aforementioned wild 7-6 loss to the Capitals, in which they weren't much good defensively, but weren't bailed out by backup Curtis McEllhinney either. The Ducks are one of those hard to figure teams. Usually, departures along the lines of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer signal a plunge down the standings; and early on, the Ducks gave no indication that they'd be anything but an also-ran in the tough Western Conference.

But they've been resilient; winger Corey Perry has been exceptional; Teemu Selanne, when healthy, continues to chug along at a point-per-game pace, unprecedented for a 40-year-old in the modern era; and, somehow, they've managed to stay with the pack in the tight Pacific Division, where the gap between first and last never seems to be more than five points.

In short, they're exceeding expectations, but in order for that to continue, they will need an expeditious return to good health by their all-star goaltender.

Of course, the other way of looking at things is if Hiller's condition doesn't improve and it looks as if he could be gone a long time, there's always J.S. Giguere available from Toronto as a rental. Presumably, Giguere left Anaheim on good enough terms that a return wouldn't be out of the question. Remember, nobody figured Sidney Crosby would be out this long either.

"It's a major concern," defenceman Toni Lydman told the Orange County Register, when discussing Hiller's uncertain health status. "We don't know what's going on. You're always worried. He's a big part of this team. A big part of why we're in the race and doing so well right now.

"It'd be nice to have some kind of answers."

 

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