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As with most National Hockey League trades, yesterday's deal between Philadelphia and Carolina, in which defenceman Danny Markov joined the Flyers in exchange for forward Justin Williams, can be viewed for its short-term and long-term implications.

Short term, the Flyers plug an immediate hole in a defence corps that was injury-riddled, didn't boast a clear No. 1 and was getting on in years.

In Markov, they acquired a defenceman who can play in their top four, even after Éric Desjardins, Marcus Ragnarsson and Dennis Seidenberg all return from extended injury absences. He can help them win a playoff round or two this season and become a mainstay on their defence corps for years to come.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, insert a scoring forward who can play on their top two lines, on what is, statistically, the NHL's worst offensive team.

Carolina has scored only 86 goals this season, five fewer than that American Hockey League team masquerading as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Something clearly had to give.

Williams has been mired in a two-month-long goal-scoring slump, but he is one of the Carolina organization's favourite sons, from back in the days when he played for owner Peter Karmanos's Detroit Compuware junior teams. Williams was one of six competent wingers in Philadelphia and, as a result, was frequently lost in the shuffle, missing out on power-play time as coach Ken Hitchcock used Mark Recchi and John LeClair, Tony Amonte and Simon Gagné and other wingers in that capacity.

In Carolina, all that will change, and it will change even more if the Hurricanes trade Jeff O'Neill, who, at the moment, is their nominal No. 1 winger.

Arguably, the biggest stir caused by yesterday's deal concerns not so much the players who were exchanged, but the one who wasn't. O'Neill is a three-time 30-goal scorer and is currently stuck in one of the worst offensive slumps of his career. He has only eight goals, and that's only because he broke loose for three in last Friday's win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

O'Neill is a scorer who isn't scoring, and even the Hurricanes' early-season coaching change -- from Paul Maurice to Peter Laviolette -- didn't help him get his offence back on track. More and more, it looks as if the Hurricanes would like to trade him and his $3.7-million (U.S.) contract to a Stanley Cup contender, especially if they can continue the job of "restructuring" the team's forward lines.

Certainly, that was general manager Jimmy Rutherford's overriding message yesterday after dealing Markov, who had rapidly evolved into their most complete defenceman in the short time he was with the team. Markov led the team in minutes played (almost 24 a game), made terrific outlet passes and, as his former Toronto Maple Leafs teammates will attest, was a popular presence in the dressing room.

The Hurricanes, however, were clearly not moving ahead and changes were deemed necessary. Carolina made an unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup final in the spring of 2002 and then dropped to the bottom of the NHL last year, finishing 30th overall in a 30-team league.

Rutherford said he could accept last season's free fall because so much of it was precipitated by injuries (and some off-ice turmoil), but couldn't rationalize this season's mediocre performance, especially since the Southeast Division remains the NHL's worst, making a playoff spot not completely out of the question.

Rutherford didn't address O'Neill by name, but talked in general terms of the difficulty in making trades happen these days.

"There's no good timing for a trade," he said. "They just don't unfold exactly when you want. There are a lot of things involved with what we deal with now -- the economics of the game and tight budgets for teams. It's not just about trading two players, picking up the phone and doing what you want. Something may happen, something may not."

Until yesterday, only 19 players had changed teams this season, most of them involving salary dumps of one kind or another. Even though Markov ($2.7-million) earns considerably more than Williams ($1.072-million), the most significant aspect of the trade is that it addressed hockey issues more than financial ones for perhaps the first time all season.