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Peter Mueller #88 of the Colorado Avalanche and Wojtek Wolski #86 of the Phoenix Coyotes await a face off during the first period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night. (Christian Petersen/2010 Getty Images)
Peter Mueller #88 of the Colorado Avalanche and Wojtek Wolski #86 of the Phoenix Coyotes await a face off during the first period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night. (Christian Petersen/2010 Getty Images)

Duhatschek's Notebook

No perfect formula for building a contender Add to ...

Although it was characterized in many places as a "hockey deal," one of the few that took place at the NHL trading deadline Wednesday, the Colorado Avalanche-Phoenix Coyotes' exchange - of Wojtek Wolski for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter - had a financial component as well. Wolski, in the midst of his most productive NHL season ever, is on an expiring contract that will pay him $3.1-million this year and is eligible for arbitration, where he could get bumped up to $4-million or more per season. Colorado saw that potential and determined, in advance, that might be more than they were willing to pay Wolski. Mueller, meanwhile, earns just $850,000 and based on his negligible scoring numbers this year, isn't going to qualify for much of a raise, if any. The Avalanche figure to save about $3-million in the exchange. After scoring just four goals in 54 games for the Coyotes, Mueller counted his fifth in his Colorado debut vs. Anaheim, handing the Ducks their first home loss since Dec. 6 Wednesday night. Twenty-four hours later, Wolski was scheduled to make his Coyotes debut - against Colorado … Phoenix, according to general manager Don Maloney, had the Wolski-Mueller deal in the pipeline in advance of the deadline, but much of the rest of what he did came up on the fly. Phoenix, of course, is in the unique position of being owned and run by the NHL, which made for an odd trading-deadline dynamic. But the league left Maloney alone to do his work, requiring only that he stay within his pre-set budget. When asked, Brian Burke, the Leafs' GM, said he was fine with Phoenix being a meaningful player at the deadline - which was the correct position. Short of asking the team to stay under budget, had the NHL hamstrung the Coyotes in any meaningful way, it could kiss the market goodbye. That might happen anyway depending upon how the ownership mess sorts itself out. Last summer, Phoenix moved a player to Calgary - Nigel Dawes - fearing that what he'd get in salary arbitration might be more than what they'd want to pay. Something similar could happen with Wolski if it looks as if his demands are too high … The New York Rangers started the post-Olympic portion of their schedule without leading scorer Marian Gaborik, out with a groin injury. Anybody surprised? And while there are no indications how long Gaborik will be out, his history is to err on the side of caution whenever that problematic groin/abdomen injury flares up, which seems to be every year. The Rangers had won three in a row going into Thursday's date with the Pittsburgh Penguins, to stay in the middle of the race for the last three playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. How long that'll last without their only legitimate scoring threat is anybody's guess. Maybe it really is Olli Jokinen to the rescue … The Columbus Blue Jackets lost centre Derick Brassard to a hand injury in the final game before the Olympic break. The thinking was it might be healed in the past weeks, but Brassard wasn't in the line-up for Tuesday's game against Vancouver and may not play again next week … If you believe, as so many teams do, that a solid third line is needed to go deep in the playoffs, then the Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals acquired the best two available commodities for that role - Jeff Halpern going to the Kings from the Tampa Bay Lightning; Eric Belanger joining the Capitals from the Minnesota Wild. Halpern is a former Capitals' captain, who is coming off serious off-season knee surgery. Two years ago, he joined the Lightning at the trade deadline and performed exceptionally well - with 18 points in 19 games, including 10 goals. Belanger scores about a point every two games, not bad production from a bottom-six forward, who also excels in the face-off circle. Washington already had the NHL's second-leading face-off man in David Steckel (60 per cent); now they've added Belanger, seventh overall at 57.6. For a puck possession team such as the Caps, that's an important consideration … Unlike the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs, the Carolina Hurricanes found all sorts of takers in their fire sale, a sign that they had more quality on offer. Two players, Matt Cullen and Niclas Wallin, were dispatched before the Olympic break - the rest left Wednesday and included Joe Corvo, the ex-Senator who should thrive in Washington's go-go system, where risk is tolerated more than virtually anywhere else in the NHL. Carolina's challenge in the short term will be winning without goaltender Cam Ward - Justin Peters looks as if he'll get a run of games here - and the only downside might be that their chances at a lottery pick slips every time they win another game. Carolina netted three second-rounders in all their trade machinations, two this year, one in 2011.

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