Lamenting the ones who got (or were traded) away

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 4:20 PM ET


 Hearts gripped by self-doubt as the Stanley Cup playoffs flash and rumble toward the end, the men who made the deals can only wonder now.

 These are the general managers and coaches who got rid of players currently doing the most to ignite their team's chances for hockey's premier prize -- especially the brain-trusts of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

 Their common question as they watch from the sidelines has to be what might have happened had they kept guys they once deemed expendable -- like Keith Primeau, Freddie Modin and Vincent Damphousse, among others.

 Of them all, Primeau stands as the most painful example. When the Wings wouldn't raise his $800,000 contract in 1996, he asked for a trade. The Wings accommodated him.

 Primeau has become the most dominant force of the 2004 playoffs. His seven goals tied him for second among all postseason goal scorers prior to last night's Calgary-San Jose game. Three have been game-winners, two have come while short-handed.

 But it's much more than that. The Philadelphia powerhouse has set the tone on the ice, and in both the Philly and Tampa Bay locker-rooms.

 You'd say he hits like a bus but he's more like the driver of one bearing a teamful of excited passengers. It's reasonable to imagine such dominance would have propelled the Wings further than their second-round exit.

 If Primeau is creating some indigestion in Detroit, Modin has to be causing a bit of bowel ballet in Leafland. The Tampa Bay winger has six goals and nine assists to tie Calgary's Jarome Iginla for the points lead prior to last night's game in California.

 Moreover, Modin is playing as though he's guarding the Swedish crown jewels as he leads all players in plus/minus with 11.

 In San Jose, another Leaf exile is playing a giant role. Damphousse, like Primeau, had three game-winning goals among his seven scores. Along with another ex-Leaf, London's Scott Thornton, he also is providing veteran leadership.

 Nothing in pro sports management is as frightening as coming out on the losing side of a trade. Unlike other realms of business where deals are made in near-anonymity before the firm moves on, legions of fans and media are always there to assess sports transactions -- sometimes long after the fact.

 It's not always fair, of course. It should be factored into the multi-player Primeau deal that the Wings essentially got Brendan Shanahan in return, and the former London Knight played an important role in three Stanley Cup victories for the Wings. At the same time, it's difficult not to imagine Primeau's thunderous presence this spring, helping power the Wings deeper into the postseason than they got. Fans tend to live in the present and can hardly miss Primeau's presence.

 It's equally disconcerting for the Leafs and the deal that sent Modin from Toronto to Tampa for Cory Cross. As general manager, Pat Quinn could be justified in discarding the big Swede's soft approach. But as coach, there are questions as to why Quinn couldn't get the type of complete performance out of Modin that Tampa's John Tortorella has managed.

 The variables are many. Players get older and wiser; there's the matter of fitting team needs; there's the ever-elusive chemistry issue. That doesn't quell the questions, though.

 As with all national selections in all sports, Team Canada selectors are currently being criticized for taking some players over others, particularly to the exclusion of Primeau. But executive director Wayne Gretzky and his associates have an edge. If Canada wins the World Cup, nobody will question the personnel selection.

 The way the Stanley Cup final is shaping up, somebody's former player is sure to be parading around the ice with the Holy Grail aloft. There'll be fans asking questions.


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