Leaders put Cap on trade

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

The NHL’s Western Conference has a two-horse race for the honour of being the best team.

No such situation in the Eastern Conference.

After the trade deadline, though, it’s even more of an unbalanced situation. The Washington Capitals didn’t make any blockbuster swaps prior to Wednesday’s deadline, but they didn’t need to.

Sure, they could have used an upgrade in goal, but with the price being obviously higher than they wanted for an upgrade on Jose Theodore, they did the next best thing by addressing other glaring holes.

Eric Belanger is a perfect third-line centre and is especially good on faceoffs, while defenceman Joe Corvo provides a second powerplay point man to go with Mike Green.

Must be nice to have smaller changes to make compared to your immediate competition.

The New Jersey Devils took a bold step by nabbing Ilya Kovalchuk and the Pittsburgh Penguins gained a couple of solid players in former Toronto Maple Leafs winger Alexei Ponikarovsky and two-time Calgary Flames defenceman Jordan Leopold, but those aren’t big enough steps to overtake the Caps as the class of the East.

We can bet they were thrilled to see both the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes make improvements while the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks stood pat.

Tightening up the Western Conference, albeit only in a small increment since the Sharks and Hawks are clearly the top two squads, will only make things that much easier for the East representative in the Stanley Cup final and face what will be a beat-up Western Conference foe.

Flames C-notes

Interesting take on the new-look Flames overheard recently. “Remember when the Phoenix Coyotes were just a collection of players with no real plan in pace? Old guys, young guys and faded stars? The Flames are the same without the young guys.” The way they’re flounding right now, you can’t argue … What’s more indicting on the Flames braintrust: The fact they have only four players on their roster who were drafted by Calgary (Mikael Backlund, David Moss, Eric Nystrom and Adam Pardy) or the fact the second youngest player on the team after Backlund is left winger Nigel Dawes, who turned 25 last month? Anybody else remember GM Darryl Sutter saying after his team was bounced in the 2006 playoffs the Flames needed to become younger and faster? … Does anybody wish the first ever trade between the Oilers and Flames was a blockbuster? For such a monumental event, it would have been better had the Flames dealt Dion Phaneuf up the highway instead of to Toronto.

Hockey talky

Can’t help but wonder whether finally winning “the big one” and having a major impact on the championship bodes well for the San Jose Sharks, whose fortunes rely so heavily on the play of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. Thornton didn’t dispel his reputation of always struggling in the crunch during the Olympic Winter Games, but Marleau was strong and Heatley was good. Then again, the way goalie Evgeni Nabokov played in Russia’s quarter-

final game against Canada may wipe away the vibes of confidence in the Sharks room ... If anybody didn’t believe before Jonathan Toews was a rising star akin to Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman, they sure have to after watching him in Vancouver ... For the Washington Capitals to re-acquire the injured Milan Jurcina sure makes you wonder if former junior star Karl Alzner remains in their plans ... Carolina’s Ray Whitney reportedly balked at waiving his no-trade clause without getting a three-year deal. It’s hard to imagine any team giving a 38-year-old player a three-year contract ... Opposing organizations do have the right to be upset the Phoenix Coyotes added so much payroll by bringing in veteran D Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider as well as forwards with scoring touch in Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski. The rest of the league is propping up the Desert Dogs.

You don’t say

“I really don’t know what I’m doing when I fight. It was just a lot of stuff built up, ‘what could have been had

I been playing.’ You think about that. But it’s behind me now.”

— Florida’s David Booth who fought Philadelphia’s Mike Richards Wednesday night as payback for a hit that caused Booth to missed a couple of months.


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