Sykora deal shows teams' long-term goals

Updated: January 10, 2006, 12:00 PM ET
ESPN.com

OPENING FACEOFF
Brian Burke
Petr Sykora's trade to the New York Rangers on Sunday night hardly came as a surprise.

Anaheim general manager Brian Burke has been trying to unload the skilled forward for weeks. What will be interesting on both fronts is what happens next.

Madison Square Garden has, in recent years, been the elephants' burial ground for aging, expensive stars. Player after player has arrived in New York with a thick résumé, big salary and high expectations, but with little or nothing left in the tank. A seven-season playoff drought is testament to the limits of that style of team building.

This year, though, the Rangers continued the youth movement started in late 2004, and under coach Tom Renney, the team has become a surprise playoff contender based on hard work and a commitment to system. The Rangers entered Monday fifth in the Eastern Conference with 53 points.

Because the team relies so heavily on Jaromir Jagr (his 65 points are 21 more than the team's second-leading scorer, Martin Straka), finding secondary scoring had been seen as crucial to maintaining their standing as a playoff team, not to mention the likelihood of success in the postseason. GM Glen Sather believes he's found that help in the Sykora.

Although his 20-point total in 34 games is disappointing, Sykora, 29, has played better of late as Burke has tried to showcase the skilled forward. Playing with fellow Czechs Jagr, Straka, Martin Rucinsky and rookie Petr Prucha should provide a better comfort level in New York, where he should enjoy more power-play time and play with higher-skilled players on a regular basis. Sykora is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

On the other end of the trade, Burke continues to slowly rebuild the Ducks in the image of his own success in Vancouver, where he helped build an elite team without breaking the bank.

Having previously cleared out Sergei Fedorov and his $6 million salary, and now Sykora's $3.12 million, Burke has more than $4.5 million in cap room left while he continues to stockpile promising young players.

Defenseman Maxim Kondratiev, 22, acquired from New York for Sykora, will join a long list of promising Ducks prospects, but he can hardly be counted on to have much impact this season.

The question is whether Burke's rebuilding process can be accelerated to include a trip to the playoffs this season.

The Ducks entered Monday ranked 10th in the Western Conference, six points out of the final playoff berth with two games in hand. Ideally, Burke would like to add players who could help his team this season and be a part of the team's future as opposed to an older player who is eligible for free agency, like a Doug Weight. He will also be loath to give up much, if any, of the young talent he has accumulated in his short stay in Anaheim.

-- Scott Burnside

THE HAT TRICK
SID'S BOXED IN SECOND IN COMMAND TURCO IN SLUMP
Has Sidney Crosby reached his limit with officials? Well, after being called for six penalties in two games, Sid the Kid is learning not to voice his displeasure after calls. He told the Pittsburgh media: "Just keep my head down and play, that's basically it. Try to play hard and, if I get called for penalties, suck it up and go [to the penalty box]. Crosby ranks second on the Penguins in penalty minutes (60 PIM). Most of the Carolina Hurricanes talk this season has revolved around youngster Eric Staal. But another player who has been solid for the Canes is left winger Cory Stillman, who is riding a nine-game points streak. Stillman is also second to Staal in overall team scoring with 12 goals and 30 assists. Not a bad offseason pickup for Carolina, which signed the free agent from the Lightning in August. This might not be the best time for a slump for Stars and Team Canada goalie Marty Turco. The netminder is 2-4-1 in his last nine starts and was pulled in two straight games before finally getting a "rest." Johan Hedberg, who stepped in for Turco, will start Monday vs. the Wild. Meanwhile, Turco will have a training session with goalies coach Andy Moog to try to figure out what ails him.



CAUGHT IN THE NETS
'FALSE' HOPE?
In the wake of the United States' disappointing turn at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver, we found it puzzling to hear coach Walt Kyle tell Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail "the expectations placed on this team were false." Presumably, Kyle is suggesting the media had it all wrong when they predicted a team loaded with NHL draft picks -- including premier prospects Jack Johnson, Robbie Schremp, Jack Skille and Cory Schneider -- and players expected to go at the top of next summer's draft, Phil Kessel and Erik Johnson, should be a favorite to win gold. Sorry. Our mistake.

So, if winning gold wasn't the expectation of the coaching staff, what was? Did Kyle expect his team would tie an inferior Swiss team during the round-robin, costing it a first-round playoff bye? Did he expect Team USA would be buried by the Russians in the semifinals before losing the bronze-medal game to a Finnish team the Americans beat in the round-robin? One assumes not.

No doubt Kyle was protecting his players, and that's fine. But let's be clear: After winning a surprise gold at the prestigious tournament in 2004, the U.S. Under-20 team has failed to win a medal the last two years. Both times, the U.S. entry has underachieved based on the talent available. If that's acceptable to USA Hockey, then its stated goal of becoming an international power at the junior level won't be reached.

THE FIVE HOLE

Barry Melrose
This week, I'll be looking to see how the Flyers finish a grueling 11-game road trip. Through Monday, Philadelphia has gone 7-0-1, and five of those games went to an extra session. The team has to be exhausted. Simon Gagne has six goals and four assists during the stretch.
E.J. Hradek
There might be more important games this week, but I'm looking forward to Thursday night's showdown between the Oilers and Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Actually, I'm excited about what will happen before the game. The Rangers will retire Mark Messier's No. 11. The folks at MSG really know how to handle such events. They did a great job with Wayne Gretzky's last game and Mike Richter's retirement night. The fans, who have been in good spirits thanks to the club's surprising success this season, will be thrilled to give their captain one long, last cheer. It will be an emotional night for an emotional guy who was one of the best players ever to skate in the NHL.
Scott Burnside
Montreal at Colorado, Wednesday: The rumors continue to percolate that the Canadiens are considering dealing former Hart and Vezina trophy winner Jose Theodore and that Colorado, desperate to improve its goaltending situation, is the main suitor. Both teams are on the playoff bubble, so the trade rumors will add an interesting subplot to this matchup.
FANTASY ISLAND
Who to pick up: The Blues have been at least competing as of late, and one player who has been on a roll in St. Louis is Mike Sillinger. The winger has three goals and four assists in his last four games.
Who to drop: With the Lightning playing only one game this week, it might be time to rest one of those Bolts starters. Maybe Martin St. Louis? He has only two goals in nine games.
IN THE BOX
We are calling out Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn this week. If you haven't picked up "Demon Days" yet, go out or online and buy it. It's a must! Our favorite pucks song is "Dirty Harry" because all we do is dance when we see the opening faceoff.
THEY SAID IT
"It's gut-check time, and it has been for a while. With the exception of a couple of games through this span, I can't really fault the effort. They're not trying not to score. It's not like they're missing the net purposely."
-- Coach Trent Yawney after the Blackhawks' losing streak reached 10 games.

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