- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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TAMPA, Fla. -- At the 2002 draft, when little-known Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster -- just four months into his tenure -- traded the fourth overall pick (read: hot-shot defensive prospect Joni Pitkanen) to the Flyers for nondescript left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and a pair of second-round draft picks, very few NHL experts were impressed.
Almost two years to the day of the trade, however, Feaster's first big deal looks like it was a pretty good one.
Fedotenko scored his 11th and 12th goals of the playoffs, lifting the former doormat Lightning to a thrilling 2-1 Stanley Cup-clinching win over the Calgary Flames in Game 7 on Monday night at crazed St. Pete Times Forum.
In the postgame hysteria, neither Fedotenko or Feaster were too eager to say, "I told you so."
"I didn't have any hard feelings about being traded," said Fedotenko, who was born in Kiev, but now lives in Sioux City, Iowa (where he played junior hockey in the USHL). "This is a business and it was a business deal."
Feaster, who understands the criticism the trade met with, felt he had little choice in the matter.
"As an organization, we felt it was a deal we had to make," said Feaster, sporting a playoff beard and a big cigar. "With where we were, we didn't think we could afford to wait for another prospect. We needed someone who could step onto our team and play. I remember, Torts (Coach John Tortorella) telling me if you go up to that podium and make a pick, we'll be toast."
The GM heeded his coach's advice and pulled the trigger. But Feaster also had the benefit of a little inside knowledge.
"I had been talking to (former Flyers coach and current Lightning Director of Player Personnel) Bill Barber," Feaster explained. "He'd been fired by the Flyers and we had permission to talk to him. He told me that he liked (Fedotenko) as a player, but, with so many veterans on that team, he couldn't get him on the ice in too many offensive situations."
Despite the increased ice time, Fedotenko's first two regular seasons in Tampa didn't make the critics any less skeptical of the deal. He netted 19 goals and 32 points in his first season, and followed that up with a 17-goal, 39-point campaign in 2003-04.
"We hoped he would be a good second-line player for us," said Feaster, who replaced Rick Dudley as the Lightning's GM on Feb. 10, 2002. "But, at worst, we felt he would be a good third-line guy."
Unfortunately, he wasn't even that during the early part of the season.
"At the beginning of the year, he was out of our lineup," remembered Tortorella.
During this playoff spring, the 25-year-old Fedotenko began to meet the club's loftier expectation. In the seven-game Eastern Conference final series against his former club, he scored six goals (including the decisive goal in Game 3) and added an assist. Throughout that series, though, he downplayed any revenge motive.
"It's never been about personal things," Fedotenko said. "It's always about the team. We've got a great bunch of guys here in Tampa. For all of us, it's about winning."
Fedotenko was a big part of the winning in Monday's decisive Game 7. In the first period, he opened the scoring with a power-play goal at the 13:31 mark. With the first goal so important throughout the series -- the team that scored first won each of the seven games -- Fedotenko's goal carried a little extra weight.
"I tried to tip Brad (Richard's) shot from the point," Fedotenko explained. "I missed it, so I tried to spin off (Robyn) Regehr and look for a rebound. I saw the puck and I tried to shoot it as quickly as possible."
Fedotenko's goal lit a fire under the Lightning and the 22,717 crazies in the home building.
In the second period, he upped the lead to 2-0, converting a pass from Vincent Lecavalier at 14:38.
"Vinny and Stiller (Cory Stillman) did a great job cycling the puck," Fedotenko said. "Vinny knew where I was and he hit me with a perfect pass. I tried to get the puck into the top shelf because I knew he would be going down to cover the bottom part of the net."
The shot found its target, sailing over Kiprusoff's glove.
Not bad for a guy who many thought would be finished for the series after having his head slammed into the boards by Regehr in Game 3. Fedotenko missed Game 4, but returned for Game 5, sporting a bruised face but no protective face gear.
"He wore the mask in practice for one day, but decided to play without it," Feaster said.
Asked about his injury after the series, Fedotenko could only smile.
"It wasn't that bad," he said. "It wasn't enough to keep me away from the Stanley Cup finals."
While Fedotenko and Feaster were more interested in the present, Tortorella didn't mind taking a quick trip down memory lane.
"A lot of people criticized Jay Feaster about that deal," Tortorella remembered. "But I think it's looking pretty damn good right now."
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance