Top Shelf: Small moves, big playoff payoff

In case you haven’t heard, little things make a big difference in playoff games.

On a macro level, little moves can make a huge difference for a team in its attempt to drink champagne (and who’s kidding who, probably some beer, too) from the best Cup in the world.

With that in mind, here’s a look at one transaction for each of the remaining eight playoff teams that didn’t generate much press at the time, but have people singing their GMs praises now.

Ruslan Salei, Colorado — Adam Foote got all the attention when he returned to the Rockies on Deadline Day ‘08, but Salei was a sneaky little pick-up by GM Francois Giguere. Acquired from Florida for Karlis Skrastins and a third-rounder, Salei is a steady puck-mover who is plus-4 in the playoffs.

Mike Ribeiro, Dallas — This may be former GM Doug Armstrong’s long-term gift to his two-headed replacement. The Habs wanted Ribeiro on the first train out of town in the summer of 2006 and all Armstrong had to do was dangle Janne Niinimaa (Swiss League, before you ask) to get a player who has turned into his team’s premier point-producer.

Brad Stuart, Detroit — In truth, Dan Cleary is the runaway winner here, but let’s shine some light on Stuart. Detroit was looking for nothing more than some defensive depth when it plucked him from L.A. at the trade deadline. But through one round, the 28-year-old blueliner averaged 20:50 of ice time per game, which places him firmly among the Red Wings’ top four rearguards.

Tom Kostopoulos, Montreal — When the Habs signed the free agent right winger to a modest two-year, $1.8-million deal last summer, they probably expected somewhere in the neighborhood of the seven goals Kostopoulos produced during the regular season. But who knew Kostopoulos is actually Greek for clutch? The gritty veteran has three goals through eight playoff games, including the overtime-winner versus Philly in Game 1.

Sean Avery, New York
— OK, I understand nothing about Avery can ever be completely under the radar, but it wasn’t exactly huge news (in the sports sections or the fashion magazines Avery fancies) when the Rangers acquired him from Los Angeles in February of 2007. His antics always out-ink his impact, but since Avery hit Broadway, the Rangers’ regular season record with him in the lineup is 50-20-16. Without the superpest, they’re 9-13-3.

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Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia — No matter how many bad shots he’s hit on the golf course this spring, I guarantee you Atlanta GM Don Waddell would most like a mulligan on the deal that sent Coburn to Philly last season in exchange for Alexei Zhitnik. True, Zhitnik helped the Thrashers squeak into last year’s playoffs, but Coburn has blossomed into a first-pair blueliner for the Flyers and brings a mix of skill and grit. At 23, he’s just starting to realize his potential.

Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh — Lucky catch or calculated move? Only Pens GM Ray Shero knows for sure. Either way, he has got to be glad Dupuis was there to help carry Marian Hossa’s bags to the airport after the biggest swap of February’s trade deadline. Hossa’s talents were well known, but show me the person who expected Dupuis to be playing alongside the big Slovak and Sid the Kid on Pittsburgh’s 1A line.

Jeremy Roenick, San Jose — Like Avery, nothing about J.R. is ever completely low key. But he was pretty much given up for dead before resurrecting his career with the Sharks in a fourth-line role this season. He responded to a Game 6 scratching with a four-point showing in Game 7, which pretty much justified his $775,000 salary on its own.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.

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