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Stars answer the Flames as arms race escalates in Western Conference

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Dallas added first-line winger Ladislav Nagy from the Phoenix Coyotes, filling a huge need for the low-scoring Stars, a move that came on the heels of Calgary's terrific acquisition late Saturday night of defenceman Brad Stuart and checking centre Wayne Primeau from the Boston Bruins.

"Now I hope everybody else just stays still until the 28th," Stars GM Doug Armstrong said with a laugh Monday.

He knows that's not going to happen. But he also insisted that his move Monday was not influenced by what his Western Conference rivals may or may not do.

"No, we wanted to add a player, this wasn't to counteract what Calgary did or what Detroit may do, etc., this was the right player for our team at the right time," Armstrong told The Canadian Press.

One should also not forget Western Conference-leading Nashville, who on Saturday picked up solid defenceman Vitaly Vishnevski from Atlanta.

Vishnevski, Nagy, Stuart and Primeau are all unrestricted free agents July 1, the favourite currency this time of year for teams that are buyers.

For the sellers, otherwise known as teams not making the playoffs, the point is to try and get something in return for a player that will otherwise walk away for free this summer.

"If you have a player that's rightfully intent on exploring his value on the open market, you have to then ascertain what you feel is reasonable value for him in order to keep your organization's asset base strong," Coyotes GM Mike Barnett said Monday.

Barnett did well to fetch a first-round pick from the Stars, as well as checking forward Mathias Tjarnqvist.

"We had discussions with several teams with what we felt was appropriate compensation and the first team that came to us in agreement with our asking price was the one that we made the deal with," said Barnett.

Armstrong looked at last year's trades in and around the trade deadline. Doug Weight cost Carolina a first-rounder while the Predators paid the same price for defenceman Brendan Witt.

Knowing the past, the Stars GM didn't want to wait.

"I just thought that if history is any indication, you can hold out with a second-round pick and you might not get the player," said Armstrong. "Or you can potentially pay more than you would have had do but you know you got the player. And we decided to make sure we got the player we wanted."

Flames GM Darryl Sutter also didn't want to wait around for Feb. 27 to address his needs. After reacquiring centre Craig Conroy from Los Angeles on Jan. 29, he swooped in over the weekend and picked up Stuart, the most coveted blue-liner on the market.

Not to ignore Primeau, an excellent third-line centre who will fit in well on the blue-collar Flames.

"We left room in our budget all year to be able to make a couple of moves if we felt we were a good enough team," Sutter told CP on Monday.

It cost him 24-year-old winger Chuck Kobasew and 27-year-old defenceman Andrew Ference, a package that beat out the other six serious offers that the Bruins got for Stuart.

"The key for me was Chuck and we wouldn't have done it if we didn't look at our organization and see how well kids such as (David) Moss have done, and we have three or four more guys there (AHL) and five guys in junior that are all scoring, too," said Sutter.

"So we felt that's what it would cost us to get a defenceman and we were prepared for it."

A popular theory is that Sutter is going for it now because Calgary's window is in the next two years. Core stars Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Miikka Kiprusoff are all slated for unrestricted free agency in July 2008.

But Sutter downplayed that.

"Quite honestly, when you feel you're a good enough team, every year is your window," said Sutter. "There's nothing to say we won't have the same team in two years or in three years other than losing two or three older players. Just because guys are free agents doesn't mean they're going anywhere."

Calgary's Alberta cousins in Edmonton were the team identified as dying for help on the blue-line (and the Oilers still are), but Sutter felt his team also needed a boost there despite the presence of Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Roman Hamrlik and Rhett Warrener.

"I think when you look at our defence, there's quite a few times this year when Hamrlik and Phaneuf and are hitting 30 minutes," said Sutter. "You're not going to go very far doing that. I think there's two or three guys in the league that can do that but not a 22-year-old defenceman and not a 33-year-old defenceman."

Armstrong's need was more obvious. The Stars rank 23rd in the NHL in goals per game and only Vancouver is lower among Western Conference teams currently holding down a playoff spot.

Dallas had long ago targeted a scoring forward.

"Nagy's a player that we know well, we've competed against him for a number of years," said Armstrong. "With the injury to Brenden Morrow (out until mid-March), and the thought of Nagy possibly playing with (Mike) Modano and (Jere) Lehtinen, it gives them an experienced player who can pass and shoot - it just seemed like a good fit for us."

Both Armstrong and Sutter face one similar question - will they try and keep their new players?

"One thing we learned when we traded for Willie Mitchell last season (at the deadline), I think we just confused the issue by talking contract," said Armstrong. "I think we'll just allow Nagy to play and we'll deal with it when the season is over."

Stuart, from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., would seem a natural fit to stay in his home province.

"It's a two-way street," said Sutter. "The player has to evaluate what they think, too. If we do well and they do well, I think there's an opportunity for them.

"If not, then so be it, that's the way it works."


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