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Imagine the Turek factor

Had then-owner Art Williams okay'd trade for goalie, who knows where Lightning would be.

By TOM JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


TAMPA -- One word -- a little word, at that -- might have changed the Lightning's fortunes. Not only this season but in the future. One word might have ruined a franchise. Or saved it. Or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference.

But one thing is for sure. That one little word changed the complexion of the Lightning. Now and forever.

No.

That's what former owner Art Williams said late in the afternoon of June 20, 1999.

Williams was in the process of selling the team to Bill Davidson. The Davidson group had hired Rick Dudley to run hockey operations, pending completion of the sale. Dudley's priority was to acquire a goalie, and he struck a deal with the Stars for Roman Turek. It is believed the Lightning was sending Darcy Tucker to Dallas.

Dudley agreed to the deal. Dallas agreed. Davidson's people agreed. But Williams, who still owned the team, said, "No."

Why? Only Williams knew, and he refused to say. Maybe he was worried the sale would fall through and he would have to re-sign Turek, who was a restricted free agent. Maybe he feared he would be stuck with Turek's signing bonus if Turek signed before the sale closed. The best guess: Williams was irritated that the sale was dragging, so to get the Davidson people moving, he killed the deal.

Within an hour of William's rejection, the desperate Stars, who were going to lose Turek in the expansion draft, sent the goalie to St. Louis for a third-round pick in the amateur draft.

And what a deal it was for the Blues, who come into tonight's game at the Ice Palace with a league-best 103 points. Turek is a favorite for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's top goalie. He is first in goals-against average (1.92) and shutouts (6), tied for first in wins (39) and is an incredible 21-4-4 in his past 29 decisions.

"I don't know much about him, but I do know one thing: His record is pretty good," Lightning coach Steve Ludzik said. "Who knows what all would've happened if he would've been traded here?"

It's fun to think about. When Williams killed the deal, dominoes started to fall.

A week later, Dudley traded the No. 1 pick in the draft to get his goalie: Dan Cloutier. He also picked up forward Niklas Sundstrom and the Rangers' first- and third-round picks in this year's draft. Sundstrom and the third-round pick were then traded to San Jose for four players, including defenseman Andrei Zyuzin.

Also, Tucker would have been gone, meaning this season's deal with Toronto for forward Mike Johnson and defenseman Marek Posmyk never would have happened.

"If we make the Turek deal, we don't have the Rangers' No. 1 pick this year, and we don't have Andrei Zyuzin, a player we really cherish, a player we think will be an outstanding defenseman," Dudley said. "And we don't get Dan Cloutier, whom we still fully believe is going to be a great goalie. We wouldn't have a lot of things I'm glad we have now."

But the Lightning would have had the No. 1 pick to use on one of the draft's top players or for a different trade, though Dudley said that likely would not have happened. Yet Lightning fans look at Turek's success and Cloutier's struggles and wonder what might have been.

"You can't look at Roman Turek's season and say if he would've been a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he would've had the same season. That's not fair," Dudley said.

There's little doubt Turek is playing behind a much better team than Cloutier, particularly defensively. Turek faces an average of 24 shots a game. Cloutier faces 30, on average. Turek has faced 97 more shots than Cloutier despite playing 12 more games. Turek has faced 17 shots or fewer 11 times. Once, he faced 10 shots. That's a decent period for Tampa Bay.

"Plus, Turek will be 30 (in May), while Cloutier is only 23," Dudley said. "Turek probably has a couple of good years left, but Cloutier, we believe, will be good for years and years.

"I don't know what happens if the Turek deal had gone through, but I can say we're not unhappy with the way things have turned out. We gained assets out of all this. We're happy."

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