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Lightning deals for bulk, bucks

Trade with Islanders adds 6-foot-6, 212-pound defenseman Mathieu Biron and frees up money for the free-agent market.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 23, 2001


MIAMI -- The wheels are turning.

You could almost hear them in the mind of Lightning general manager Rick Dudley as he discussed Friday's trade with the Islanders, and the options it gives him to deal again.

The move also just about guarantees Tampa Bay will not trade the No. 3 pick in today's draft at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, where it is expected to take Russian center Alexander Svitov.

Tampa Bay sent defenseman Adrian Aucoin and forward Alexander Kharitonov to New York for defenseman Mathieu Biron and a second-round selection in next year's draft.

Biron, 21, should be around awhile as he has the size and pedigree Dudley loves. The 6-foot-6, 212-pounder was the Kings' first-round pick (21st overall) in 1998.

"He's a very good skater and he can pass," Dudley said while sitting in his room at the team's draft headquarters. "I like his upside a great deal."

But that second-round pick was acquired as bait for either a veteran, stay-at-home defenseman or a scoring forward.

"It's in the cards before the season starts," Dudley said. "We're trying to make the team better right now."

It also helped free a bundle of money, which gives the Lightning more ability to trade for an established, higher-priced name and some flexibility in the free-agent market that opens July 1.

We're not talking about trading for Alexei Yashin or signing Pierre Turgeon. But including Monday's trade of Todd Warriner to the Coyotes for forward Juha Ylonen, the Lightning has cut about $2-million from its payroll.

"We acquired an asset, a significant asset and we'll use that asset to fill up the puzzle a little bit better," Dudley said of the draft pick. "It also puts me in a comfortable position. We may not have to use our third pick in the draft to make us better immediately."

The ability to be patient means the team is more inclined to use today's first-round pick than trade. Svitov, who plays in the Russian elite league, said he would not object to a year of minor-league instruction.

"I played good so I am very confident," Svitov said through an interpreter at the prospects luncheon in Fort Lauderdale. "I don't know exactly which is the best way to play; right now or to sit out."

It appeared the Lightning was looking for a better way in February, when it sent goaltender Dan Cloutier to the Canucks for Aucoin. But Dudley said the deal was more to clear room for goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who was acquired in March from the Coyotes in a deal the general manager said was being formulated before Cloutier was moved.

"And Aucoin was absolutely the best asset we could get at the time," Dudley said.

Aucoin and his big shot were billed as the saviors for a hapless Tampa Bay power play. But Aucoin scored just once in 26 games, and struggled greatly on defense.

With Pavel Kubina and Brad Richards set to man the points on next season's power play, and with Aucoin, who made about $1.5-million last season, expected to ask for between $1.8-million and $2-million, he became expendable.

The move is a big vote of confidence for Kubina, who will switch from the right to the left side.

"We're not saying Aucoin did a bad job," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "But you have to make a decision about who can make progress in the league and give him more time there."

Kharitonov, who Dudley heralded as last year's third-round draft choice, got a lot of time, playing 66 games. But the Russian wing, though highly energetic, was never the offensive threat expected (seven goals, 14 assists in 66 games), was hampered by his 5-8, 170-pound frame and did not play the gritty game Tortorella wanted.

Dudley would not call drafting Kharitonov a mistake, and said he is sure he will continue to play in the NHL.

"The Islanders asked about him," Dudley said.

Like the Lightning asked about Biron, who had an assist and was plus-2 last season in 14 games.

The native of Lac St. Charles, Quebec, is the second big defenseman the Islanders sent to Tampa Bay. The Lightning acquired 6-6 Kristian Kudroc in the Kevin Weekes deal.

"I wasn't expecting anything about being traded," Biron said of the phone call he got Friday. "It's not fun for anybody to be traded. But when I heard it was Tampa Bay, I've only heard the team is going forward. It's always fun for a guy to grow with the team."

"It's a game," Dudley said, "of assets."

If Dudley follows through on his master plan, the Lightning should be in line for a few more.

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