Falcons Hit Hard at Trading Deadline

By Doug Manners

The NHL trading deadline is now a thing of the past. The same can be said for a large number of the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons, and possibly for the team’s playoff hopes, too.

Historically, the trading deadline has never been kind to the Falcons. They have become accustomed to losing key players and seeing little or nothing in return. However, the Falcons were hit especially hard this season, losing five players via trade and two to recall since Saturday night. A total of seven players that were on the Falcons’ roster over the past 72 hours are now honing their skills in another jersey.

Four of those players are headed to the Pittsburgh Penguins, or their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Left wing Ramzi Abid, defenseman Dan Focht and left wing Guillaume Lefebvre were traded by the Phoenix Coyotes to Pittsburgh in exchange for left wing Jan Hrdina and defenseman Francois Leroux today.

Abid was sent to Springfield on Saturday after spending the past three months in Arizona. He still ranks third on the team in goals with 15, and fifth in points with 25. Abid’s presence would have gone a long in way in aiding Springfield’s sagging offense, which has scored two or fewer goals in eight of its last nine games. He would have also helped out on the power play, where he is known for creating havoc in front of the net and scoring goals on the man advantage.

Focht departs Springfield after playing in seven consecutive seasons with the Falcons. He’ll be replaced in the line-up by Leroux, who like Focht is a big, strong defenseman at 6-foot-6, 247-pounds. Leroux played for the Falcons from 1999-2001 before jumping the pond to play in Germany last season. He has 124 penalty minutes in 57 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, but also holds a -15 plus-minus rating, which is the second-worst on the team.

Lefebvre left before the Falcons ever got to know him. He was picked-up by Phoenix yesterday from Philadelphia in the trade that sent Tony Amonte to the Flyers. Lefebvre was then assigned to the Falcons after spending the majority of this season in the AHL with the Philadelphia Phantoms.

Also following the parade to Pittsburgh was veteran forward Brian Holzinger. The Tampa Bay Lightning dealt him today to the Penguins for defenseman Marc Bergevin, a member of the Springfield Indians’ Calder Cup championship teams in 1990 and 1991. Holzinger averaged nearly a point-per-game in 28 contests with Springfield, producing six goals and 20 assists.

The Falcons were dealt another blow even after the three o’clock deadline passed when they were informed that the team’s leading scorer, rookie Jeff Taffe, had been recalled by the Coyotes. Taffe leads the team in just about every offensive category.

In addition to those moves, the Falcons lost left wing Darcy Hordichuk on Saturday night when the Coyotes shipped him, along with a draft pick, to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Brad Ference. And, on Monday, the Lightning recalled left wing Jimmie Olvestad after his two-week conditioning assignment in Springfield had concluded.

The Falcons are most likely stuck with what they’ve got. There’s a possibility that defenseman Darren Rumble could be sent to Springfield as the Lightning claimed blueliner Janne Laukanen off waivers from the New York Rangers this afternoon. But, Rumble would have to be placed on waivers in order to be assigned. He’s been a frequent healthy scratch of late for the Lightning, and it’s doubtful that’s about to change anytime soon.

The loss of so many players puts the pressure on the remaining group of guys to produce. Center Jason Bonsignore will undoubtedly see action after spending nearly a month as a healthy scratch. Rookie defenseman Michael Schutte should also return to action. And center Peter Fabus, who has been a healthy scratch for more games than any other player on the team, may finally have a chance to prove himself to the coaching staff.

And with the playoffs on the line, rookie head coach Marty McSorley is faced with the difficult task of getting this team into the playoffs despite a depleted roster, an unfavorable schedule and the streaking Albany River Rats, who have moved to within three points of Springfield for the tenth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After hosting Providence tomorrow, the Falcons finish the season by playing nine of 13 games on the road. Two of those four final home contests, however, will be against Albany.

Of course, the Falcons still control their own destiny. Their future lies in their own hands. But after today, will those hands be good enough to avoid missing the postseason for the third consecutive season?