Saturday December 15th, 2007

Needing to clear out some salary to accommodate the return of prodigal son Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim GM Bryan Burke had two options: a cap deal or a hockey deal.

Burke managed to do both, reaffirming his status as one of the best in the game, with a swap Friday that sent Andy McDonald to the St. Louis Blues for veteran Doug Weight, prospect Michal Birner and a draft pick.

At first glance, the Blues emerge as the clear winners for acquiring the younger, faster, and potentially more effective McDonald. The 30-year-old center had 27 goals and 51 assists last season, and earned a spot in the Western Conference lineup for the 2007 NHL All-Star game. But absent the services of triggerman Teemu Selanne, he's struggled this season, chipping in just four goals and 16 assists in 33 games. McDonald's always been a complementary star rather than a go-to guy, and he failed to find the same chemistry with Todd Bertuzzi and Andy Miller that he had with the Finnish Flash.

There are some interesting options in St. Louis, including Paul Kariya, who McDonald centered for three seasons in Anaheim, so expect him to rediscover his form and help solidify an impressive top-six group.

McDonald is also in the second year of a three-year, $10 million contract. That certainty buys another year of development time for St. Louis' impressive, but very young, stable of prospects.

High marks to Blues president John Davidson and GM Larry Pleau for another step in a rebuilding effort that's just as impressive as the more publicized one underway in Philadelphia.

Though Anaheim picked up the lesser player, along with a pair of minor assets, Ducks fans have two, and possibly three, reasons to be satisfied with their end of the bargain, even before considering the merits of Weight.

First, Burke managed to clear the necessary tagging room for Niedermayer without moving a defenseman. With the Norris finalist back patrolling his beat, Anaheim's six-man corps is clearly the class of the league. They won't catch Detroit in the standings, but this deep blueline ensures the Ducks are capable of taking on the Red Wings when it matters this spring. It also means that Mathieu Schneider -- a player thought to be on the move -- will still be on hand next season when Niedermayer is expected to make his retirement permanent.

Second, the most important name in this equation is one that won't be changing sweaters -- Corey Perry. In the last year of his contract, Weight will be off the books next season. That means the $3.3 million the Ducks had committed to the final year of McDonald's deal now can be earmarked for Perry. After being burned by an offer sheet last June that cost him Dustin Penner, Burke couldn't allow the team's leading goal scorer to get to restricted free agency this summer.

Third, Burke now has a little wiggle room in his 2007-08 salary commitments, and that suggests he's not done tinkering with this roster. He might have enough to accommodate the eventual return of Selanne, who remains in Finland with his wife and newborn daughter. And if not Selanne, then perhaps someone who can bring more to the table than the offensively-challenged Ducks are getting out of their current group of wingers.

For his part, Weight is clearly a player in decline and expecting him to pick up McDonald's slack on offense is pointless. Still, he brings some grit and a big heart that should fit in nicely with the character of the defending champs, and he could prove very effective in a supporting role.

The deal also proved the negligible value of a no-trade clause. According to several sources, Weight, who was given an NTC when he re-signed with the team last summer, had absolutely no interest in leaving the Blues, and it was his unwillingness to waive it that held up the deal.

But nobody wants to be where they're not wanted, and there are suggestions his time with the team was coming to an end, one way or another. Essentially it came down to going to a Cup contender like the Ducks, or take his chances with whatever cellar-dwelling team might claim him were he to be put on waivers. A tough position for a heart-and-soul guy like Weight, but he made the right call.

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