Friday, 29 February 2008

Caught In A Number Crunch

When an AHL team can acquire a bonafide NHL player for their run towards the playoffs, you'd have to think that they would jump at it. When that player is a player who has played for the team before, you know whether or not you're getting quality. In sticking with this theme, the Manitoba Moose acquired defenceman Nolan Baumgartner on loan from the Dallas Stars via the Iowa Stars for their playoff run. Baumgartner may not seem like a marquee name in NHL circles, but he is a stud in the AHL circuit.

Nolan Baumgartner starred with the Moose from 2003 to 2005 where he honed his skills enough that he played in 70 games with the Vancouver Canucks in 2005-06. Teams lined up to sign the free agent after the 05-06 season ended, and Baumgartner left the Vancouver Canucks to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers for a two-year deal worth $2.4 million. The only problem was that the Flyers sent him down to their AHL club in the Phantoms, and couldn't recall him with the waiver rules. How many NHL teams would pass up a quality, young defenceman for $600,000 on the re-entry waiver?

The Dallas Stars claimed Baumgartner off waivers from the Flyers on February 27, 2007, and Baumgartner played in seven games before being shuffled off to Dallas' AHL team in Iowa. Again, he was not recalled due to that re-entry waiver rule. Baumgartner was not on Iowa's active roster when the roster freeze came this season, so the Stars offered him up to Manitoba on loan.

Clearly, Baumgartner's contract has worked against him. However, this could be a second chance for Vancouver to correct the mistake they made when they didn't sign him. He becomes a free agent in this upcoming off-season, and teams will be looking for quality, young defencemen.

However, the move by the Moose is what is more intriguing. This move could be described as player-for-cash deal. The Moose didn't make a trade to get him, and they would have had to have sweetened the deal with something. We're talking about the Moose re-acquiring their former captain and a two-time AHL all-star. This is like acquiring Ray Bourque or Niklas Lidstrom if you want to compare it to the NHL. How did the Moose pull off this larceny?

As Randy Turner from the Winnipeg Free Press wrote: "[Moose GM Craig] Heisinger wasn't about to cough up the exact cost of Baumgartner to the Moose. Regardless, fans would be encouraged to know that Moose president Mark Chipman will bring out the chequebook if he believes spending some extra coin will strengthen the club down the stretch and into the playoffs."

The Moose are clearly on a different level than some of the other AHL teams. The owner, Mark Chipman, and the GM, Craig Heisinger, have some autonomy in terms of the personnel they bring in due to their relationship with the Canucks. Had this been Lowell or Quad City, the NHL affiliate may have balked at a deal like this due to wanting their prospects in the lineup for their AHL team. The Moose, however, have the ability to fill up to six roster spots with players of their own choosing. This is the deal that was worked out with the Moose, and it clearly has worked in both clubs' favors.

I commend Mr. Chipman and Mr. Heisinger for bringing in a quality NHL defenceman who will be able to step in on the top line and make things happen. The Moose are currently in a dogfight (excuse the pun) with the Hamilton Bulldogs for second place in the North Division. Adding a player of Baumgartner's quality will certainly make the Moose a stronger and more formidable foe in this fight, and in the playoffs.

You have to love the AHL. There's no other league on the planet where a transaction like this would happen.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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