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Cup on the block: Right deal can lead to championship

The Stanley Cup final won't be played until June. But someone could win the Cup in the next two days.

Last-minute moves can turn a pretender into a champion.

For example, would the Penguins have won the 1991 Stanley Cup had they not acquired Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson right before the trading deadline? Would they have repeated had they not traded for Rick Tocchet and Kjell Samuelsson? Or what about the 1994 Rangers, who used the final hours to land Glenn Anderson, Brian Noonan, Stephane Matteau and Craig MacTavish?

Some teams have made their moves. New Jersey won the Doug Gilmour sweepstakes, and Washington welcomed Adam Oates, Tocchet and Bill Ranford. But what, if anything, will the other teams in the playoff hunt do?

Well, here are the hottest rumors going as Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline approaches.

Florida needs scoring and, having lost out on Oates and Gilmour, has targeted Calgary forwards Robert Reichel and Dave Gagner. Calgary would want Bill Lindsay or Mike Hough _ two players who played for Calgary coach Pierre Page in Quebec. Lindsay is more desirable because he is 25.

If the Panthers can't work a deal with Calgary, they might askthe Islanders about forwards Marty McInnis and Derek King or Toronto about Kirk Muller.

Several teams are looking for goalies, including Montreal, Dallas, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. Montreal needs a starter (Rick Tabaracci, perhaps?) and the others seek backups. Pittsburgh would like San Jose's Kelly Hrudey.

Los Angeles will trade Ray Ferraro to the highest bidder. Calgary, Hartford and Chicago have shown the most interest. Chicago has put Sergei Krivokrasov on the block.

Two teams looking to make one last run at a Cup are the Penguins and Rangers. Both are going after Vancouver's Alexander Mogilny. The Canucks want Christian Dube and a first-round pick from the Rangers or Kevin Hatcher from the Penguins. Pittsburgh is willing to part with Hatcher, but only if it gets Trevor Linden. For the right return, Pittsburgh could part with Petr Nedved.

St. Louis likes Ottawa defenseman Steve Duchesne, and Tampa Bay could use another defenseman.

SOUR GRAPES: Never one to shy away from a controversy, Canadian broadcaster and former Bruins coach Don Cherry ripped the Boston organization after the trade with Washington.

"Obviously, the trade was made to save money," Cherry said. "I don't think there's been a deal of three quality players like these to the same team in NHL history. And isn't it strange how the star players always get embarrassed in Boston? It seems the only one they don't embarrass is Ray Bourque, and he doesn't speak out."

Cherry pointed to highly publicized benchings of Tocchet and retired star Cam Neely. He also mentioned the team's criticism of Oates and the arbitration case with Ranford. And he saved a shot for coach Steve Kasper, whom Cherry has never liked.

"(This trade) lets Kasper off the hook," Cherry said. "Now he can say that you can't blame him."

FALLEN KING: Former Kings owner Bruce McNall went to federal prison last week to begin serving 70 months for two counts of bank fraud, one of wire fraud and one of conspiracy. Although no one defends his illegal activities, many credit McNall with moving the NHL out of the dark ages.

He brought Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles, helping pave the way for the NHL to expand to nontraditional hockey sites San Jose, Anaheim, Dallas, Miami and Tampa Bay. He helped get the NHL a real television contact with ESPN. And he encouraged the league to start marketing superstars, like the NBA and NFL.

"He made his mistakes, and he knows he has to pay for it," former Kings forward Luc Robitaille said. "But I still think he's a good person. What he did for the game, everybody has forgot it. He came in and turned around the whole game when everybody was just sitting back. I think he did a lot more good than bad, but if you're one of the persons who lost money on this deal, obviously, you're not going to agree with me."

Obviously the Kings don't agree either. They've removed all mention of McNall in the history section of their media guide.

THE HAB NOTS: How's this for a defense: Chris Chelios, Craig Ludwig, Jyrki Lumme, Sylvain Lefebvre, Petr Svoboda, Kevin Haller, Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider and Lyle Odelein. Pretty good, huh?

Well, that's what Montreal would have had it not traded them all the past six years.

Instead, the Canadiens have the worst defensive team in the NHL. The net return of players still on the roster from the trades: Mark Recchi and Vladimir Malakhov.

Of course, the Canadiens' recent history suggests they haven't done a good job trading forwards or goalies either. Do the names Claude Lemieux, Pierre Turgeon and Patrick Roy ring a bell?

ODDS AND ENDS: Boston's Steve Heinze, out since Dec. 17 after a check from Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis, has given up on this season. He had season-ending abdominal surgery Friday. Buffalo coach Ted Nolan has been offered a three-year contract, but likely will wait until the summer see if another team can better the deal. Good news for Calgary's Aaron Gavey. The former Lightning center does not have the same type of neck injury that ended Gary Roberts' career. Gavey has not been cleared to play, but the injury is being called whiplash and he is expected to make a full recovery. Pat LaFontaine practiced with the Sabres last week, but his return to the lineup this season isn't likely. Colorado's Joe Sakic, who is eligible to become a Group II free agent in the summer, has shut down negotiations withthe Avalanche until after the playoffs. The Canadiens are not convinced Jocelyn Thibault is the second coming of Roy, so they've set their sights on French-Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo in this summer's draft. Luongo, from Val D'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was the star of the last month's prospects game at Toronto. To help improve the Pens' dreadful defense, GM/coach Craig Patrick has added a former defenseman, Craig Hillier, to his coaching staff.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.