Message Board
Minor Leagues

Monday, March 12
Updated: March 14, 10:45 AM ET
'Chemistry' altered by circumstance

By Terry Frei
Special to

In sports, including in discussions of the NHL, the term "chemistry" is misunderstood, often oversimplified and too frequently thrown out as some sort of astute-sounding bluff.

Keith Tkachuk
With trade rumors swirling, Keith Tkachuk and the Coyotes haven't been celebrating much lately.
Just talk about chemistry, because the very ineffability of the concept makes it difficult to refute or disparage the argument.

Fact is, "good" chemistry doesn't even have to involve harmony, since friction and combustibility sometimes can be the antidote to complacency. And isn't it an amazing coincidence that teams with more talent tend to have better chemistry than teams with less talent?

That's a fancy way of saying: Yes, a lot of this "chemistry" talk is just so much smoke. Or it's even the stuff you have to avoid stepping in as you're visiting animals being groomed to enter a ring and face a matador.

So now that we have belittled the "chemistry" concept -- maybe it's lingering resentment from that grade on the midterm -- we'll tackle the subject anyway as the digital clock continues to count down on the NHL trading deadline. (Dick Clark reportedly is in a roost above Times Square, overlooking the ESPN Zone and the TKTS booth, awaiting the ball to drop, and hoping the Rangers acquire Keith Tkachuk.)

Even in a league that ridiculously allows trades to be made as late as 70 games into an 82-game season, thus emphasizing that its regular-season is an insignificant prelude, chemistry does come into play.

The late trades involving teams with serious playoff hopes are risky, virtually under any circumstances. That's even if a quality veteran is added without major immediate cost -- and the price is either prospects or draft choices.

Any change alters the formula.

Also, the looming of the deadline helps create such artificial pressures, the turmoil affects a team -- both on the ice and elsewhere.

That's a chemistry issue.

The Kings were underachieving and weary of the ongoing catfight between Rob Blake and the front office and ownership. (By the way, that "cheapskate" Kings owner, Phil Anschutz, has just committed to an additional $30 million donation to the University of Colorado Hospital in his home area of Denver. He and Blake have not gone to dinner since the trade, though.) Blake is a consummate professional in many ways, but the public airing of dirty laundry was unseemly, and the blame for that goes all around the bargaining table.

And it hurt the Kings on the ice.

So since the trade, even with Adam Deadmarsh missing some games with an injured hand, the Kings have gone 6-3-2 and are back in the hunt for a playoff spot. And one of the reasons is that the Coyotes continue to muddle along at a .500 clip while the trading winds swirl.

Tkachuk, for some mysterious reason, wears the 'C' in Phoenix, and now that the Coyotes have been fielding offers for him and Jeremy Roenick, the Coyotes have been playing like a tentative bunch of guys waiting for the cell phone to ring.
Tkachuk, for some mysterious reason, wears the "C" in Phoenix, and now that the Coyotes have been fielding offers for him and Jeremy Roenick, the Coyotes have been playing like a tentative bunch of guys waiting for the cell phone to ring.

In Colorado, the Avs have been rolling since the deal, and all is copacetic. Blake is fitting in, playing in a tandem with Ray Bourque. But Peter Forsberg also has awakened, Ville Nieminen has capably stepped into Deadmarsh's right-wing role on the Forbserg line, and the Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk-Alex Tanguay line has remained electric.

When Adam Foote, the third marquee defenseman, returns from his shoulder injury either late this month or in early April, the Avs will have the pleasant problem of trying to figure out whether to leave Bourque and Blake paired full-time or to rotate the pairings. But it's still tampering with chemistry. Also, at the inevitable gut-check times of adversity in the playoffs, Blake has to come off as something other than a guy merely passing through as a mercenary rental.

The Avs done a remarkable job of avoiding Sakic's pending unrestricted free agency to be a Blake-ish distraction all season, but the questions and speculation about the future of the core also can be a Sword of Damocles in the playoffs...if the Avs allow it to be.

Deadmarsh's wife, Christa, has remained in Denver, where the couple's newborn twins remained in intensive care until last week -- nearly two months after their births. Both he and Miller were respected and liked in the Colorado dressing room, and that won't be a major issue until the time comes for Blake to confirm he's not treating this a short-term commitment -- along the lines of playing on the Olympic team.

In San Jose, the Sharks trumpeted Jeff Friesen as a member of their young core. Then, fast as you can say, "ESPN The Magazine Photo Shoot," he goes to the Mighty Ducks as part of the price for Teemu Selanne, the Finnish scorer who hasn't won a thing in his career and underwent minor knee surgery after the deal. Because of Steve Shield's injury, trading him to Ducks in the deal wasn't as risky as it originally seemed, because the San Jose almost certainly would have had to go with Evgeni Nabokov, anyway.

And you don't think all this Eric Lindros talk has bugged the heck out of the Maple Leafs? They have said so, and it has been a distraction. Now if he goes to the Blues, that at least could be a counterpoint amid all the St. Louis injury problems, but it's also a risk for a team that got the most out of its talent the past two seasons -- especially when so many guys were hurt.

But again, there is less than a month left in the regular season. Potential unrestricted free agency and contract issues won't go away if the deadline is moved up to the All-Star break, or sooner. There probably would be fewer deals, because any team conducting a fire sale has to be admitting it has no playoff ambition with half the season remaining.

And the teams with playoff ambitions would be more likely to analyze a potential trade to death.

After all, one wrong move could increase the damage should the chemistry experiment go awry.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to His feedback email address is

 More from ESPN...'s NHL Trade Tracker kept track of deals ...

Blues go big: Tkachuk acquired for three players

Tkachuk warms up to new reality
New Blues forward Keith ...

Melrose: Blues will love Tkachuk
Keith Tkachuk is a great ...

Morganti: St. Louis, the center of attention
After the Blues acquired ...

No deal means Lindros' season over

Trade roundup: Habs send Linden, Zubrus to Caps

Cup-winning question: To trade or not to trade?
If history is any value, few ...

Terry_Frei Archive

 ESPN Tools
Email story
Most sent
Print story