By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|Wade Belak (Getty Images)
The Panthers started taking the shape Tuesday afternoon GM and coach Jacques Martin has wanted all season – bigger, faster and, yes, finally, a whole lot tougher.
The Panthers made three moves during Tuesday’s NHL trade deadline that Martin hopes will make them a contender for the playoffs this year and the future.
The Panthers acquired tough guy Wade Belak and hard-hitting forward Chad Kilger from the Maple Leafs for draft picks while trading Ruslan Salei to Colorado in exchange for iron man defenseman Karlis Skrastins.
Due to immigration issues, Martin wasn’t sure whether Kilger and/or Belak would be in uniform Wednesday when the Panthers play host at BankAtlantic Center to the Maple Leafs.
Belak, a 6-5, 220-pounder from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has had six fighting majors this year (eight last season) in 30 games while averaging 4:02 a game. He has one goal (seven lifetime). The Panthers gave up a fifth-round draft pick for Belak, 31, who was drafted 12th overall in the 1994 Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques. Belak has played in Colorado, Calgary and, the past seven seasons, in Toronto.
|Chad Kilger (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) |
Kilger, drafted fourth overall by the Ducks in 1995, has 10 goals and seven assists in 53 games this season. After playing on six different teams his first nine years in the league, Kilger had been a Maple Leaf since being claimed off waivers from Montreal in 2004.
Kilger, 31, scored 14 goals for the Leafs last season (28 points) and 17 in 2005-06.
Skrastins, a 6-1, 210-pound stay-at-home defenseman is best known for breaking the NHL record for most consecutive games played by an NHL defenseman. He eclipsed the previous mark of 486 games last season set by Tim Horton. The 33-year-old defenseman, a native of Latvia drafted by Nashville in the eighth round of the 1998 Entry Draft, has a goal and three assists this season in 43 games with 20 penalty minutes.
Martin addressed the acquisition of the three players to the South Florida media.
“I feel that we addressed several issues we’ve had,” Martin said. “We’ve continued developing our plan which is important. The first one is the acquisition of Wade Belak. We’ve talked numerous times this season, (and) I’ve had questions from our fans, what about our toughness? We’ve acquired an individual now that legitimately is a tough guy. A heavyweight. He can also play. Great character. He played with Joe (Panther special assistant Nieuwendyk). He knows him. He has some flexibility like Monty (Steve Montador). He’s become more of a forward now.
|Karlis Skrastins |
“As you know we lost (Richard) Zednik a couple weeks ago. I think with Kilger, he’s an individual who can play with Olli (Jokinen) on the right side or left. He’s a big guy who can get some pucks out for him. He’s got good speed, he’s a good skater. He’s a first-round pick.
“I felt for what we paid for Salei ($3.02 million), I wasn’t happy. We got an individual (in Skrastins) who is a heart-and-soul individual.”
Despite being six games out of first place in the Southeast Division and the eighth playoff spot, Martin believes the Panthers are heading in the right direction.
“We have people coming back from injuries with a couple weeks,” he said. “(Stephen) Weiss, (Radek) Dvorak, (Jozef) Stumpel, (Noah) Welch, and (Mike) Van Ryn. That’s going to be a big part for our push. Now with the acquisition of Belak and Kilger for the toughness part, we’re set to push toward the playoffs.”