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Kostya Kennedy
July 16, 2001
Guns ReloadedThe Western Conference's elite teams all got better with big-name trades and signings
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July 16, 2001

The Nhl

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Guns Reloaded
The Western Conference's elite teams all got better with big-name trades and signings

The mind-boggling player movement of the past two weeks has proved that the high-powered Western Conference is nearly as exciting in the summer as it is during the season. Each of the West's top four teams made dramatic moves. "Maybe we still have holes, but every team has holes," says Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who acquired Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. "We're all trying to make the deal that puts us over the top."

Here's a look at how the Big Four have positioned themselves for what should be another glorious season of showdowns in the wild, wild West.

Avalanche: Re-signed goalie Patrick Roy, center Joe Sakic and defenseman Rob Blake. Lost or traded defensemen Ray Bourque and Jon Klemm and forwards Chris Dingman and Dave Reid.

What it means for next season: The return of Roy, Sakic and Blake ensures that the Stanley Cup champ will be the team to beat. The blue line losses make Colorado vulnerable on the back end of its defense, so Martin Skoula, 21, will have to make significant progress after an uneven sophomore season.

Blues: Added forwards Doug Weight and Mike Keane, goalie Fred Brathwaite and defenseman Rich Pilon. Lost or traded forwards Pierre Turgeon, Jochen Hecht and Marty Reasoner and goalie Roman Turek.

What it means for next season: The Blues were heartbroken that the Wings beat them to Hasek. Veteran Brathwaite is a decent complement to talented sophomore Brent Johnson, but St. Louis has the most suspect goaltending of the Big Four. Expect the team to deal for a veteran, such as the Rangers' Mike Richter, late next season. Weight is a dazzling playmaker who could turn winger Keith Tkachuk into a 50-goal man again. Keane is a puckhound who thrives under pressure.

Red Wings: Added Hasek and left wing Luc Robitaille. Lost or traded forwards Slava Kozlov, Martin Lapointe, Doug Brown and Pat Verbeek.

What it means for next season: Hasek, the Vezina Trophy winner, should cover the blemishes of Detroit's aging defensive corps, and now the Wings can trade former No. 1 goalie Chris Osgood, who's only 28, for a snarling blueliner. Robitaille adds a dangerous sniper to one of the top two lines.

Stars: Added forwards Turgeon, Donald Audette, Valeri Kamensky and Rob DiMaio. Lost forwards Brett Hull (a free agent who's not expected to re-sign with Dallas) and Keane.

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