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Slick agreement saves Tallas for Bruins

By Russ Conway
Eagle-Tribune Writer

FLEETCENTER -- For the past four seasons, 26-year-old Bruins' back-up goalie Rob Tallas has made his share of good stops. Friday, his Boston bosses saved him.

And what an education it was in how to beat the system.

Skirting the rules which prohibited trades between the end of Stanley Cup playoffs through the end of yesterday's expansion draft, the Bruins held on to Tallas thanks to a ''gentlemen's agreement.''

Stocking their club by taking one unprotected player each from 26 National Hockey League clubs (Nashville was exempt), the new Atlanta Thrashers wanted Tallas but agreed not to take him.

A side deal to keep Tallas, brewing since The Eagle-Tribune first reported it June 6, wasn't finalized between Bruins' assistant general manager Mike O'Connell and Atlanta GM Don Waddell until Friday
morning.

About as crafty and convoluted as they come, yet legitimate, here's how it went down.

Atlanta ended up with Randy Robitaille, a 24-year-old center. He was the American Hockey League's Most Valuable Player this season with Boston's minor league team in Providence with 28 goals and 102 points.

Ironically, Atlanta got a player that wasn't even available.  Robitaille was a protected Bruin in the draft, Tallas was left unprotected and Boston got away with it.

When other general managers realize today what really happened, they'll be shaking their heads. This was a pretty slick move.

''We didn't want to have to go out and try to find another goaltender,'' O'Connell admitted afterwards. ''Technically, there's no deal in place but there is a deal. We made an arrangement, an agreement, let's put it that way. It won't be finalized until trading can resume and the league finalizes it.''

In requesting Atlanta to pass on Tallas, the Bruins needed a game plan.

By league rules, trades were prohibited until today.

Another sticky point, according to draft rules, was that Atlanta could only pick one goalie who was a restricted free agent (an unsigned player up for contract renewal, under age 31). The Thrashers were
looking at two, Tallas and Tampa's Corey Schwab. They took Schwab while giving Tallas a free pass.

With second team all-star goalie Byron Dafoe also up for contract, but protected by the Bruins, the possibility of him holding out until after next season starts is realistic. So as insurance, the Bruins
couldn't risk losing Tallas.

Complicating matters was the fact that Atlanta wasn't interested in any other player the Bruins had left on their unprotected list. Yet the expansion draft rules allow only unprotected players to be chosen.

A challenging dilemma needing a two-way solution.

O'Connell made several pitches for an ''arrangement'' with Atlanta's brass, combinations of unprotected players and draft picks, but they were all rejected.

Doing some more brainstorming, with Bruin president Harry Sinden now involved to make some suggestions, they found a way to keep Tallas and make Atlanta happy.

Predetermining which players they would take in the rest of the draft, the Thrashers realized they needed an offensive player. Of the players they chose yesterday, they collectively accounted for only 70 goals
and 197 points in the NHL last season.

Who was supposed to do their scoring?

''It was important to keep Robbie,'' said O'Connell. ''Looking at our lineup, for Randy Robitaille to make our team, he would have had to be a top 1- or 2-line player. We've got Jason Allison and Joe Thornton
there with Cameron Mann, Shawn Bates, Eric Nicklaus and Andre Savage coming along.

In other words, the Bruins are deep at center.

''And Peter Ferraro coming back,'' O'Connell added.

Ah, there's the other part of this nice little agreement. Ferraro, a Thrasher for a day.

Atlanta chose Ferraro, the Calder Cup Most Valuable Player for Providence, in the expansion draft because Boston left him unprotected. But as part of the agreement, Atlanta promised to return
him to the Bruins today in exchange for Robitaille.

So you think putting together the new outdoor barbecue, step by step, using a 15-page instruction booklet is complicated?

The Bruins did more fancy stick-handling than Jaromir Jagr to pull this one off.

''Quite a deal,'' yours truly said out loud, immediately drawing a cringe from Sinden.

''We're not supposed to say there's a deal, or a trade,'' he insisted, trying to keep a straight face. ''It's an agreement, subject to league approval.''

A gentleman's agreement to save the Bruins a pretty good goaltender.

A nod here, a wink there. It worked.

Russ Conway is an Eagle-Tribune columnist. If you have questions, comments or material to add on this subject, please feel free to contact him by phone at 685-1000, by mail at Box 100, Lawrence, MA  01842 or by e-mail at rconway@eagletribune.com.

CopyrightŠ 1999 Eagle-Tribune Publishing.

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