Coyotes trade Torres, Sullivan, Lombardi

Veteran defenseman Derek Morris uttered prophetic words Tuesday night when asked how much he thought a 3-1 victory over the L.A. Kings might impact general manager Don Maloney’s strategy at Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.

“I would think Donnie already has his direction set,” Morris said. “I wouldn’t think one game makes a difference.”

It didn’t.

In a flurry of 11th-hour deals, the Coyotes shipped forward Raffi Torres to San Jose for a third-round pick in 2013; forward Matthew Lombardi to Anaheim for left wing Brandon McMillan (he’ll report to Portland of the AHL); and forward Steve Sullivan to New Jersey for a seventh-round pick in 2014.

All three traded players will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, making them attractive to clubs that wanted rent-a-players for the playoff push, but if you’re wondering why the Coyotes did not acquire more, it’s a simple matter of market value. All three are role players who fit a certain need for playoff teams, but none is the type who would fetch significant prospects or existing-roster players.

At the same time, remember that San Jose got Torres for a third-round pick and New Jersey got Sullivan for a seventh-round pick. The tables could be turned next season if the Coyotes are looking to add pieces. These assets could be the ones going the other way to acquire those players.

This is how the market works.

Clearly, Torres (five goals, seven assists in 28 games) had the most value since his hard-edged game is well suited for the playoffs – perhaps even more now that he has removed the recklessness from his game yet remained effective. The pick the Coyotes acquired was actually shipped to San Jose by Florida in a previous deal, meaning it will be a high pick, since the Panthers currently have the Eastern Conference’s worst record. That might pay dividends for a player the Coyotes weren’t certain they could re-sign.

“Maybe it’s not ideal you put him in your own division,” assistant general manager Brad Treliving said of Torres, “but as we completed this, it was to get the best asset we could.”

As for the others, let’s be blunt: Sullivan and Lombardi were failed experiments — Lombardi (four goals, four assists in 21 games) largely due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 15 games and prevented him from ever establishing a rhythm; Sullivan (five goals, seven assists in 33 games) because he never produced offensively, which was the primary reason he was brought here after 2011-12 leading scorer Ray Whitney signed as a free agent in Dallas.

“Obviously it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped here, and I’m disappointed about that,” said Lombardi, who has missed 115 games the past three seasons due to injuries. “That’s really all I can say.”

That’s all there is to say. If Lombardi and Sullivan had produced as hoped, the Coyotes might be four, five or six points higher in the standings and this would have been another day to watch Maloney and Treliving work at improving the club, not retooling it.

In casting aside that pair, Treliving hinted that they would not have been part of the team’s plans next season. Maloney has garnered plenty of praise for his deft, trade-deadline and offseason moves that have brought players of value at bargain prices. But he has also been deft at moving players who didn’t pan out.

Remember how Wojtek Wolski helped the team’s playoff push in 2010? Remember how quickly Maloney dealt him the following season when he didn’t continue that production?

That’s what happened Wednesday with Lombardi and Sullivan.

Naturally, the Coyotes wouldn’t admit that they have thrown in the towel on this season, even if they understand that is the perception. The most ardent Coyotes fans will back Treliving’s assertion that this as an opportunity for young players to shine in what he termed “a steep climb” to the playoffs.

“The balancing act we tried to do today was maximize the return on some of our unrestricted players without impacting our roster,” he said, noting that some of the moves the team didn’t make, like dealing goalie Mike Smith (who the team still wants to re-sign) and center Boyd Gordon were “with the idea of trying to push forward this year.”

The reality is that this was not a playoff team as it was composed. Barring a minor miracle over the season’s final quarter, it will not be a playoff team when this month ends, either. Maybe some of Wednesday’s moves will help the club change that next season.

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