Hurricanes, Kings Swap Four Players

Friday, September 29th 2006, 2:43 pm
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ The Carolina Hurricanes traded away one of their top prospects Friday, sending promising defenseman Jack Johnson to the Los Angeles Kings in a multiplayer deal.

The defending Stanley Cup champions also sent defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky to the Kings for forward Eric Belanger and defenseman Tim Gleason.

The Hurricanes selected Johnson, a 19-year-old Michigan sophomore, with the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft, but twice in the past year he turned down offers from the team to turn professional. That prompted Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford to entertain trade offers.

``This was clearly the best offer, and clearly the best for the Hurricanes,'' Rutherford said. ``We've kind of gone back and forth _ do we wait for the development of Jack Johnson, and when does that take place, or do we take a player now that's a good young defenseman who's going to be good for a long time? As camp has wound down, that was the conclusion we all came to, that now was the time to do it.''

Johnson said the trade would not affect his timetable for turning pro and that he is concentrating on his upcoming season with the Wolverines.

``I'm here in Michigan, and that's where my focus is,'' Johnson said. ``I'm excited about my new team, but my life isn't going to change because of it.''

Rutherford said he had decided last week not to trade Johnson, but then talks with the Kings picked up.

``We just felt that we're getting a very good NHL defenseman in Tim Gleason. He's still a young guy, he still has an upside, and both of those players will come in and be with us now, instead of waiting for the development of Jack Johnson, who in my opinion is going to be a very, very good, if not great, NHL player, but probably not for another 3-4 years.

``Everybody has decisions to make. They wanted to spend another year in school. I think that in his best interests, for his development, that he should be playing pro now. He's ready to do that. The sooner he starts playing pro, the sooner he starts to develop into a real good NHL player.''

Rutherford believes the Hurricanes got good value for Johnson.

``We got two players we feel made our team a lot stronger,'' he said.

Belanger, 29, is a center who had 17 goals and 20 assists in 65 games last season with the Kings, and in five seasons in Los Angeles had 63 goals and 87 assists in 323 career games.

Gleason, 23, is entering his third NHL season and had two goals, 26 assists and 98 penalty minutes in 125 career games with the Kings.

The Hurricanes included Tverdovsky in the deal because the Kings wanted an NHL-ready defenseman to replace Gleason and Carolina was seeking financial flexibility in the future, Rutherford said.

The 30-year-old Tverdovsky had three goals, 20 assists and 37 penalty minutes last season, his only one with the Hurricanes.

``He gave us a good year, but certainly to clear that contract off our books and give us more flexibility going into next year, where we don't have a $2.5 million contract to look at, it gives us flexibility to make other decisions,'' Rutherford said.

The move came hours before the Hurricanes' final home game of the preseason against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rutherford said Belanger and Gleason would join the team Saturday and play in Sunday's preseason finale at Washington.