Coyotes, Flyers work trade

PHOENIX, June 12 (UPI) -- The Phoenix Coyotes traded center Michal Handzus and goaltender Robert Esche to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday for goaltender Brian Boucher and a third-round draft choice in the upcoming 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

In 41 games with Philadelphia in 2001-02, Boucher posted an 18-16-4 record with a 2.41 goals-against average. The 25-year old goaltender also had two shutouts and a .905 save percentage in his third NHL season.


Boucher, who led the Flyers to within one victory of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000, owns a career record of 46-38-12 with a 2.45 GAA. The Rhode Island native entered the 2001 season with the starting job for Philadelphia, but early struggles landed him on the bench in favor of Roman Cechmanek.

When Cechmanek was sidelined last season due to injury, Boucher filled in admirably, but found himself on the outside looking in again once Cechmanek returned.


"We weren't happy with the situation in goal here," Philadelphia general manager Bob Clarke said. "I don't think that either goaltender were happy with their own role on the team. We understood that Brian wants to be a number one goalie and Cechmanek feels that he has earned the right to be No. 1.

"I don't think that either one was very comfortable last year, although neither one of them gave us any problems. They both expressed that they felt that they deserved to be the No. 1 goalie and with the way the situation developed, Esche will back up Cechmanek and play about 20 to 25 games."

Boucher figures to remain relegated to backup duty behind Sean Burke, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after posting a 33-21-6 record with a 2.29 GAA.

"We regard Brian Boucher as one of the top young goaltenders in the National Hockey League today," Phoenix vice president and general manager Michael Barnett said. "At the age of 25, we believe that his best years are ahead of him. He has size, experience and the pure athletic skill to one day answer all of the Coyotes' needs at the most important position in hockey.


"Today's trade solidifies the Coyotes' goaltending situation for both the present and the future with Sean Burke and Brian Boucher. Sean is one of the leaders of this hockey club and he is the consummate professional. Brian will undoubtedly benefit from the on- and off-ice presence of Sean Burke and our goaltending coach Benoit Allaire."

In return for Boucher, the Flyers get the 6-5, 217-pound Handzus and 24-year old backup goalie Esche.

Handzus recorded 15 goals and 45 points in 79 games with the Coyotes in 2001-02. The 25-year old Czech Republic native, who was acquired by Phoenix from St. Louis as part of the Keith Tkachuk trade, enjoyed his best season in 1999-2000 with the Blues, scoring 25 goals and 53 points in 81 games.

"We picked up a big 6-5 center who is, in our opinion, the complete package," Clarke said of Handzus. "He can play both ends of the ice, make plays and can score goals. He will be a real top addition up front for us."

Esche appeared in 22 games with the Coyotes in 2001-02, posting a 6-10-2 record with a 2.72 GAA and a .902 save percentage. In 58 career games spanning four seasons, Esche has a record of 18-24-6 and a 2.97 GAA. Esche is expected to enter training camp as the backup for Cechmanek.


The Flyers also sent a third-round draft choice, owned by Nashville, to Phoenix. Philadelphia acquired the pick from the Predators last July in exchange for defenseman Andy Delmore.

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