By ANDY RESNIK, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Doug MacLean accomplished three goals with one trade.
The president and general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets dealt goalie Ron Tugnutt to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, giving his team another draft pick, more ice time for younger players and financial flexibility.
Tugnutt got Columbus a first-round selection, the 20th overall pick, in this weekend's draft. Marc Denis, 24, now becomes the starter in goal, and MacLean hopes he can lure a free-agent goal scorer to the Blue Jackets' top line.
"We had a situation where we had two goaltenders who couldn't get the net on a consistent basis. We wanted to give (Denis) a chance to run with it," MacLean said. "No. 2, a first-round pick is a premium for a new franchise. No. 3, it gives me some flexibility with the free agent season coming up."
Dallas also acquired Columbus' second-round pick, the 32nd overall choice.
The Stars have been looking for a goalie since late May when general manager Doug Armstrong said veteran Ed Belfour wouldn't be re-signed.
Belfour will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Tugnutt, 34, signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Blue Jackets before the 2000-01 season.
"He strengthens our hockey club and will provide good competition for Marty (Turco) for the No. 1 goaltending position," Armstrong said of Tugnutt.
The trade gives the Blue Jackets two picks in the first round of the draft to be held Saturday and Sunday in Toronto. The Blue Jackets also have the third overall pick.
The Blue Jackets, who usually play gritty defense, must find a consistent goal scorer if they want to move up from the bottom of the standings.
After earning a surprisingly high 71 points as an expansion team two years ago, Columbus stumbled to 57 points last season, fewest in the Western Conference.
Still, MacLean said he found it difficult to try to add a scorer at the expense of trading Tugnutt.
"It was as tough a deal as I've ever had to make because he's a fine, fine person," MacLean said.
MacLean also is worried about his team's chemistry now that Tugnutt and his upbeat attitude won't be leading the way for a team made up of mostly veteran castoffs and young players.
"He did a quality job for us on and off the ice for two years. That is an issue," MacLean said.
Tugnutt struggled to a 12-27-3 record last season with a 2.85 goals-against average. He went 22-25-5 in 2000-01, getting the most wins ever by a goalie on an expansion team.
He is 168-222-57 in 14 NHL seasons with Edmonton, Anaheim, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Columbus.
Unless Columbus brings in another veteran goalie, Denis' likely backup is 30-year-old Jean-Francois Labbe, who spent most of last season with the Blue Jackets' AHL Syracuse affiliate.
Pascal Leclaire, a 19-year-old who was Columbus' first-round pick last year, also could get a look in goal, MacLean said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)