NHL trades have trickle-down effect

The flurry of activity leading up to next week’s NHL trade deadline is already affecting rosters in the AHL, where one division leader has lost its top scorer and another is suddenly without its league-leading goaltender.

The Hamilton Bulldogs lost All-Star forward Jozef Balej in Tuesday night’s trade that saw the parent Montreal Canadiens acquire Alexei Kovalev. Balej, who ranks fifth in the AHL in scoring with 58 points in 55 games, has already been assigned by the New York Rangers to Hartford, where he will provide an offensive boost to an already dangerous Wolf Pack team.

As part of Wednesday’s trade headlined by Petr Nedved, the Rangers also sent goaltender Jussi Markkanen to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for goalie Steve Valiquette and collegian Dwight Helminen. The resulting fallout: Markkanen’s return to Edmonton and Valiquette’s departure from AHL Toronto opens the door for Tyler Moss to join the Roadrunners. Moss, acquired by the Oilers last month, has appeared in 28 AHL games with Manitoba this year, and his postseason experience includes a trip to the Calder Cup Finals in 1998.

Valiquette, 14-14-5 in 35 games with Toronto this season, has been assigned to Hartford, while the Rangers have recalled Jason LaBarbera to back up Mike Dunham. LaBarbera, a leading candidate for the Bastien (top goaltender) and Cunningham (MVP) Awards, is 26-7-8 this season with a 1.49 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and 12 shutouts.

Also recalled by the Blueshirts were forwards Benoit Dusablon and Ken Gernander. Dusablon made his NHL debut on Thursday night in Boston, while Gernander played in his first NHL game since May 1997, during the Rangers’ most recent playoff appearance.

Late Wednesday, Minnesota sent defenseman Jason Marshall to San Jose for a fifth-round draft pick; Marshall has been assigned to the Cleveland Barons. Marshall, a 13th-year pro, had seven goals and 12 assists in 49 AHL contests with Houston this season.

On Thursday, the Phoenix Coyotes acquired Worcester IceCats goaltender Brent Johnson from St. Louis in exchange for 1992 Calder Cup champion Mike Sillinger. In conjunction with the deal, the Coyotes reassigned Jean-Marc Pelletier to Springfield, where he had spent most of the season. The Falcons, fighting to get back in the playoff picture in the Atlantic Division, have been without Pelletier since he was recalled following the trade of Sean Burke on Feb. 10.