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Bruins acquire Billington from Ottawa (4/8/95)

Bruin deal to fill bill: Billington
Nancy L. Marrapese, Globe Staff

It was not the blockbuster deal that had been speculated. It wasn't a defenseman to shore up the blue line or a high-scoring forward. But the Bruins did take a step to improve themselves before yesterday's trade deadline, acquiring goaltender Craig Billington from Ottawa for an eighth-round draft pick.

President/general manager Harry Sinden said he made the trade because he was convinced that there was too big a gap between the club's No. 1 goaltender, rookie Blaine Lacher, and the No. 2, either Vincent Riendeau (who cleared waivers yesterday) or John Blue.

Blue was officially reassigned to Providence, and Sinden said Riendeau will be, too. Billington was due in Boston last night.

"We didn't feel we were strong enough with the combination of the goalies we had," said Sinden. "We were particularly concerned if we couldn't use Lacher. We thought we'd have to improve between Lacher and whoever was next. We looked at Riendeau and Blue as No. 3 goalies and Lacher as No. 1 and we didn't think we had a No. 2. In Billington, we think we do. This really has nothing to do with Lacher because he's our No. 1 goalie. He's getting better all the time and I expect he'll remain there. But like everything else, except death and taxes, I can't guarantee it."

The Bruins had negotiated for the 28-year-old Billington a few weeks ago, but Sinden said the hangup was that Ottawa wanted the player the Bruins were planning to use to trade for a defenseman. Billington will earn a pro-rated $300,000 this season.

Lacher, who at that time said Billington was free to come but would have to remain on the bench, reiterated that yesterday.

"That's still true," said Lacher, "but I mean no disrespect."

In nine games with Ottawa, Billington was 0-6-2 with a 4.07 goals-against average after facing 240 shots.

Sinden had hoped to shore up other areas but had a frustrating day trying.

"I had two or three instances I didn't like," he said, "where people proposed something and when I accepted, they say, 'I don't think we'll do it.' I've only had that happen once before ever. I had it happen a couple of times [yesterday]. One team said, 'You want defense? We need a forward.' They gave me four defensemen they wouldn't part with. They identified who they wanted from us. So I named a guy who wasn't one of the four and they said, 'No, not him.' I said another guy's name and they said, 'No, not him.' So I said, 'Why didn't you give me six names then?' It's not old-time hockey out there, just like the game itself. It's like the lousy thing that happened with [Eric] Lindros, with Quebec trading him to two teams. Those things never, ever happened. Maybe it's trickery or something."

Sinden, who had what he considered a big deal cooking until it fell apart Thursday afternoon, said he went into yesterday knowing what he wouldn't get.

"We weren't going to get a top defenseman even if we wanted to give up a top player," he said. "Like the Garry Galley-for-Petr Svoboda deal. It's just a switch of the same-level player. Sure, we would've liked to improve the team, but the opportunity didn't present itself except for Billington. We had one other thing that wasn't bad, but when I saw the game [Thursday night], I said, 'No way I'm going to break this team up.' It's got too much going for it. I don't care how it's played or what it's done. It's the type of decision you get paid to make. If you're wrong, you're wrong."

Sinden felt the difference in the 1-1 tie with Buffalo was goaltender Dominik Hasek.

"He is as complete a goalie as I've seen in a long time," Sinden said. "Nothing is a problem for him."

The Bruins will have their work cut out in the final 14 games of the season as they try to climb up the bottleneck in the Eastern Conference. Yesterday they were seventh in the conference, and eight teams make the playoffs. Hartford, the Rangers, Florida and Montreal are all breathing down Boston's neck. Based on Thursday night, Sinden has faith.

"Against Buffalo, our team played in a similar fashion to our good teams of the past," he said. "We need to keep playing that way."

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