MONTREAL – In the end, only one NHL star found a new home during the first round of the league’s annual draft.
Paul Holmgren hopes the addition is significant enough to alter the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.
The Philadelphia Flyers GM made the biggest splash on Friday, acquiring rugged defenceman Chris Pronger and a prospect for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenceman Luca Sbisa, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010 and a conditional third-round pick.
Holmgren’s Flyers were knocked off in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They might not go down so easily next time with a physical presence like Pronger on the blue-line.
“I think Chris Pronger is still one of the top defencemen in the league,” said Holmgren. “I think he makes everyone around him better. He’s a winner, he’s won a championship. He’s a tremendous character player, he works hard. I wanted a guy who would make life miserable for the other team. Chris is one of those guys.”
The draft got underway amid plenty of trade buzz at the Bell Centre, but deals for other star players failed to materialize. While there were a couple of transactions involving draft picks, the Pronger deal was the only one that included players.
Dany Heatley (Ottawa), Jay Bouwmeester (Florida), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay) and Tomas Kaberle (Toronto) remain with their organizations for the time being.
Senators GM Bryan Murray did all he could to trade the disgruntled Heatley – a move the sniper requested last month. To make it happen, Murray is looking for a package that includes more than what Anaheim received for Pronger.
“I just watched one of the other trades take place and I think there’s a better offer needed,” he said. “I’ve made a couple of requests, I think I’ve been quite fair really. I know I can’t get a match for Dany Heatley, I know that for a fact.
“But I want to get some fair value.”
Holmgren acknowledged that he gave up a lot for Pronger, but felt it was necessary to help his team compete with the Penguins and Washington Capitals, among others.
The Ducks decision to part with Pronger was made easier by the fact that Scott Niedermayer informed GM Bob Murray early Friday that he’ll play another season. The team will now move forward without a key member of their Stanley Cup win in 2007.
“It was sort of time,” said Murray. “Things kept coming at me. It was a deal that I felt I just had to make. It was easier to make when Scotty said he was going to play but I was going to make it anyway.
“I talked to Paul for a while and I just decided it was time to go forward. It was something we had to do.”
Niedermayer’s decision to return for another season will also likely be a boost for the Canadian Olympic team. Steve Yzerman, the executive director of the 2010 squad, was certainly excited after hearing the news.
“I just found out half an hour ago,” said Yzerman. “Obviously happy. I thought he had an excellent year, got stronger as the year went on and played outstanding in the playoffs. There’s going to be some younger players on (defence) so I think it’s important to have some of those veterans that have been there and he’s one of those.”
It’s the same kind of experience that Pronger brings to the Flyers.
The 34-year-old has played 1,022 career games and reached the Stanley Cup with Edmonton (2006) and Anaheim (2007). Philadelphia will be the fifth stop of a career that also includes stints with Hartford and St. Louis.
The Dryden, Ont., native said he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s obviously a city that is very passionate about the sport of hockey,” said Pronger. “The style of play the Flyers have been known to play certainly fits my game.
“They’ve got some great young talent. I hope to help develop the team not be one of the top teams in the league, but win the Stanley Cup. That’s why we all play the game – to win.”
The deal gives Anaheim a little more cap space. Pronger has one year left on his contract at US$6.25 million while Lupul has four years remaining for $4.25 million per season.
The 25-year-old Lupul has now been dealt three times in four years and returns to the Ducks franchise where he started his career. Sbisa was selected 19th overall by the Flyers last June and played 39 games before getting sent back to junior midway through the year.
Other than Pronger, they were the only players with NHL experience who moved on a surprisingly quiet night.
There are some that believe the trade action will pick up Saturday, when the final six rounds of the draft are completed.
“You’re still in the unknown two years out and still in the unknown with the economy,” said Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter. “The good teams are still trying to stay good and the teams that weren’t playoff teams were more focused on (the first round of the draft). So I think maybe there is more talk after this tonight.
“I’m going to bet there’s a lot of smaller deals done now.”