Ducks steal draft’s thunder; Kings take Brayden Schenn
This was the definition of unqualified draft-day success for the local puck purveyors.
Moments after defenseman Scott Niedermayer told the Ducks he will rejoin them next season, General Manager Bob Murray stole the show by trading Chris Pronger to Philadelphia for a much-needed secondary scorer in right wing Joffrey Lupul, youth on defense in 2008 Flyers first-round pick Luca Sbisa, first-round picks this year and next and a third-round pick in 2010 or 2011.
The Kings, wisely refusing to overpay in a trade for pouty Ottawa winger Dany Heatley, added to their considerable assets by choosing Brayden Schenn, a gritty and skillful center from the Canadian prairies.
And as a bonus, the Kings’ selection of Schenn put a sour-pickle expression on the face of overbearing Toronto GM Brian Burke, who wanted to unite Schenn and his older brother, Luke, in Maple Leafs uniforms.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Ducks’ trade spiced up an otherwise dull first round Friday in Montreal. The second through seventh rounds will be conducted today.
The top five picks went as expected: high-scoring center John Tavares to the Islanders, imposing defenseman Victor Hedman to Tampa Bay, playmaker Matt Duchene to Colorado, power forward Evander Kane to Atlanta and Western Hockey League standout Schenn to the Kings.
General Manager Dean Lombardi, after joking that stymieing Burke was the reason he grabbed Schenn, said he liked the competitiveness of the 6-foot, 198-pound forward, who scored 32 goals and 56 points in 70 games for Brandon last season.
“He needs to work on his skating, but his hockey sense is top-notch,” Lombardi said. “He has the ability to make those small, smart, little plays and has no fear going into traffic. He’s a real competitor, and I think he’s got a chance to grow into some leadership.”
Good news for the Kings, who have a number of good pieces but lack a pure scorer. That scorer won’t be Heatley, who scared potential suitors by issuing the second trade demand of his career.
“We know at some point we’re going to want to make a fairly significant move,” Lombardi said, “but I believe at certain dollars you not only have to be a heck of a player but let’s say there can’t be certain questions.”
The Ducks left no questions about their intent to remain among the league’s elite while staying under a salary cap that will increase next season by $100,000, to $56.8 million.
Assured Niedermayer will rejoin them -- though they must agree on a contract -- they traded Pronger for a bountiful package that was too good on too many fronts for Murray to refuse.
The big name was Lupul, who began his career with the Ducks and unhappily went to Edmonton in the 2006 deal that brought Pronger to Anaheim. Lupul, who scored 25 goals last season, heard the news at his Newport Beach home.
“It’s just awesome. I hope to be here for a long time this time,” said Lupul, who praised Sbisa as a potential No. 1 defenseman.
Sbisa, Italian-born but a Swiss League veteran, is projected to play for the Ducks next season though he will have to earn the job in training camp. “He shows up, he competes and plays,” Murray said. “I like the kid a whole bunch.”
Niedermayer’s return will make Teemu Selanne more inclined to return for one more Cup push, and Murray said he planned to talk to Selanne today. But adding Sbisa makes it unlikely Murray will re-sign unrestricted free agent Francois Beauchemin, who has said he plans to test the market.
Still, Sbisa, Niedermayer, Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski -- a restricted free agent they will keep -- form a strong core.
“At some point we’re going to be without Scotty and now Chris,” Murray said. “Neither one will be there. It’s time we started preparing for that and started moving forward.”
Pronger, 34, was a force in the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup triumph and was admirably disciplined in their march to the second round this spring. However, his cap hit of $6.25 million next season was too pricey, and he wanted an extension for around that number.
The Ducks can better use the money on Niedermayer, Wisniewski and other depth moves.
Pronger told Canada’s TSN network he knew he was gone when he got a call about Niedermayer’s return. The Flyers were on his short list of destinations, perhaps as the missing piece for a Cup run. “I’d like to think so,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I was brought to Anaheim, and it worked out pretty well.”
Lombardi admired the rival Ducks’ coup.
“They got everything back that they gave up for him and a Stanley Cup,” he said. “As a franchise, that’s a heck of a use of an asset. That’s an impressive deal.”
The Ducks used the 15th pick on Peter Holland, a 6-2 center from Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. They traded the first-rounder they got from the Flyers, the 21st pick, to Columbus for the 26th pick and took center/right wing Kyle Palmieri. Both are at least two years away, but the Pronger trade told the NHL the Ducks are going for it now.
With the Kings improving and poised to make a splash when free agency starts Wednesday, next season could be very interesting around here -- interesting enough to put sour expressions on the faces of more GMs than just Burke.