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Ducks reshape roster on deadline, keep Pronger

by Brian Compton
The Anaheim Ducks will have a different look when they return to the ice Friday night against the Dallas Stars.

Wednesday started with the loss of veteran center Brendan Morrison, who was claimed off waivers by the aforementioned Stars. Morrison is expected to face his former team on Friday at the Honda Center.

Ducks GM Bob Murray quickly found Morrison's replacement, as he acquired Petteri Nokelainen from the Boston Bruins in exchange for defenseman Steve Montador. He later sent forward Travis Moen and defenseman Kent Huskins -- both unrestricted free agents July 1 -- to the San Jose Sharks for forward Nick Bonino, goaltender Timo Pielmeier and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2009. Anaheim also acquired forward Erik Christensen from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for forward Eric O'Dell. Finally, the Ducks sent forward Samuel Pahlsson to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman James Wisniewski and a draft pick.

It concluded a busy week for Murray, who traded power forward Chris Kunitz to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday in a deal with brought defenseman Ryan Whitney to Southern California. Pahlsson, Moen, Huskins and Kunitz were all part of Anaheim's championship team in 2007.

"I've got to thank Sammy Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins and Chris Kunitz," Murray said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "They were part of something special here. It was a very difficult decision, but the time had come. They won a Stanley Cup together. Nobody could ever take that away from them. I thank those guys and wish them all the best."

Morrison and Montador are also set to hit free agency on July 1. Morrison had 10 goals and 12 assists in 62 games, while Montador was 4-16-20 with a plus-14 rating in 65 appearances.

"Brendan Morrison and Steve Montador played very hard," Murray said. "It was a tough year for Brendan coming off that knee surgery. He never got it going correctly, but he tried to work his way through it. Steve Montador was a warrior. He played his heart out."

Murray was thrilled to land Nokelainen, who was a first-round draft pick by the New York Islanders in 2004. Injuries have limited the Finnish forward to just 33 games with Boston this season, but Murray said on Wednesday that Nokelainen is healthy and ready to go.

"I've been watching him since he was 15," Murray said of Nokelainen. "He's a hard-on-the-puck type player. He's got some skill. He competes hard. He's got a little bit of everything. He needs an opportunity, and he's going to get one here."

Wisniewski, 25, was also limited due to injuries this season but compiled 2 goals and 11 assists in 31 games. Murray expects the Canton, Mich., native to be a major contributor on Anaheim's blue line for years to come -- so much so that he said he wasn't willing to deal Pahlsson to Chicago unless Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon agreed to send Wisniewski in return.

"James Wisniewski is a heart-and-soul guy," Murray said. "He competes. He played 20 minutes a game this year. He plays hard. He does a little bit of everything. He's our type of player. I wouldn't have done Sammy if I couldn't get him out of there. It's tough within your own conference, but to get a defenseman, we're starting to get a look at defense going forward."

Christensen, 25, had 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) in 47 games with the Thrashers this season. His best campaign came with Pittsburgh in 2006-07, when he tallied 18 goals and 15 assists in 61 contests.

"Christensen is a skilled player," Murray said. "He can move the puck, he can handle the puck. I think he can play with good players, and we have good players here on our top two lines. He'll get that opportunity here."

Murray said he fully expects to take some heat for his deal with the Sharks, which sent two established NHL players for prospects. But the Ducks GM raved about the potential of Bonino, a 20-year-old Hartford native who has 13 goals and 24 assists in 33 games for Boston University this season.

"This is probably the one that people will not understand or complain about," Murray admitted. "But what you've got to understand is we think we got one of the top young prospects in hockey. Nick Bonino is one of the best college players in the country right now. There was no way I was dealing with (Sharks GM) Doug Wilson unless I get this guy."
"This is probably the one that people will not understand or complain about. But what you've got to understand is we think we got one of the top young prospects in hockey. Nick Bonino is one of the best college players in the country right now. There was no way I was dealing with (Sharks GM) Doug Wilson unless I get this guy." -- Ducks GM Bob Murray

Pielmeier, a 19-year-old from Germany, is currently playing with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In 41 appearances, he is 30-7-2 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. He was drafted by San Jose in the third round of the 2007 Entry Draft.

"We picked up a good young prospect," Murray said. "San Jose always really drafts well when it comes to goaltenders. They have four good young ones, and this is the one we wanted."

As for players who will view this particular deal as a sign that Murray was a seller at the deadline, the Ducks GM strongly disagrees. Anaheim (31-28-6) entered Wednesday's action in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"Everyone thinks we sold off, but I fully expect this team to run for a playoff spot here," said Murray, who added that he never came close to trading Chris Pronger. "With this defense, I don't think we're anywhere near out of it. I expect our players to make a good shot at it. If I sense in any way, shape or form that some of our players think we've sold and we've quit … there's two times in a year when you get to do things with your team -- one is the trade deadline, and the other is the draft. If I sense anything from these players throwing in the towel, the draft's not that far away. We'll rectify that situation.

"We just couldn't let these unrestricted guys go and not get anything for them," Murray said. "We've let enough assets go. It's just the way the game is. They all want to get to that free agency, and I understand that. They understand that I had to do what I had to do. It would have been totally irresponsible of me to not get the best I could for these unrestricted guys."

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