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Forsberg deal has paid dividends for Flyers

by Shawn P. Roarke
CHICAGO -- Almost five years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers signed free agent Peter Forsberg in an attempt to end a Stanley Cup drought just entering its third decade. But during his two-year run, Forsberg could not deliver the championship the city so desperately craves.

Yet, Forsberg may still play a huge part in Philadelphia's first hockey title since 1975 if this incantation of the Flyers can find a way to upset the heavily favored Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, a quest that got off to a rocky start with Saturday's back-and-forth 6-5 loss to Chicago in Game 1 at the United Center.

Forsberg, long retired, still lingers over this series because of the bold decision made by GM Paul Holmgren to trade the aging and injured Forsberg to Nashville just before the 2007 trade deadline, mere months before Forsberg would reach unrestricted free agency without a firm commitment to re-sign with the Flyers.

"It was a tough deal to make at the time; obviously we were trading away Peter Forsberg," Holmgren told this week.  But it was a deal that had to be made considering the bounty that was offered.

The Feb. 12 deal sent Forsberg to a Nashville team desperate to make some noise in the playoffs that postseason. Nashville GM David Poile pulled the trigger -- sending Scottie Upshall (a first-round pick), Ryan Parent (another first-round pick) and first- and third-round picks in that spring's Entry Draft to Philadelphia for Forsberg -- because he believed his franchise needed the pop of a long playoff run to generate fan interest.

"Arguably, has there ever been a better player traded at the trade deadline than Peter Forsberg?" Poile asked at the time. "My answer to that is probably not, and the price we paid was very high. We did it because we believed it was a necessary ingredient to give us that much better a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and we were comfortable with doing that."

Things did not work out for the Predators, who lost to the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

But the deal has come up roses for the Flyers.

Upshall was eventually traded by Philadelphia to Phoenix in 2009, netting Daniel Carcillo, and Holmgren astutely returned the No. 1 pick in the Forsberg deal to Nashville for the negotiating rights to defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell, who were approaching unrestricted free agency.

Holmgren then signed two game-breakers before they reached free agency, signing each to long-term deals before July 1 arrived.

"You're talking about Hartnell and Timonen; they are both good players," Holmgren told "Kimmo is maybe one of the most underrated defensemen in the game. I think our staff had a feel for he could do for a team. He just quietly goes about his business and adds offense, plays on the power and kills penalties. Kimmo's a great player. Everybody talks about Chris Pronger, but Kimmo's been a big factor in our team for the past three years.

"Scotty, I know he had kind of an off year in terms of what he did the first two years, but he is coming on in the playoffs."

As Holmgren mentioned, Timonen eats serious minutes for these Flyers, playing in all situations. This postseason, he is playing more than 26 minutes a game, has contributed eight assists and is a plus-5.

Hartnell, a prototypical power forward, struggled mightily to find his game this season, but is emerging from a season-long funk at just the right time. He had 1 goal and 2 assists in Saturday night's loss to Chicago in Game 1 and has 4 goals and 11 points in 18 postseason games.

Carcillo, meanwhile, was a big part of Philadelphia's early success in the postseason. He was playing serious top-six minutes while Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne were on the shelf with injuries. Carcillo scored the Game 3 overtime goal in the first round upset of the Devils and has 2 goals and 6 points in 15 postseason games. He has been a healthy scratch, however, for the past three games.

Parent, just 23, is gaining some quality seasoning as a depth defenseman in this run.

"It was a tough deal to make at the time; obviously we were trading away Peter Forsberg.  But it was a deal that had to be made considering the bounty that was offered." -- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren
For Timonen, the move to Philadelphia was unimaginable at the time he was asked to make it. He had spent all eight years of his NHL career in Nashville, becoming a fixture in the city. But as difficult as the move was -- he admits to going home to Finland and spending some serious time considering all of his options -- it is a move that may yet deliver him his dream of winning the Stanley Cup.

"It took me 12 years to get to this point," Timonen told "If you go back to 1998 (in Nashville), it was tough to see us at this point some day. A few years (with the Predators), we had good teams but we lost in the first round and then it was time to move here. Same happens here. We actually made conference finals in my first year here. It's certainly been a long trip."

For Hartnell, it was not as big a change. Yes, Nashville was the only NHL home he had ever known, but as a younger man, his roots did not run as deep. He had friends in Philadelphia -- including Upshall -- and knew that the Flyers were serious about chasing titles.

"Scottie Upshall was traded (to Philadelphia) before and he said (the Flyers) have great young guys -- obviously (Mike) Richards and (Jeff) Carter -- and all this kind of stuff and it looked pretty promising," Hartnell told "When I came that first year we made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and I was like, 'Oh this is a pretty good decision.' We were almost there. Now, three years later, we are in the final dance and we're pretty excited."

Timonen and Hartnell remain close from their days in Nashville.

"I haven't played an NHL game without him on my team," Hartnell said. "We have a special connection. We're good buddies. When we get on the road, we'll go for dinners and what not."

They are Flyers now -- both in body and soul -- ready to do whatever it takes to deliver both themselves and their city the Stanley Cup. The past, as special as it was, is nothing more than pleasant memories now, relegated to the scrapbook.

"The rest is history now; so we're ready to roll," Hartnell said.

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