If Paul Holmgren is going to be judged by the moves he makes to improve the Flyers and set the team up for the future, he's having a good trading season.
In three moves, the general manager has gone a long way to change the defense from old and slow to young, mobile and upcoming.
First, he moved Peter Forsberg for Ryan Parent, one of the best young defensemen in the Canadian juniors, and then Saturday he traded Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Braydon Coburn, 22, a 6-5, 220-pound kid with huge potential.
Last night, as the hours ticked off toward today's trade deadline, Holmgren moved Kyle Calder to the Chicago Blackhawks for Lasse Kukkonen, 25, a puck-moving Finnish defenseman with five goals, nine assists and a plus-five rating. They also received a 2007 third-round draft pick from Chicago.
"Kukkonen is a player who played a couple of years with Joni Pitkanen in Finland a few years ago," Holmgren said. "He is just a real steady defender. He is a nice addition to our team."
After the Flyers sent Calder to the Blackhawks, Chicago shipped the 28-year-old pending free agent to Detroit for forward Jason Williams, putting Calder in a position to make a run deep into the playoffs and giving him a chance to boost his stock.
"It's definitely true, but you don't want to look too far into the future," Calder said. "You want to win this year, you want to look at the next day and what's a task right now. It's pretty wild being moved twice in 1 day, but it's great going to a team like that and I'm excited right now."
Calder was one of the Flyers' biggest flops this season, forcing them to try repeatedly to trade him. That stopped in the past several weeks when Calder found his game, but efforts by the Flyers to re-sign him fell through and Holmgren said yesterday were done trying.
"With Kyle's pending unrestricted free-agent status coming up, we did make an attempt to sign him, but it didn't look like we were going to get it done before the trade deadline," Holmgren said, in making the announcement. "We just felt that we couldn't afford to take a chance and get nothing in return for an asset like Kyle. We did what we needed to do."
Holmgren was at a loss to explain why Calder did not work out for the Flyers, who traded Michal Handzus to Chicago to get him last summer.
"From a positional standpoint, we thought [Calder] was a better fit, he was a little younger and we thought he would be a younger guy who could grow with our group of young guys that we had," Holmgren said.
But his trade helps put the Flyers in a position to have one of the best defenses in the league in a few years, if all of their young players work out and they can bring in a veteran free-agent offensive defenseman this summer.
Holmgren said yesterday afternoon a Calder trade was the only one he could envision. Now that it's done, the Flyers might be through trading.
The one remaining possibility could be a move for a goalie. Yesterday, third goalie Michael Leighton was placed on waivers, bringing the team back to two goalies.
If Leighton clears waivers, he will be sent to the Phantoms to give him playing time and to take some pressure off Flyers coach John Stevens.
"Three goalies is tough for a coach over a real long period of time and it's gone on long enough," Holmgren said. "When we picked up [Leighton] on waivers, the main reason we did that was because of the injuries we've had with both [Robert Esche] and [Antero Niittymaki]. It's funny how that works. They've both been healthy that whole time."
Holmgren said there have been calls about Esche, whose contract also expires this season.
"But I think they're just kicking the tires right now," Holmgren said. "I think there are a few goalies that are in a similar situation as [Esche], so everybody is trying to see from a money standpoint what works.