LOS ANGELES - After a quiet night at the Staples Center, most of the building had emptied out after all 30 selections in the first round had been made in last night's NHL draft. But then Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren sauntered to the front of the arena to announce a deal.
Holmgren had waited until the last possible second last night to make a move. It made a splash - for the wrong team.
Holmgren shipped the rights of defenseman Dan Hamhuis, whom he acquired last Saturday from Nashville for defenseman Ryan Parent, to Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh for a third-round pick in next year's draft.
On the surface, the Flyers traded Parent for a 2011 third-round pick.
But it means so much more than that - admitting failure to find a place for Hamhuis, who was asking for an increased role, and sending him to a team that has been their nemesis.
The move came after 5 days of intense negotiations with Hamhuis and his agent, Wade Arnott, broke down in an attempt to sign a long-term deal that could have been worth somewhere between $4 and $4.5 million per year.
"Well, we just couldn't come to an agreement," Holmgren said. "I think he is a great all-around defenseman that could have really helped us. As I said, we couldn't come to an agreement."
Now, Hamhuis' rights belong to the Penguins and their general manager Ray Shero will have 4 days to strike a deal before all 30 teams could contact the pending unrestricted free agent when free agency opens on July 1.
Holmgren said multiple other teams showed interest in Hamhuis, but the Flyers would not have received as much in return.
"There were some teams, three or four teams that had interest, but not to that level," Holmgren said.
The Flyers could have taken less than a third-round pick to send him to a team other than the Penguins, since Hamhuis would do nothing but bolster a Pittsburgh team that has long been a roadblock for the Flyers in recent years, if they are able to come to an agreement. Hamhuis could replace another pending free agent, Sergei Gonchar, on Pittsburgh's blue line.
Pittsburgh now holds two of the most sought after free-agent defensemen in the NHL.
The two teams meet on Oct. 7, the opening night of the season, in the first game at Pittsburgh's new Consol Energy Center.
The Flyers might not be done trading, by the time this weekend is all over. They will enter the second portion of today's draft - which picks up with Round 2 at 1 o'clock on Versus - with their first pick at No. 89 overall in the third round.
A league source has indicated that the Flyers might be close to acquiring the rights to another pending free agent, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, from the San Jose Sharks.
Holmgren and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, whose draft tables were right next to each other at the Staples Center, were seen chatting at multiple times throughout the night.
Nabokov, who turns 35 next month, could be an attractive prospect for the Flyers to temporarily solve their goaltending woes. The Flyers would be able to offer him an "over 35" contract, which could include a small cap hit but a big number with easy-to-hit incentives that would not count against the salary cap.
At one point during the draft last night, Holmgren left the draft floor to head to a suite to speak with Don Meehan, Nabokov's agent and the head of the Newport Sports Management.
Meehan and Holmgren have negotiated numerous deals before, including Chris Pronger's innovative 7-year extension last summer.
Wilson told the Daily News last night that the Sharks have decided to part ways with Nabokov, who has tended the Sharks net as a starter for the last nine seasons. He has a career 2.36 goals-against average. Nabokov has 293 wins in 563 career games, good for a .520 save percentage.
With the Sharks, he has posted three straight 40-win seasons and has not had a goals-against average over 2.44 or a save percentage under .910 in the last four seasons.
Both Holmgren and Wilson would not comment specifically on the negotiations. Holmgren said another team has also shown interest in Nabokov.
"Have people contact me about him? Yes," Wilson said. "We made a decision, we are going forward [without Nabokov], and I informed 'Nabber.' He's a great goalie and he's a wonderful guy and I met with him and informed him that we're going in another direction."
Nabokov earned $6 million with the Sharks this season.
"It was a tough decision," Wilson said. "We have great respect for him as a player and a person and the number of years that he was there. We have three great goaltenders coming and the pool of goaltenders available was the direction we were going to go."
Both Los Angeles and Boston, two teams whom Holmgren reportedly contacted for their backup goaltender, decided to hang on to Jonathan Bernier and Tim Thomas, respectively - at least through last night.
Overall, just seven trades went down among all 30 teams in front of a subdued Southern California crowd that only seemed to get excited when the rival Anaheim Ducks picked Long Beach, Calif., native Emerson Etem with the 29th selection.
Since the trade was not announced after the New York Islanders closed out the first round, the Flyers' trade with Pittsburgh will be announced today to start the remainder of the draft.
Overall, it was a quiet night for most of the NHL with the first trade of the draft coming just before the 15th overall pick, when the Florida Panthers dealt the selection to Los Angeles for the 19th and 59th picks.
Last year, the Flyers made the biggest splash by acquiring Pronger and Ryan Dingle for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and their first-round pick this year and last year.
This year, for the 10th year in a row, the Flyers completed at least one trade at the draft. Unlike last year's headline-grabbing trade for Pronger, this one will be remembered with disappointment and not excitement.
Kevin Connolly, best known for his role in HBO's hit show "Entourage," was on stage with the Islanders to welcome Swiss winger Nino Neiderreiter as New York's pick at No. 4 overall. Connolly is a diehard Islanders fan . . . Cam Fowler, a defenseman who guided the United States to a World Junior Championship last year, saw his stock slide the most. Fowler was rated at No. 5 by NHL Central Scouting and slid down to Anaheim at No. 12 and was booed by rival Kings fans when putting on his jersey . . . Tyler Seguin was picked by Boston at No. 2 overall just behind Taylor Hall, as expected.