Trade Seals Flyers' Deal With Gratton The Wrangling Is Over. Tampa Bay Gets Mikael Renberg And Karl Dykhuis. And Finally, The Flyers Get Their Man.

Posted: August 21, 1997

The Flyers got bigger, tougher and younger yesterday with a trade they hope brings them closer to winning the Stanley Cup.

General manager Bob Clarke traded right wing Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Chris Gratton.

Clarke made the trade to avoid the risk of losing Gratton, whom the Flyers had signed to a five-year, $16.5 million offer sheet. The Lightning could have kept him by matching the Flyers' offer to the restricted free agent.

Technically, Tampa Bay did not to match the offer, then traded back to the Flyers the four first-round draft picks Philadelphia had to give the Lightning as compensation for signing Gratton.

In return, Tampa Bay received Renberg and Dykhuis.

Under NHL rules, Clarke cannot use those draft picks to sign another restricted free agent for four years because they were part of the Gratton deal.

The Flyers are also picking up a small part of Renberg's $1.8 million annual salary over the next two years.

Unlike Renberg and Dykhuis, the 22-year-old Gratton has shown improvement in each of his four seasons in the NHL.

``We really like Gratton,'' Clarke said. ``We think he's one of the premier young power forwards in the game. . . . We gave up two pretty good hockey players.''

Clarke said he had made the trade to short-circuit a possible attempt to keep Gratton. ``We weren't confident enough that Tampa Bay wasn't going to match,'' he said.

Along with defenseman Roman Hamrlik, Gratton was one of Tampa Bay's cornerstone players. A 1993 first-round pick, Gratton blossomed into a 30-goal scorer last season while leading the Lightning in points (62) and penalty minutes (201).

In Gratton, the Flyers have a proven scorer with a soft touch who is also physical at both ends of the ice. In other words, he's a two-way forward much like Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Rod Brind'Amour.

``We think Mikael is a legitimate 40-goal scorer,'' Clarke said, ``but a guy like Gratton, he's more aggressive. He can play two positions. He's a strong guy on face-offs.''

For Tampa Bay, Gratton was a clutch player. Twenty of his 30 goals in 1996-97 came on the road; 11 of his goals were in the third period. Fourteen of his goals tied games, and 11 were scored in the final five minutes of play.

Flyers coach Wayne Cashman will likely use Gratton on the second line with Brind'Amour and Vinny Prospal, the rookie who was impressive before he was injured in the postseason. All three are centers, but all are versatile enough to change positions. Cashman said last week that Gratton could move to wing.

Like Brind'Amour, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Gratton is extremely durable. He was the only member of the Lightning to play all 82 regular-season games in each of the last two seasons.

The Flyers signed Gratton to an offer sheet on Aug. 12. Two challenges to that signing - that Tampa Bay had already negotiated a trade with Chicago, and that the Flyers' offer was illegible because the contract figures were smeared - were rejected by the league and an arbitrator.

Gratton will sign his contract today. His $9 million signing bonus is due tomorrow, his agent, Pat Morris, said last night.

``When that offer sheet came in from Mr. Clarke, there was no hesitation on our part whatsoever to sign it, knowing what kind of franchise Philadelphia has,'' Gratton said.

Gratton called the Flyers ``the toughest team in the league to play against.''

Losing the 6-2, 218-pound Renberg breaks up the Flyers' celebrated Legion of Doom line, but the pluses in this deal outweigh the minuses.

Renberg's goal productivity has declined for three seasons, and the 25-year-old player hasn't been truly healthy since December 1995, when he suffered an abdominal injury. Since 1994, he missed 71 regular-season games because of injury.

A four-year veteran, Renberg scored just 22 goals last season, a sharp decrease from the 38 he scored as a rookie in 1993-94.

Although he had only eight goals at last season's halfway mark, Renberg rallied to finish with 59 points, tying him with Brind'Amour for the third-highest total on the team.

However, Renberg seemed to lose his touch around the net, as well as his confidence. In midseason, coach Terry Murray yanked him off Lindros' line in favor of 18-year-old rookie Dainius Zubrus.

Zubrus made his debut on the first line on Jan. 28 against Phoenix. He worked with the line periodically for the remainder of the season, as well as 10 of 19 games in the postseason. Zubrus will remain on the Lindros line.

``I've had a lot of injuries, and I know they hoped I'd play better hockey and I didn't,'' Renberg said. ``I got less ice time this year, so I kind of knew something was going on. This is a new start for me.''

Dykhuis, 25, has been an enigma for the last two seasons. He had a terrible 1996-97 campaign, scoring just four goals - only one after the all-star break. So inconsistent was his play that Dykhuis had five defensive partners.

Some of the pairings had to do with injury to other defensemen, but Dykhuis' mental mistakes in the second half of the season and the playoffs were such that Murray benched him in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit.

Much had been expected of the 6-3, 195-pounder, a five-year veteran who was among the fastest skaters on the team. Dykhuis' playoff performance against the Buffalo Sabres in 1995 was sensational. In that postseason, he had eight points, was a plus-5, and scored two game-winning goals and one overtime goal.

``It's great to be going to a club that plays hard every night,'' said Dykhuis, apparently taking a shot at his Flyers teammates. ``I knew we had too many defensemen and they had to make some changes.''

With Gratton in the fold, Clarke now has added two impact players in the off-season, having signed unrestricted free-agent defenseman Luke Richardson from Edmonton on July 14. The 6-4, 215-pound Richardson will add some needed muscle and bad-boy attitude to match Chris Therien's.

Yesterday's deal showed again how Clarke can pick a pocket, in this case that of Tampa Bay general manager Phil Esposito.

Clarke's last big heist occurred on Feb. 9, 1995, when he convinced Montreal GM Serge Savard to deal LeClair, Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne to the Flyers for Mark Recchi and a third-round pick (Martin Hohenberger).

The Flyers' only remaining concern is in goal. While Ron Hextall and backup Garth Snow remain capable goalies, both were noticeably deficient in the Stanley Cup finals.

It's likely Clarke will make a move for Edmonton's Curtis Joseph, Vancouver's Kirk McLean or Carolina's Sean Burke before or during the coming season.

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