West goes hog wild

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Canada's next Stanley Cup challenge could be sweeping in from the West after Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary each signed franchise players yesterday.

Two of the stars simply stayed put -- captains Jarome Iginla of the Flames and Markus Naslund of the Canucks -- while the Oilers acquired defenceman Chris Pronger in a major trade with the St. Louis Blues and then inked him to five years at $31.25 million US. The Blues received three defencemen, including Pronger's Team Canada teammate Eric Brewer, plus Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka.

The National Hockey League's new landscape, with a $39 million salary cap, has flattened the financial terrain and this year at least, given the Western clubs more room to match big dollars in the East.

"It was sad to see guys (the Oilers couldn't afford) go in the past," said Edmonton winger Ryan Smyth. "But times have changed. It's a new CBA and a new market out there for everyone."

Pronger could not be accommodated in St. Louis with Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk on the roster.

"Maybe I need a change of lifestyle," Pronger said. "To get back to Canada and play some firewagon hockey."

Pronger was quickly joined by centre Mike Peca, who was swapped from the Islanders to the Oilers for centre Mike York.

It was feared Iginla would not want to remain a Flame beyond next year with unrestricted free agency beckoning, but took the security of three years at $7 million each.

"I want to win here," Iginla said. "Right now, this is the place."

Canucks' general manager Dave Nonis made his first bold move since replacing Brian Burke, pulling Naslund off the free-agent market.

"It was really the only choice for me and my family," Naslund said. "We've had the best years of our lives here and I'm very happy to hopefully retire as a Canuck."

Pronger won the Hart Trophy in 2000, the other two were runners-up the past few years.

In another significant development last night, Mike Modano finally got around to agreeing on a five-year deal to stay with the Dallas Stars, worth $17.25 million. The Stars also plucked one-time rival Av Martin Skoula to help their defence.

The Montreal Canadiens attempted to keep pace with the Western Canadian teams, re-signing winger Alexei Kovalev and for $18 million over four years and adding long-time Detroit Red Wing stay-at-home defenceman Mathieu Dandenault at $6.9 million spread through four years.

But offensive defencemen were among other prominent players to change teams on the third day of unrestricted shopping.

Brian Leetch hooked up with the Boston Bruins, who were looking to fill the spot of Sergei Gonchar. The latter joined Boston late in the 2003-04 season, but will look to hit the jackpot on the power play with Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh was able to fork over $25 million for five years to lure Gonchar.

Bryan Berard joined his fourth team in as many years since a serious eye injury ended his days as a Leaf, signing yesterday with the suddenly active small-market Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Canucks dealt defenceman Brent Sopel to the Isles for a conditional draft pick yesterday, which gives the latter two replacements for the departed Adrian Aucoin. Alexei Zhitnik was signed Tuesday.

The Isles then scooped one the Leafs' biggest antagonists, winger Miro Satan, getting him for three years after the Buffalo Sabres cut him last week.


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