Today, the Panthers are saying there was no spite intended with the deal and that they, in fact, simply liked the player (Noah Welch) the Penguins were offering better than the package of Brendan Bell and a second- and fourth-round pick.
Now, maybe neither Bell or Welch are going to be top-flight blueliners, but I would say their relative value is reasonably close — something that has been disputed by both the Maple Leafs and many in the media here — with Welch winning out due to his size and leadership abilities.
Welch may have went the NCAA route and captained the Harvard Crimson, but that's not all that uncommon for an American defensive prospect — and it doesn't mean he's not capable of playing a big role with the Panthers. Welch is a huge kid at 6 foot 4, 215 pounds, a guy who appears to move his feet pretty well for a big man and has an offensive side to his game (as noted by the 21 points in 25 games in the AHL this season). He was also an AHL all-star.
Welch was selected a round higher than Bell in the 2001 draft, and from all accounts, has really developed quicker than expected into a potential Top 4 NHL defenceman. Bell, meanwhile, caused a stir here in Toronto when he actually made the big club and served as a suitable injury replacement. His upside, in my opinion, is negligible (which is likely why he was dealt for Yanic Perreault yesterday).
The Panthers have really started to assemble quite the big, young defence core, with players like Jay Bouwmeester (6'4", 214), Bryan Allen (6'4", 220), Branislav Mezei (6'5", 235) and Alexei Semenov (6'6", 235), and I honestly can't understand why there's this goofy kerfuffle over them choosing Welch over Bell.
Is it really that hard to believe that a prospect from the NCAA that most people have never heard of (think 'the next Kevin Bieksa') is better than someone who plays for the Maple Leafs?