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The deadline: Who got better, who got worse?

4/3/2013



A trade deadline day that began at a snail’s pace and finished with a great flurry of activity has, like all trade deadlines, the potential to alter the playoff grids in both conferences and perhaps even who hoists the Stanley Cup in late June. Lots of road to travel before that time and every year the best-laid trade-deadline plans often go awry. So, herein a look at the teams that, at least for a few minutes anyway, seized the moment to make themselves better and will walk away feeling that they made the most of the opportunity.

Got better

Columbus Blue Jackets

Who’da thunk it? The sad-sack Columbus Blue Jackets, perennial sellers of good players, shocking the hockey world by acquiring three-time 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers. In giving up Derek Dorsett (currently injured), Derick Brassard and John Moore, the Blue Jackets gave up three everyday players. But for a team that has qualified for the playoffs just once (and were swept by Detroit in that lone playoff visit) but suddenly finds itself in the hunt for a surprise postseason berth, Gaborik is a definite impact player -- when he’s himself. Gaborik has suffered through a miserable season in New York with obvious friction existing between him and head coach John Tortorella. But he’ll renew acquaintances with former Ranger teammates Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, who went to Columbus in the Rick Nash deal last summer, and he’ll get a fresh start on a team desperate for scoring help (they rank 29th in goals per game and 27th on the power play). The Blue Jackets still possess three first-round draft picks in the coming draft and they have Gaborik under contract for one more season at a $7.5 million cap hit. In order to clear room, new GM Jarmo Kekalainen also managed to unload netminder Steve Mason to Philadelphia. Mason can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Blue Jackets also acquired forward depth in the form of Blake Comeau, who came over from Calgary for a fifth-round pick.

New York Rangers

In the space of 24 hours, the Rangers have dramatically altered the make-up of their team. Whether it brings them closer to their identity of a year ago, when they were the top team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals or not, we’ll find out. But by bringing in Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard and John Moore, the Rangers hope they have filled in some of the spaces created when Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky were dealt to Columbus in the Rick Nash deal and Brandon Prust signed in Montreal. Derek Dorsett will also contribute when he gets back to full health. The Rangers are still the lowest-scoring team in the NHL so they need someone, whether it’s Brad Richards or Nash or any of the newcomers -- including Clowe (who has yet to score this season) -- to step up. Still, the relationship between Tortorella and Gaborik wasn’t healthy, and having new faces in the lineup might be enough to push the Rangers back into the top eight and after that, who knows? The Rangers also received a sixth-round pick in 2013 for Gaborik.

Minnesota Wild

The Wild continue to shoulder themselves into discussion as a Stanley Cup contender and that discussion will continue with the acquisition Wednesday of Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville. The Wild had to give up highly regarded prospect Johan Larsson, the 56th pick in the 2010 draft, as well as goaltending prospect Matt Hackett, who has played a handful of NHL games, along with a first-round pick in 2013 and a second-round pick in 2014. The Wild also obtained Buffalo’s fourth-round pick in 2014. But Pominville, who has twice reached the 30-goal plateau and recorded at least 20 goals in six straight years heading into this season, will add the kind of scoring depth that all Cup-contending teams possess. Pominville is also a character guy who can play at both ends of the ice. The Wild are going toe-to-toe with the Vancouver Canucks at the top of the Northwest Division standings and this is a move that could prove to be the tipping point when it comes to gaining home-ice advantage in the first round or beyond.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Just when you assumed that Ray Shero would be sitting in his office at Consol Energy Center with his feet up drinking banana daiquiris, the Penguins GM added another piece to the arsenal, picking up forward Jussi Jokinen from Carolina. The 30-year-old will likely start at center as the Penguins were looking for someone to bridge the gap while captain Sidney Crosby recovers from a broken jaw. Beyond that, Jokinen, who had a strong playoff for Carolina in 2009 when the Canes advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, is simply another depth piece that is mindful of players such as Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora, who were in and out of the Penguins' lineup in 2009 when they won the Stanley Cup but who periodically made key contributions. Although the actual numbers weren’t revealed, the Hurrricanes agreed to take on some of Jokinen’s salary next season when he is slated to earn $3 million. If the Pens win the Cup, they will also send a sixth-round pick to Carolina; it becomes a later pick if they fall short.

Ottawa Senators

GM Bryan Murray continues to work magic as he dealt lanky netminder Ben Bishop to Tampa for Cory Conacher, the second-leading rookie point-producer, and a fourth-round pick. The Sens, of course, have defied skeptics by staying in the thick of the playoff hunt in spite of the absence of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and netminder Craig Anderson. Conacher, an undrafted collegiate player, was terrific in the AHL last season where he was the AHL MVP as Norfolk won the Calder Cup. He will fit in with a young Ottawa club that has blossomed under head coach Paul MacLean and in fact steps into a lineup as the leading scorer with 24 points.

Tampa Bay Lightning

It initially seemed as though Tampa GM Steve Yzerman had given up a lot to bring in 6-foot-7 netminder Bishop with Conacher going with a fourth-round pick. But the Lightning need to stabilize their goaltending situation (they rank 21st in goals allowed per game) and Bishop was terrific for the Senators in a limited role, going 8-5 with a .922 save percentage. The Bolts were also dealing from a position of strength, having top young collegiate players Matt Peca and big center Alex Killorn, who has impressed in recent games with the big club. Now, last summer we were saying the same thing about the Lightning as they acquired Anders Lindback from Nashville in the hopes of finding a new No. 1. Will Bishop be any better? The Lightning paid a steep price to find out. But if Yzerman is right this time, the expense will have been worth it.

Buffalo Sabres

GM Darcy Regier might not be able to ice a winning hockey team but he sure knows how to handle himself on trade deadline day. A year ago he obtained Cody Hodgson and a first-round draft pick in various deals. This year he dealt captain Pominville to Minnesota for a top forward prospect in Larsson and a promising young goaltender in Hackett and another first-round pick in this June’s draft, along with a second round pick in 2014. Earlier, he had shipped veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles for a pair of second-round picks. Will Regier be around next season to see what some of these assets might become? That’s a completely different story.

Washington Capitals

You can argue the rationale of keeping Mike Ribeiro, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but given the Caps’ recent surge -- they were just two points out of the Southeast Division lead with two games in hand on Winnipeg as of Wednesday afternoon -- GM George McPhee showed his team the organization is all in for the playoffs. McPhee gave up a top prospect in Filip Forsberg, selected 11th overall in last June’s draft, for proven scorer Martin Erat of the Nashville Predators. Although Erat has just four goals this season, he will play in a much more offensive system with more skilled players and it’s easy to imagine he will play an important role, not just in getting the Caps into the playoffs for a sixth straight year but in perhaps making some noise once they get there. Beyond that, Erat has two years left on his deal at a $4.5 million cap hit (the actual dollar amount is less) and so provides some form of protection if the Caps cannot re-sign Ribeiro, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Now, Ribeiro is a center and Erat is a winger but still, having talent under contract is never -- or at least not usually -- a bad thing. The Caps also acquired Michael Latta, a center playing at the AHL level.

Not everyone wanted to make a deal although any GM worth his salt was working the phones until the last minute. Here are some teams that were either unusually quiet or failed to plug in some obvious holes in their lineup.

Not so much

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets once looked like they were going to put a stranglehold on the Southeast Division lead; instead, they have unraveled and look very much like every other Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets team in that they are not built for the postseason. And while GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has promised from the start to be conservative in how they build this team, some sort of addition aimed at arresting their current slide might have been psychologically beneficial to the prairie team. It didn’t happen, as the Jets’ only move was to pick up Mike Santorelli off waivers from the Florida Panthers.

Vancouver Canucks

Yes, the Canucks did address their need down the middle by nabbing Derek Roy from Dallas, although Roy has not had the greatest year thus far. But the fact that GM Mike Gillis could not unload netminder Roberto Luongo will continue to be a cloud over the team until he is finally traded. Luongo reacted emotionally to not being traded, telling reporters in Vancouver his contract “sucks” and that if he could, he would tear it up. Now, maybe things settle back down for the Canucks and they proceed to the playoffs as planned. But there’s no doubt Luongo is in a different frame of mind now that the deadline has passed than before, and whether that has an impact on the psyche of the team remains to be seen.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs added 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan O’Byrne from Colorado for a fourth-round pick in 2014 but they did not add a veteran goaltender. Will it matter? We’ll find out in less than a month, assuming the Leafs don’t go completely sideways and miss the playoffs entirely. We don’t expect that to happen, but the tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens is untested when it comes to playoff action, and given the mediocrity in the Eastern Conference, it’s not unreasonable to suggest the Leafs could be in a position to win at least one round. If the goaltending holds up, of course.

New York Islanders

On the verge of making the playoffs for only the second time since the last lockout, the Islanders were silent on trade deadline day. Credit GM Garth Snow for not trading Mark Streit, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but wasn’t there something this team needed that Snow could have provided in terms of depth?

Boston Bruins

A little unfair to put the Bruins in this list perhaps, but after obtaining Jaromir Jagr on Tuesday, GM Peter Chiarelli did not add the grit and sand many expected he would bring in to his forward corps. And while he did add Wade Redden, reuniting Redden with former Ottawa teammate and B's captain Zdeno Chara, Redden is mindful of Tomas Kaberle, whom the Bruins added in 2011. The Bruins, of course, won the Cup. But Kaberle became less and less a factor as time went on during those playoffs. Redden, buried in the depth chart in St. Louis, especially after the acquisition Tuesday of Jay Bouwmeester, will be well down the Bruins’ depth chart, especially when there had been earlier talk the Bruins were looking to add Ryan Whitney. The lack of a gritty forward was exacerbated with the news Wednesday that Patrice Bergeron has a concussion.

Nashville Predators

A year ago, the Predators were among the busiest teams at the trade deadline, adding Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn along with repatriating Alexander Radulov. This season, they traded one of their top offensive players in Martin Erat to Washington and defenseman Scott Hannan to San Jose. Now, GM David Poile did get one of the Caps’ top prospects back, Filip Forsberg, who was selected 11th overall in 2012, but the Preds’ strategy illustrates just how quickly things can turn in the NHL, just how quickly one can go from buyer with Stanley Cup dreams to seller with different visions, at least in the short-term.

Philadelphia Flyers

This has been the season from hell for the Flyers vis-a-vis injuries, and so the expectations for GM Paul Holmgren at the deadline were modest. Still, the deal that saw the Flyers acquire former rookie of the year Steve Mason from Columbus for Michael Leighton and a third-round draft pick suggests more goaltending mayhem is ahead in Philly. Mason had been eclipsed by Sergei Bobrovsky, ironically a former Flyer netminder sent to Columbus last offseason, and can become a restricted free agent this summer. Perhaps this is a chance for the Flyers to see if Mason can regain his form and then try to sign him this summer while buying out Ilya Bryzgalov. Either way, it is a move that reflects continued uncertainty at the game’s most important position in one of the league’s most established markets.