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Wednesday, March 4, 2009
How deadline impacts playoff picture

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

And so the dust settled on the 2009 trade deadline.

And with top names like Jay Bouwmeester and Chris Pronger staying put, and top teams like Washington and Detroit standing pat, there is more than a little sense of lunch-bag letdown. But make no mistake, as it does every year, the NHL landscape changed as a result of the 22 deals involving 47 players made before Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.

The changes may be felt tomorrow in places like New York, where the Rangers have dramatically altered their team personality in recent days, Pittsburgh and Boston, while the changes will be more subtle in places like Toronto and Anaheim, where players departed in exchange for prospects and draft picks.

Here's a look at how the deadline panned out across the NHL and what the playoff impact will be across the board (we listed teams in the order of the standings heading into action Wednesday night).

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins: The Bruins have shown a bit of a wobble after leading the Eastern Conference pretty much from the start of the season, so GM Peter Chiarelli added a couple of solid, if unspectacular, pieces in defenseman Steve Montador and veteran forward Mark Recchi. Kudos to Chiarelli for plugging a couple of holes without disrupting his future (which would have been the case had he acquired Chris Pronger). Chiarelli wanted Keith Tkachuk and couldn't get it done, but his team is better than it was yesterday. Trending: Up

New Jersey Devils: As usual, things are always a bit understated in New Jersey, but make no mistake, this Devils team is better than it was a week ago and is as good as any team in the conference heading down the stretch. With Martin Brodeur back and playing like the Hall of Famer he is, and the acquisition of Niclas Havelid, who should fit in well with the Devils' defense-by-committee style of play, an already good team is better. Trending: Up

Washington Capitals: After making a splash last season with the acquisition of Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov, the Caps were silent at this year's trade deadline, although they did kick the tires on Derek Morris and Pronger. The Caps did announce Wednesday that defenseman Brian Pothier, out more than a year with a concussion, has been cleared to play and will be on a conditioning stint in the AHL. If Pothier can get back to form, the Caps will have addressed one question about their defensive depth. Although there remain questions about the team's goaltending depth, GM George McPhee refused to part with any of the team's top prospects and the Caps remain one of the top teams in the conference. Trending: Sideways

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers were rumored to be in the middle of a lot of talks -- Derek Morris, Bouwmeester, Kari Lehtonen -- and, in the end, added a player with a history of discipline problems in Daniel Carcillo in exchange for Scottie Upshall, who came over from Nashville in the Peter Forsberg deal a couple of years ago. They also picked up Kyle McLaren, who was buried in the AHL by San Jose. Hard to imagine how the Flyers are any better today than yesterday. Trending: Down

Montreal Canadiens: There will no doubt be criticism of GM Bob Gainey in some quarters after he did not address what appears to be a need for size and skill down the middle to replace the injured Robert Lang and perhaps the lack of experience in goal. But Gainey has already seen his team turn a corner with a reinvigorated Alexei Kovalev and the addition of Mathieu Schneider, who has helped the power play since his arrival a couple of weeks ago. Trending: Sideways

Florida Panthers: Jacques Martin was sorely tempted to deal Bouwmeester, but didn't; so, the Panthers are ahead of the game, at least in the short term, because Martin could have never acquired talent to match Bouwmeester. He did pick up a defenseman in Steve Eminger, who will add some depth to an already impressive Florida blue line. A bit surprising the Panthers didn't find some help up front. Trending: Sideways

New York Rangers: Talk about a personality makeover. In recent days, the New York Rangers have added the combustible John Tortorella behind the bench and reacquired Sean Avery on re-entry waivers before adding center Nik Antropov and Morris. The Morris deal cost them Petr Prucha, Nigel Dawes and Dmitri Kalinin. We're not sure how the streaky Antropov will fit with Tortorella, but if the complaint was this Rangers team was vanilla, it isn't any longer. Not sure exactly what flavor it is, but it's not vanilla. Trending: Up

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins are another team that looks dramatically different from a month ago. The acquisition of Chris Kunitz from Anaheim last week has paid immediate dividends as the Pens have won four in a row, even though Sidney Crosby (groin injury) has been out. On Wednesday, GM Ray Shero brought in veteran playoff performer Bill Guerin, the New York Islanders' captain who was originally thought to be headed elsewhere. Guerin's last deadline move didn't work out so well in San Jose, but he won't be asked to carry the load, just to chip in. The Pens are looking more formidable every day. Trending: Up

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes were coming off a huge win over Washington and sitting just one point out of a playoff berth at the deadline, when GM Jim Rutherford brought back prodigal forward Erik Cole, who didn't pan out in Edmonton. Rutherford loves what he knows, and he knows the chemistry Cole enjoyed with Eric Staal during the Hurricanes' Cup-winning season in 2005-06. He gave up Justin Williams, whose injury woes have cost him significant parts of the last two seasons, in the hope Cole can help Carolina make the playoffs after missing the past two postseasons. Trending: Up

Buffalo Sabres: Interesting day for the Sabres, who locked up talented but injury-prone Tim Connolly to a two-year deal worth $9 million before adding goaltending depth in Mikael Tellqvist. A strange twist later in the day, though, as they sent one potential unrestricted free agent, Ales Kotalik, to Edmonton after acquiring another potential UFA in Dominic Moore from the Leafs. Bottom line is, unless Ryan Miller comes back quickly from an ankle injury, these deals aren't likely to get the Sabres into the postseason. Trending: Sideways

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs' reconstruction under GM Brian Burke began in earnest as they shut down netminder Vesa Toskala, who will have season-ending surgery. They picked up Martin Gerber on re-entry waivers and then dealt Moore and Antropov for two second-round picks and a conditional pick (about what you would expect for potential UFAs of their caliber). Burke also kept Tomas Kaberle, who is talented and economical and for whom the GM was asking a king's ransom. For a team that has basically been denuded of picks and prospects, it's a step in the right direction. Trending: Up

Ottawa Senators: The Senators were busy acquiring a goaltender in Pascal Leclaire, who may solve their long-standing No. 1 goaltending issue, assuming he can recover from the injuries that cost him the No. 1 job in Columbus. It cost the Sens center Antoine Vermette, who, like many Senators, has struggled this season. GM Bryan Murray also couldn't unload tough guy Chris Neil, who looks destined to depart via free agency this summer, so that was a missed opportunity to add something to the coffers. The deadline deal was preceded by a strange move, sending a first-round pick and Dean McAmmond to the Islanders for defenseman Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie (UFA July 1). Trending: Down

Tampa Bay Lightning: Despite all of the Vincent Lecavalier talk earlier this season, the Lightning actually ended up hanging on to more players than one might have imagined. Recchi's departure to Boston was no surprise and the Lightning got two young players, including defenseman Matt Hunwick, who has NHL skills. It was a surprise the Lightning couldn't move Gary Roberts, who was placed on waivers and went unclaimed and unmoved. Jeff Halpern also remains with Tampa, which is probably a good thing for the rebuilding Bolts. Trending: Sideways

Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers were in sell mode again this season, moving Havelid to New Jersey for AHL defenseman Anssi Salmela, who has put up nice totals for Lowell (24 points in 38 games), and Erik Christensen to Anaheim for junior player Eric O'Dell, who is a point-a-game guy for the Sudbury Wolves. Last month, GM Don Waddell moved Mathieu Schneider for a second- and third-round draft pick, although the Thrashers will send a pick back to Montreal (the value of which is determined by how deep the Canadiens go in the playoffs). For a team that has struggled to draft and develop its own players, the picks are important. More important: what happens to Ilya Kovalchuk between now and the June draft; that's when trade talks will heat up again. Trending: Sideways

New York Islanders: The lowly Islanders finally dealt captain Bill Guerin, acquiring a conditional draft pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles will get anywhere between a third- and a fifth-round pick, depending on whether the Penguins make the playoffs and win a round. Trend: Sideways

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks: With veteran checking forward Mike Grier out long term with an injury and the Sharks struggling a bit (5-4-1 in their past 10 games), GM Doug Wilson once again used the deadline to fill a hole in his lineup. The Sharks added two Cup winners from Anaheim in checking forward Travis Moen and defenseman Kent Huskins. Moen, in particular, was part of the Ducks' top shut-down unit during their Cup run in 2007. He joins former Cup winners Claude Lemieux, Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich and Rob Blake. Trending: Up

Detroit Red Wings: As expected, the defending Stanley Cup champs were quiet on deadline day. They kicked the tires on Ottawa's Chris Neil, but finally decided that whatever issues they have will be dealt with internally. Hard to argue with the strategy employed by GM Ken Holland, though, who has four Stanley Cup rings to show for his work since 1997. We know, we know, what about the goaltending. Last time we looked, Chris Osgood still had three Cup rings, including one from last spring. Trending: Sideways

Calgary Flames: At the end of the day, the Flames look to have made the biggest strides in the Western Conference, maybe the entire NHL, in adding impact players with defenseman Jordan Leopold coming back to Calgary from Colorado and center Olli Jokinen arriving to help provide depth down the middle. With injuries to Rene Bourque and Todd Bertuzzi up front, Jokinen will get quality minutes and should thrive under former coach Mike Keenan after a disappointing year in Phoenix. Of course, Jokinen has never played in a single postseason contest in his career. He'll get his chance to show that was merely a coincidence as the Flames hope to play spoiler against the top-rated Sharks and Red Wings come playoff time. Trending: Up

Chicago Blackhawks: It was no secret what the Blackhawks coveted this trade deadline period, and kudos to GM Dale Tallon for getting depth down the middle in the form of top-notch defensive center Samuel Pahlsson, who was a key part of Anaheim's Cup run in 2007. It cost the Blackhawks young defenseman James Wisniewski, whose playing time had declined with the addition of Brian Campbell and the emergence of Cam Barker. Pahlsson is out with mononucleosis, but should be back in a couple of weeks. His experience should be invaluable on a young team with big playoff aspirations. Trending: Up

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks were one of the teams hard after Bouwmeester, but couldn't get a deal done. In the end, though, the Canucks made no moves despite having a ton of cap space to play with. It looks as if the Canucks may end up facing Chicago in the first round, and if the Hawks are victorious, critics will point to GM Mike Gillis' inability to get a deal done as a potential tipping point. Still, the Canucks are rolling (8-2-0 in their past 10) with Mats Sundin finally hitting his stride and Roberto Luongo fully recovered from a groin injury that sidelined him earlier in the season. So, maybe not making a move won't come back to bite the Canucks. Maybe. Trending: Sideways

Columbus Blue Jackets: GM Scott Howson addressed an obvious need for his Blue Jackets. They landed Ottawa center Antoine Vermette, who has underachieved this season, but will get lots of opportunity on the power play and play top-six minutes with Columbus. It didn't cost the Blue Jackets much as they sent injured netminder Pascal Leclaire to the Senators. Leclaire lost his job to rookie of the year candidate Steve Mason, and while there isn't much in the way of a safety net for Mason (with all due respect to Wade Dubielewicz), the team isn't likely to go far without him, anyway. The Blue Jackets are better today than yesterday, but will it be enough to get them to the playoffs for the first time? Trending: Up

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NHL this season and were in desperate need of a shot in the arm offensively to try to maintain a playoff berth. They got two such shots as they acquired Patrick O'Sullivan from Los Angeles and Ales Kotalik from Buffalo, giving up Erik Cole, who was headed for free agency and had not really provided the expected production (27 points in 63 games) when he came in a trade for Joni Pitkanen. Kotalik provides a big body (6-foot-2, 227 pounds) the Oilers hope will be more effective than their other big body, Dustin Penner. Can these two additions make the Oilers tougher to play against? They better. Trending: Up

Nashville Predators: Let's be honest, no one expected the Predators to be in buy mode and yet they hit the deadline in eighth place in the Western Conference thanks to an unexpected outpouring of offense and the stellar netminding of rookie Pekka Rinne. Still, given the reality of the economics for the Predators, it's not surprising they were silent as the deadline passed. Steve Sullivan, who came back earlier this season after a serious back injury, is starting to find his scoring touch. Not sure it'll be enough; maybe GM David Poile will regret not finding some scoring depth. But, really, scorers weren't just hanging on trees Wednesday. Trending: Sideways

Anaheim Ducks: Big changes in Anaheim. Most of them point to the future, and we don't mean next week. GM Bob Murray traded two-thirds of what was once the best checking line in hockey, Travis Moen and Samuel Pahlsson, along with veteran defenseman Steve Montador after dealing Chris Kunitz last week. The Ducks also saw Brendan Morrison head to Dallas after the Stars claimed him on waivers. What came back? Well, they picked up two talented young defensemen in Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski, who can play right away, along with forward Petteri Nokelainen, who is out with an eye injury but can play in the NHL when healthy. Still, this is a team that is building for the future as opposed to building up for a Cup run in 2009. Trending: Down

Dallas Stars: The Stars did pick up Morrison on waivers and they did finally wash their hands of Sean Avery, who was picked up on re-entry waivers by the New York Rangers. But this was a quiet time for the slumping Stars. It's a sign of the economic times that the normally active Stars (last season, they brought in Brad Richards from Tampa) stood pat even though they are riddled by injury and are now outside the playoff bubble. Trending: Down

Minnesota Wild: Well, GM Doug Risebrough did manage to re-sign top netminder Niklas Backstrom to a four-year contract extension, but, other than that, the Wild did little to address what is a crippling lack of scoring (they rank 28th in goals per game). Yes, Marian Gaborik will return sometime in March, but with the Wild in 11th place and sliding, it may be too little too late for a team that hasn't won a playoff round since 2003. Trending: Down

St. Louis Blues: The Blues were in the surprising position of being both buyer and seller given their strong play of late. It was that conundrum that ultimately led the Blues to hang on to Keith Tkachuk despite strong interest from a number of teams, including the Bruins. While they did not add a piece, look for them to perhaps take a run at Chris Pronger before the draft if he's on the market and be in the thick of the playoff race a year from now. Trending: Sideways

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have fallen down the Western Conference ladder and were definitely looking forward to next season when they acquired Justin Williams from Carolina. Williams has played in just 32 games this season after playing in just 37 games a season ago. He is, however, a proven point producer when healthy, has two years left on his contract at $3.5 million annually and adds another piece to the interesting puzzle Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi is building in L.A. The Kings said goodbye to Patrick O'Sullivan in the process, but a healthy Williams makes this a palatable exchange. Trending: Up

Phoenix Coyotes: For much of this season, the Coyotes looked ready to take the step into the playoffs, but they have been woeful since the All-Star break and found themselves selling off parts like Morris and Jokinen on Wednesday. They did get a number of interesting pieces back, though, in Nigel Dawes, Dmitri Kalinin and Petr Prucha from New York and Matthew Lombardi, prospect Brandon Prust and a first-round pick from Calgary. They also unloaded Daniel Carcillo on Philadelphia for Scottie Upshall, who should be more Wayne Gretzky's type of player. In short, the Coyotes managed to add pieces that suggest a playoff berth is a real possibility next season. Of course, this is a script we've read before. Trending: Sideways

Colorado Avalanche: For a team that looks to be in full rebuilding mode, the Avs did very little Wednesday, moving Leopold to Calgary for defensemen Ryan Wilson, Lawrence Nycholat and a second-round pick. Look for the Avs to re-sign potential free agent Ian Laperriere, but there still seems to be a big disconnect from where this team is now (dead last in the West) and where it needs to go (to the playoffs). Trending: Down

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.