There's a lot of stratification in the National Hockey League today.
If you watched any of the deadline coverage (and of course you did), you probably heard it referred to as parity, but that's not the same thing. Parity implies that there's not much of a difference, qualitatively, between the Nos. 1-3 teams in each conference and the Nos. 7-9 teams.
We know this to be patently false. There are, realistically, five teams in the NHL which look as though they could get deep into the playoffs and legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup. They are, in no particular order, the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks.
Because the best teams are so good, and the middle-of-the-pack teams so mediocre, there wasn't ever going to be much of a chance that someone made an earth-shattering move. As the much-discussed Rick Nash deal grew less and less likely with Columbus actually upping the asking price, anyone paying attention saw that there was never going to be a particularly active deadline.
Frankly, the teams that are the best didn't need to acquire anyone with marquee value because of how tight everything already is at the top, and how the apparent necessity of coughing up roster players has made it impossible to acquire someone without "disrupting the chemistry" of a team that's already floating above the rest of the league.
GMs aren't stupid. It's fun to act like they are anytime they make a trade or signing you don't agree with, but for the most part, they know what is and is not going to be a deal that works. Look at what Chicago did on its run to the Cup two years ago. Its biggest transaction in the month before the deadline was getting Nick Boynton from Anaheim for future considerations, or maybe getting Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy for Cam Barker.
Then, look at Peter Chiarelli's acquisitions last year around the deadline. Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly worked out great and were key contributors. But he also broke the bank on Tomas Kaberle — a good prospect in Joe Colborne, swapping a first-round pick, and a conditional second-round pick (and granted he was swimming in high picks to begin with) — and probably regrets it very much. The Bruins went on to win the Cup, of course, but it was far more due to guys like Peverley and Kelly than Kaberle, who instantly became a liability in his own zone and a whipping boy in the media.
It goes to show that just because you get a big-name player doesn't mean you get a player that lives up to his big name. If the Rangers, just as a for-instance, had sold off two roster players and some picks and prospects for Rick Nash, what then? That would likely have been their only trade of any significance and it would have been done to address… well, something. Most likely, it would have just addressed "the need to acquire a splashy name." Instead, they acquired John Scott because, you know, the Rangers don't have enough guys to beat the hell out of their opponents.
The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Vancouver and its apparent pursuit of Steve Ott for a minute. Getting a guy like Ott certainly would help any team in its pursuit of the Stanley Cup. He wins draws, is good in all three zones, and he plays a Brad Marchand-type role. But, of course, the asking price to acquire him was substantial, and frankly not worth it to any of his suitors. Vancouver was far better off taking the Stan Bowman/Peter Chiarelli route and acquiring Sami Pahlsson for a pair of fourth-round picks, shoring up the depth, and not creating a major shakeup in the roster.
Now, I say that understanding that the biggest trade of all came in the form of Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani going to Vancouver for Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer. But the difference between that trade and a theoretical one in which Vancouver gave up a bunch of pieces is that they shed a player who, in his current role, was immediately replaced and improved upon by Pahlsson and acquired both a good, young puck-moving defenseman to add some depth at the blue line as well as potential sandpaper if they need it from a former first-round pick in Kassian.
Certainly, losing the idea of Cody Hodgson is going to sting more than losing the physical presence of Cody Hodgson.
But let's be honest here: The biggest trade made by a team in the top five in the league Monday involved a 23-year-old defenseman with 12 points and a forward who has shuttled between the AHL and NHL all season, for a kid who plays soft minutes once the Sedin and Kesler lines get done with opponents' top two groups.
So next time you call out of work to sit in front of the TV and to watch a dozen trades take place over the course of eight hours, please keep in mind that the days of Marian Hossa moving at the deadline are over. All that is going to take place at the draft from now on.
And if you're a fan of a team at the top of the league, you should prefer it that way.