Dustin Penner(notes) was like most people in the hockey world on Monday. He was killing time as the NHL trade deadline approached. As the news trickled in on a quiet morning and afternoon – when it trickled in at all – he was waiting for the big move that would capture everyone’s attention.
Specifically, he was playing ping-pong in the Edmonton Oilers’ dressing room with teammate Shawn Horcoff(notes) when he was called over to the television. He took a second glance to make sure that it was really his name on there, that the big move featured him.
“And I was down, so it actually came at a good time, because I would have lost 50 bucks,” Penner joked in a news conference.
Now Penner is heading up in the standings, and everyone involved hopes it will pay off. Penner is going from the Oilers, the last-place team in the league, to the Los Angeles Kings, who rank fifth in the Western Conference and not only think they can make the playoffs, but think they can go deep.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, not known for making bold moves, ended up as one of the winners of the trade season.
He didn’t acquire the Dallas Stars’ Brad Richards(notes) or the Oilers’ Ales Hemsky(notes), neither of whom were traded, and he paid a high price for Penner – a first-round pick in this year’s draft; defense prospect Colten Teubert(notes), the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft; plus a third-round pick in the 2012 draft (a second-rounder if the Kings win the Stanley Cup this year).
But he didn’t give up prized prospect Brayden Schenn(notes). He already has two stud young defensemen in Drew Doughty(notes) and Jack Johnson(notes), plus several solid ‘D’ prospects. And he landed the top-six forward he has long needed in Penner, a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder who can skate and has scored as many as 32 goals.
Penner is signed through next season at a salary cap hit of $4.25 million, leaving the Kings room to pursue free agents this summer, and he already has won a Cup in Southern California, with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
“This is (one of) those times where you look at your team and you say, ‘You know what? They deserve some help,’ ” Lombardi told reporters, proud that the Kings have come back with an 11-1-3 run after a 2-10 slump. “I just felt that there was a little more urgency because of what the players had done to get us to this point.”
There was urgency all over the NHL the past three weeks. With the standings tight, the GMs more comfortable six years into the salary cap and the options limited in free agency this summer, there was an early flurry of trades.
There were 26 deals from Feb. 9 through Sunday night, leaving only 16 for Monday, the lowest total on deadline day since a mere 12 in 2000. In a sellers’ market, the prices stayed high all the way to the end.
Here were the biggest winners, other than the Kings, and the biggest losers:
Washington Capitals: The second-biggest move on Monday came right at the deadline when the Capitals landed Jason Arnott(notes), the big, tough veteran who scored the double-overtime goal that won the Cup for the New Jersey Devils in 2000. Washington GM George McPhee sent the Devils fourth-line center David Steckel and a second-round pick for Arnott, a rental. But the Capitals badly needed a second-line center. Arnott had said he would waive his no-trade clause only for contender; he has a shot at another Cup now.
McPhee also claimed winger Marco Sturm(notes) off waivers from the Kings and acquired puck-moving defenseman Dennis Wideman(notes) from the Florida Panthers for a prospect and a third-round pick. Last year, McPhee upset the chemistry of the league’s top regular-season team with his deadline moves. This season, no such problem. He needed to fill holes and shake up an underachieving group.
Chiarelli brought in defenseman Tomas Kaberle(notes) to feed Zdeno Chara(notes) on the power play, plus center Chris Kelly(notes) and winger Rich Peverley(notes). He had to give up some assets to do it: a first-round pick, a second-round pick, a conditional second-round pick, a prospect and a couple of players off his roster – winger Blake Wheeler(notes) and defenseman Mark Stuart(notes). But there is an opportunity to win now, and the Bruins are better now – deeper up front and more skilled on the back end with great goaltending.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Look, if Sidney Crosby(notes) can’t return from his concussion, the Penguins aren’t going to win the Cup. They already have lost Evgeni Malkin(notes) for the rest of the season with a knee injury. You don’t lose two of the best players in the world and expect to win it all. But whenever Crosby comes back – this season or next – the Pens’ chances will be better because GM Ray Shero has made more of his usual smart moves before the deadline.
Shero rented Alexei Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators for only a conditional seventh-round pick. If Kovalev works out – and he already has helped win one game, with a goal in regulation and the shootout winner Saturday night at Toronto – great. If not, he’s gone as an unrestricted free agent.
But the real gem was sending defenseman Alex Goligoski(notes) to the Stars for winger James Neal(notes) and defenseman Matt Niskanen(notes). If Neal finds chemistry with any one of the Pens’ star centers – Crosby, Malkin or Jordan Staal(notes) – he could be a big-time goal-scorer. Niskanen is already logging a lot of minutes.
Teams that added depth: If you’re a top contender or just hot, sometimes tweaks are all you need. You don’t have big holes to fill, you don’t want to upset your chemistry.
The Philadelphia Flyers somehow squeezed Kris Versteeg(notes) into their already solid four lines. The San Jose Sharks (Ian White(notes)) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Eric Brewer(notes)) bolstered their defenses. The Calgary Flames added speed with winger Fredrik Modin(notes), who won a Cup for GM Jay Feaster in 2004 with the Lightning, and the Vancouver Canucks strengthened their fourth line with Maxim Lapierre(notes) and Chris Higgins(notes). All of these teams are already playing well, and all of them made these moves without giving up anything off their rosters, though the Flyers (first- and third-rounders) and the Sharks (second-rounder) paid a premium in picks.
Ottawa Senators: Bryan Murray helped get the Senators into this mess, but as painful as it was, his fire sale set them up to get out of it.
Murray shipped out Kelly, Kovalev, Chris Campoli(notes), Brian Elliott(notes), Mike Fisher(notes) and Jarkko Ruutu(notes) among his many deals. But now the Senators have two first-rounders and three second-rounders among 12 total draft picks this year. They have saved millions in cap space and real dollars. They are auditioning Craig Anderson(notes), a pending UFA, as their goalie of the future, and have kept Daniel Alfredsson(notes), Chris Neil(notes), Jason Spezza(notes) and Chris Phillips(notes), who signed a contract extension instead of waiving his no-trade clause to go elsewhere.
“For the time being,” Murray said in a news conference, “I think we’ve got the core that we need to start over.”
Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs GM Brian Burke subtracted Kaberle, Versteeg and Francois Beauchemin(notes). Not only did he receive a lot in return – two first-rounders, a conditional second-rounder, a third-rounder, two prospects and winger Joffrey Lupul(notes) – his team has been playing better and is back in the playoff race.
The only disappointment is that Burke couldn’t follow all that bold selling with some bold buying. No impact forward. Nobody like Colorado Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles(notes). But you know Burke isn’t done wheeling and dealing. He’ll be back at it at the draft.
Florida Panthers: GM Dale Tallon cleared a ton of cash by parting with players such as Higgins, Wideman, Bryan Allen(notes), Radek Dvorak(notes) and Bryan McCabe(notes). But he didn’t get much in return and couldn’t get rid of everybody, including pending UFAs Marty Reasoner(notes) and Tomas Vokoun(notes). He also shipped out 20-goal scorer Michael Frolik(notes) in a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought in Jack Skille(notes), who fits the team’s style better but hasn’t shown as much offensive upside. Let’s see what Tallon does with all that cap space.
New York Islanders: The Isles entered Monday with what looked like a couple of assets to sell: center Zenon Konopka(notes), a fight and faceoff specialist, and Radek Martinek(notes), a serviceable defenseman. Both are pending UFAs. But GM Garth Snow got nothing for them after selling off goaltender Dwayne Roloson(notes) and defenseman James Wisniewski(notes) before the start of trade season.
Atlanta Thrashers: GM Rick Dudley’s club has crumbled after a strong start, and it seemed like he needed to make a strong statement either way – to buy if he thought they still had a shot at the playoffs, to sell if he thought they needed to focus on the future. In the end, he sent mixed messages by doing a little bit of both, acquiring guys like Dvorak, Stuart, Wheeler and Rob Schremp(notes), and shipping out guys like Modin and Niclas Bergfors(notes). Dudley told reporters the Thrashers had gotten younger, deeper and better on the penalty kill, but it was hard to tell if they had really improved and, if so, how much.
New York Rangers: GM Glen Sather made a great move by renting McCabe for minor-leaguer Tim Kennedy(notes) and a third-round pick, and maybe he made a great move in the long term by not trading for Richards. Why give up a ton for Richards, especially when he’s recovering from a concussion, when you have a good shot to sign him as an unrestricted free agent July 1? Still, it’s unsatisfying in the short term. The Rangers have battled hard all season and could have used more reinforcements for a playoff run.
Joe Nieuwendyk: The reason Nieuwendyk is listed as a loser is that he couldn’t win, at least not right now. First, he traded Neal and Niskanen for Goligoski, and as much as he explains the need for a puck-moving defenseman like Goligoski, some will never forgive him for giving up a guy like Neal – especially if Neal explodes offensively with Crosby and Co. Next, he had to play deal or no deal with Richards, his best player, a pending UFA with a no-movement clause and a concussion.
“In my mind, I wasn’t going to move him unless someone really knocked our socks off with something we couldn’t refuse,” Nieuwendyk told reporters. “We’ve always said all along that we want to sign Brad, and we still feel that way.”
In my mind, that was the right move. Nieuwendyk knows Richards well and communicates with him often, and he must think there is a realistic chance to re-sign Richards if the Stars can settle their ownership situation soon. The Stars are fighting for a playoff spot and the hearts of fans in Dallas, and so they need to fight for Richards, an important part of both causes. He could come back as soon as Friday night at Anaheim.
But if the Stars don’t make the playoffs, if they don’t settle their ownership situation, if Richards bolts and Nieuwendyk didn’t get anything in return but $7.8 million in cap space, many will look back on this as a blown opportunity.
“I’m a Dallas Star,” Richards told reporters. “These are my friends. These are my teammates.”
Yes. But for how long?