The clock struck noon on Wednesday before anyone made a move in the NHL, and the first deal involved two minor-leaguers, one of them a kid named Flick. It felt more like “A Christmas Story” than Christmas morning on TV. Only it wasn’t Flick whose tongue was stuck, frozen to a pole. It was the news-breakers with no news to break, the analysts with nothing to analyze.
But though Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff stayed put, the dead tradeline turned into the trade deadline after all. Marian Gaborik went to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jason Pominville went to the Minnesota Wild. There was a flurry of moves up to and even past 3 p.m. ET, despite the tight standings, the lower salary cap next season, the tough seller’s market.
Combined with the activity leading up to deadline day – from Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr, to Jay Bouwmeester and Ryane Clowe – several contenders fortified themselves for the playoffs while others girded themselves for a rebuild. None of the deals can be judged fairly yet, but here are our knee-jerk reactions:
Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets
Wednesday was Jarmo Kekalainen’s coming out party as Columbus GM. He made the boldest move, acquiring Gaborik from the New York Rangers in a deal that involved five other players and a draft pick. Gaborik struggled so badly and was so deep in John Tortorella’s doghouse that the Rangers wanted him gone and he waived his no-trade clause. But speedy snipers capable of scoring 40 goals are hard to find, and Gaborik fills the superstar void left when the Jackets traded Rick Nash to the Rangers last year. Kekalainen also added Blake Comeau and dumped Steve Mason. Even if the Jackets don’t make the playoffs, they are pushing to improve and still have three first-round picks in a strong draft.
[Related: Blue Jackets pull off trade shocker, obtain Marian Gaborik from Rangers]
Loser: New York Rangers
The Rangers needed to replenish the grit and depth they lost last summer, and they did that by adding Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Clowe is a rugged winger. Brassard is a skilled center. Dorsett will be a banger when he comes back from a broken collarbone. Moore can skate on defense. By dumping Gaborik and adding Brassard, the Rangers cleared cap space and might have set themselves up to use their last amnesty buyout on center Brad Richards this summer. But the fact remains, they are the worst offensive team in the NHL. Clowe, Brassard, Dorsett and Moore have 10 goals combined. Gaborik has nine. He scored 41 goals last season, under Tortorella, in Tortorella’s system, so it can work. But it hasn’t worked, and while Gaborik is responsible for that, so is the coach who played him on his off wing, benched him, demoted him and ultimately ran him out.
Loser: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers traded Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus last season – and now Bobrovsky is playing so well, he is a candidate for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. One theory: Bobrovsky is playing without the kind of pressure there is in Philadelphia. So now the Flyers have acquired a goaltender from the Blue Jackets, but it isn’t Bobrovsky. It’s Steve Mason, who has struggled with his confidence and performance since winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2009. Is he going to recapture his form in Philly, of all places? The Flyers might want to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov, and they might not have wanted to pay the price for Ben Bishop. But it will be incredible if Mason becomes the answer to their chronic goaltending woes.
Winner: Minnesota Wild
This is the next step in the Wild’s evolution as an organization. First, the Wild drafted well and built a base of assets. Then the Wild landed the top free agents on the market last summer, signing winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals. Then the Wild started competing for a division title. And now GM Chuck Fletcher has made a splash at the deadline by adding Pominville, a former captain and top-six forward who has a season left on his contract at $5.3 million. The price was high, very high – prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, plus a first-round pick and a second-rounder, with a fourth-rounder coming back. But the Wild has enough young talent to make this deal and try to start winning now.
Loser: Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres aren’t losers because of the return GM Darcy Regier received – certainly not for Pominville, and not for Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold, either. He received two second-rounders for Regehr, the going rate for top rental defensemen. He received a second-rounder and a conditional pick for Leopold, another rental on ‘D.’ The Sabres have now have a pile of picks and a couple of good prospects. Hackett could be a key addition if they decide to part with goaltender Ryan Miller. No, the Sabres are losers in the big picture. This is an admission that the moves they made since owner Terry Pegula bought the team were wrong. Pegula begged Regehr to waive his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo, and now the Sabres asked him to waive it to leave. They traded their captain, one of the few who was not part of the problem. Though Regier did a good job this week, it’s still fair to ask whether he should be on the job this summer.
Winner: Nashville Predators
Martin Erat wanted out. Things had gone bad with coach Barry Trotz and the Predators, the only coach and team he had known in the NHL. He had only four goals. He was minus-7. The Preds were on the playoff bubble, at best. Not only was Erat willing to waive his no-trade clause, he asked to be traded. But the Predators kept it quiet, and they packaged Erat – with two years left on his contract at $4.5 million – with minor-leaguer Michael Latta. In return they received Filip Forsberg, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Forsberg, 18, is a skilled center. As well as the Predators have drafted and developed, they have struggled to find elite offensive talent. Snagging Forsberg, especially under the circumstances, was a coup.
[Also: Flyers acquire up-and-down goalie Steve Mason from Blue Jackets]
Loser: Washington Capitals
Erat usually scores about 20 goals a season, and he can contribute on the power play. Latta, a third-round pick in 2009, is a 21-year-old center prospect with 6-foot, 209-pound size and an edge. There must be a reason why Forsberg slipped to 11th overall in 2012, when he was projected as a top-six pick, and the Capitals’ top center prospect remains 20-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov, a first-rounder in 2010. Still, Forsberg seems like a lot to give up, and will adding Erat’s salary make it more difficult to re-sign center Mike Ribeiro, the pending unrestricted free agent the Caps decided not to trade?
Winner: San Jose Sharks
GM Doug Wilson sparked a winning streak, cut fat from his roster and increased his team speed while stockpiling draft picks. Then he plugged two of the holes he created with cheap rentals. After his first trade early last week, Wilson made it clear that performance would influence his next moves, and the Sharks won five straight. He traded three pending free agents who were slow and unproductive – Clowe, Michael Handzus and Douglas Murray – and turned them into two second-round picks, two conditional second-rounders, a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder. On Wednesday, he acquired Scott Hannan, a former Shark on an expiring contract, to fill in for Murray on the blue line. All it cost was a seventh-round pick (or a sixth-rounder if Hannan appears in the playoffs). Finally, he rented Raffi Torres for a third-rounder to replace Clowe’s physical edge. Savvy maneuvering.
Loser: Dallas Stars
Look, after failing to make the playoffs and losing pending free agents for nothing in the past, the Stars had to do it. They had sell off Jagr, Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy, and they got a decent return – picks and prospects, including defensemen Joe Morrow and Kevin Connauton. But it’s fair to wonder if GM Joe Nieuwendyk could have gotten more, and it’s fair to say the Stars are still a mess. Morrow was slowing down and couldn’t continue as captain. Fine. But when they added Jagr, Roy and Ray Whitney last summer, the idea was that they would sell tickets and compete for a playoff spot. The idea was that the experience would help youngsters like Jamie Benn. Well, the rink still has too many empty seats, and the Stars still are on the bubble, at best. The Stars need to decide whether to continue with coach Glen Gulutzan, if not Nieuwendyk, and what kind of team they are going to be.
Winner: Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson is returning from injury. Robin Lehner is going to be a star. So the Senators could move goaltender Ben Bishop if they got a great offer, and they got one: Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick. Conacher cooled off considerably after his hot start this season, and he’s a 5-foot-8, 179-pound 23-year-old who was never drafted. But he’s fearless driving the net, and he should fit in with a team that has used guts and goaltending to overcome injuries and stay in the playoff race.
Loser: Tampa Bay Lightning
In the long run, GM Steve Yzerman could look smart. Maybe he sold Conacher’s stock at just the right time. Maybe Bishop will become the goaltender he has been looking for. But for now, there is skepticism, because he gave up a lot in a package for goaltender Anders Lindback last year and it didn’t work out, and now he has given up a young talent for another big goaltender who is unproven. With Bishop and Lindback, the odds are better that the Bolts will develop someone solid in net. But Yzerman still needs to address a porous defense, and with Conacher gone, he needs more secondary scoring.
[More: Ottawa sends goalie Ben Bishop to Tampa for Cory Conacher]
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
GM Ray Shero is known to be aggressive before the deadline, and with a stacked roster and salary-cap space, he was in position to go for it again. He added a future Hall of Famer in Iginla, another captain in Morrow and another vet in Murray, adding a mix of scoring, grit, toughness and experience on the wing and blue line. He gave up nothing off his roster. He gave up picks and prospects – and none of his top prospects, though Joe Morrow has potential. Finally, after Sidney Crosby suffered a broken jaw, he added Jussi Jokinen, who can play center while Crosby recovers and wing after he comes back. Jokinen has one year left on his contract at $3 million, which is why he passed through waivers last week. But Shero got the Carolina Hurricanes to eat some of the money, and the cost was only a conditional pick – a sixth- or seventh-rounder. Amazing. The only concerns are chemistry and speed. The new arrivals need to fit into a team that was already elite. None is a burner.
Winner: St. Louis Blues
The Blues have been looking for a left-shot, top-four defenseman for a long time, and they outbid their division rival, the Detroit Red Wings, for Jay Bouwmeester. Though he hasn’t lived up to his contract – which still has a year left $6.68 million – Bouwmeester can move the puck and defend. His contract is even sort of a positive in St. Louis, because it shows the Blues aren’t sticking to such a tight budget under new ownership. The Blues also added Leopold to their defense while subtracting Wade Redden.
Loser: Calgary Flames
The Flames continued their dysfunction, even as they finally seemed to start looking toward the future. They traded Iginla, as fans and media have been urging for years. But after agreeing to a deal with the Boston Bruins, they had to accept a lesser deal with the Penguins when Iginla waived his no-trade clause for Pittsburgh. GM Jay Feaster got a decent return for Bouwmeester, but not a great one. He moved Blake Comeau, but he couldn’t move Kiprusoff, who didn’t want to leave Calgary partly because of family reasons and partly because he might retire after the season. It was classy to respect Kiprusoff’s wishes. But it was scary to hear Feaster say his marching orders from owner Murray Edwards were to make the playoffs next season. If the Flames are still focused on the short term and not recognizing how much rebuilding they need to do, they have not solved their main problem.
Winner: Boston Bruins
The Bruins lost out on Morrow. They lost out on Iginla, even though they thought they had a deal and made a better offer. They watched both of them go to the Penguins, one of their main rivals in the East. But they caught a break when the Stars decided to trade Jagr, who has been more productive than both and came at a lower price than they would have paid for Iginla. Jagr has 14 goals, as many as any current Bruin. He has six power-play goals, three more than any current Bruin. If he bolsters the power play, he will have strengthened their greatest weakness. The Bruins also added Redden for depth on defense. If only they could be sure they will have Patrice Bergeron, who has suffered another concussion.
Winners: Teams that made subtle moves or didn’t do too much
The Los Angeles Kings added Regehr, who played for coach Darryl Sutter in Calgary and can make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell to injury…The Montreal Canadiens added Davis Drewiske, a solid third-pair defenseman…The Chicago Blackhawks added Michal Handzus to help on faceoffs, where they fall off badly after Jonathan Toews…The Phoenix Coyotes managed to get something in return for Torres, Steve Sullivan and even Matthew Lombardi…The New York Islanders kept captain Mark Streit even though they haven’t re-signed him…The Toronto Maple Leafs did not trade for a goaltender, only depth defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.
Losers: Teams that didn’t do enough
The Winnipeg Jets are clinging to the lead in the weak Southeast Division. But they were unable to add anything, let alone a top-six forward…The Hurricanes had to eat salary to move Jokinen, and they seemed stuck between buying and selling. They have been trying to add a defenseman, and it hurts even more now that Joni Pitkanen is injured…The Detroit Red Wings badly need an upgrade on defense, and they were wise not to sacrifice assets to make a bad deal when they haven’t drafted high and aren’t top contenders. But that won’t satisfy fans who are so used to winning, and it could cause short-term pain in the playoffs…The New Jersey Devils added Sullivan, a smart, skilled veteran, but how much does he have left?...The Edmonton Oilers did not move Ryan Whitney, when there seemed to be a market for a struggling player…The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers had little to sell and no reason to add for the present…The Anaheim Ducks didn’t do much of consequence – Lombardi? – despite their lofty position in the West…The Vancouver Canucks badly needed a center and added Roy, but is Roy really the missing piece? They were unable to unload Luongo, yet again. Not only did they not get a player in return who can help right now, they ensured the soap opera will continue.
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