Poised to make their first appearance in a 16-team playoff format since 2017, the Rangers bulked up their blueline by adding Justin Braun from Philadelphia, and shored up secondary forward needs by acquiring Tyler Motte from Vancouver and Andrew Copp from Winnipeg.
They join a balanced lineup which features six players with 10 or more goals, led by Kris Kreider’s 41, and a blueline that features defending Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox.
“I’m excited where we’re at now but there’s a long way to go,” Rangers GM Chris Drury said, while cautioning his intent was to improve the team and not match what other Eastern Conference contenders were doing. In swinging four trades, with the addition of forward Nick Merkley from San Jose, the Rangers gave up five draft picks, including two conditional second-rounders to the Jets, and two minor league prospects.
As for Fleury, unable to backstop the retooling Chicago Blackhawks into contention, the three-time Stanley Cup-winner is headed to Minnesota to help the high-scoring Wild shore up their inconsistent goaltending issues. With Chicago agreeing to pay half what’s left on the final year of Fleury’s salary, Minnesota gave up a conditional first-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire the 37-year-old, who won his first Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie with Vegas a year ago.
“I love to compete and to play, the fun of the game, but there’s not much that beats winning,” said Fleury, who had a 19-21-1 record and four shutouts in Chicago. “You can ask anybody who has won: You’re always chasing that feeling and that achievement. Yeah, just want to keep doing it again.”
Fleury, who last missed the playoffs during his first full season in Pittsburgh 16 years ago, jumped 10 spots in the Western Conference standings by landing in Minnesota where he will share the goaltending duties with Cam Talbot. He's also reunited with former Penguins teammate, Bill Guerin, who is the Wild's GM.
Minnesota opened the day sitting fourth overall — and third in the Central Division — in a tightly contested playoff race in which six points separate third-place St. Louis and ninth-place Dallas.
Of the 33 trades completed involving 54 players on Monday, the Wild’s addition of Fleury could well be the most meaningful in seeking to address one of the league’s widest disparities: Minnesota ranks third in the NHL in averaging 3.67 goals per outing, and 22nd in allowing 3.2 goals per game.
Addressing depth needs was the major focus for a majority of the other contenders.
The West’s top nine teams made moves, starting with the conference-leading Colorado Avalanche landing Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen, who is considered one of the best 200-foot wingers in hockey, and forward Andrew Cogliano from San Jose. The Avs already bulked up their blue line in acquiring Anaheim's Josh Manson last week.
“We wanted to be tougher to play against,” Avalanche GM Joe Sakic said, in recalling how the Presidents’ Trophy winners were pushed around in a second-round playoff series loss to Vegas last year. “After that series, that was one thing we felt we could do a better of. And hopefully, we addressed that this year.”
The East contenders were playing catchup after two-time defending champion Tampa Bay acquired forwards Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul in separate trades over the weekend, and the Florida Panthers landed Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
The Pittsburgh Penguins landed potential top-six forward Rickard Rakell in a trade with Anaheim. Rakell’s 154 goals in 550 games rank fifth on the Ducks list. In return, Anaheim acquired Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, prospect goalie Calle Clang and a second-round draft pick.
The eighth-place Capitals targeted two-way forwards in acquiring Marcus Johansson from Seattle and Johan Larsson from Arizona. They shipped defensive liability Daniel Sprong to the Kraken, and three draft picks including a 2023 third-rounder to Arizona. Adding defensive-minded forwards wasn’t a coincidence given the high-scoring talent the Capitals could see in the playoffs.
“We were looking for versatile guys — guys that can play against good players,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.
In other moves:
— Upon landing Fleury, the Wild traded backup goalie Kaapo Kahkonen and a fifth-round draft pick to San Jose for defenseman Jake Middleton.
— The St. Louis Blues got the defenseman they’ve been looking for, acquiring Nick Leddy from the Detroit Red Wings. St. Louis also got Luke Witkowski and sent forward Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman and a 2023 second-round pick to Detroit.
— The Coyotes acquired unsigned forward prospect Nathan Smith and Bryan Little’s contract from Winnipeg for a 2022 fourth-round pick. Little is signed for two more seasons at an annual salary cap hit of $5.3 million and is not expected to play again because of concussion issues.
— The Edmonton Oilers acquired center Derick Brassard from Philadelphia and defenseman Brett Kulak from Montreal.
— The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to address their goaltending needs. Toronto lost out on signing Harri Sateri after Arizona claimed the Olympic gold-medal-winning Finn off waivers. Signed by Toronto to a $750,000 contract for the rest of the season, Sateri was first required to clear waivers because he played in Europe this season.
— One goaltender who was thought to be available came off the market before the deadline when Anton Forsberg re-signed with Ottawa. Forsberg inked an $8.25 million, three-year deal.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell, Josh Dubow and Will Graves, and freelance reporter Denis Gorman contributed.
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