NHL Trades Set Stage for Playoff Sprint
The grades on all the NHL deadline trades cannot be practically analyzed until the end of the season -- or even into next year -- but right now, there seems to be a couple of clear winners and losers.
The St. Louis Blues are 5-0 with Ryan Miller in goal and have moved four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division. With tonight's shootout victory at Minnesota, they're now the best in the West, leading Anaheim, 94 points to 93, with each having played 64 games.
The Blues were contenders before the trade that got them Miller and Steve Ott, and now they're a major threat to unseat the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup champions. As this highlight package of their Saturday night victory over Colorado shows, St Louis is indeed firing on all cylinders right now:
The other big name to move was Marty St Louis, from Tampa to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan in a trade of team captains. St Louis makes the Rangers instantly better, but they lose the grit that fan favorite Callahan brought them.
New York may just be talented enough to overtake Boston or Pittsuburgh in the East but needs goalie Henrik Lundqvist to play better than he has all season, and he definitely stepped up today. Tampa Bay, which is in playoff position right now, also picked up valuable draft picks in the trade. However, new captain and returning star Steve Stamkos may miss St Louis's clever and consistent table-setting passes; the diminuative right winger was a major reason for the Stammer's impressive goal production. It remains to be seen who will fill that role now, as it's not exactly Callahan's game.
The Anaheim Ducks didn't feel they needed to do much at the trade deadline, they were satisfied to add depth in defensman Stephane Robidas. The Pittsburgh Penguins -- the best team in the East as of now -- did the same, adding Marcel Goc and Lee Stempinak to strengthen their roster, which is always tested in the playoffs. This was essential for them, as there is no guarantee ace defenseman Kris Letang will recover from his shocking stroke in time to aid the cause.
Montréal is solidly in the playoffs and got a bargain when the Islanders traded Thomas Vanek to them. The Habs are currently 12 points behind Boston, which also stayed rather quiet at the deadline. If the Canadiens don't catch Boston by the end of teh regular season, Vanek should help them maintain a good seed in the East this spring.
The goal-starved Los Angeles Kings got Marian Gaborik from Columbus, and it will be interesting to see if the defensively-challenged right winger will mesh with that overlying aspect of coach Darryl Sutter's system.
Then there's Vancouver. No one really knows what they're doing. How does a team with two elite goaltenders one season ago wind up trading both of them for what amounts to a handful of magic beans? How does Ryan Kesler be the good soldier in public, scream for a trade in private, and remain a Canuck when his trade value was at its peak? Can't anyone in Lotusland get creative with cap hits?
No matter what happens, the team that wins the Cup may look back and say the trades at the deadline helped. Meanwhile, others will no doubt ask, "Why did we even bother?"
And Vancouver will hope those magic beans come to fruition. Quickly.