NHL trade deadline: Penguins among impact teams
With more teams still in contention during the shortened season, and a tight turnaround between the trade deadline and the start of the playoffs, the push to deal was different than what we're likely to see for several years. But teams have been trying to change their fortunes over the past two weeks. Here is a look at which teams and players have made the biggest impact with noteworthy changes or by standing pat over the past few weeks as the deadline passed on Wednesday:
That would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Give GM Ray Shero a gold star and a cigar, though time will tell if you can also give him the Stanley Cup in June. In a dazzling two-week period, Pittsburgh acquired forwards Jarome Iginla from Calgary, Brenden Morrow from Dallas, and Jussi Jokinen from Carolina, and got defenseman Douglas Murray from San Jose as well. In all, the Pens received four veteran players who have amassed more than 2,000 points in 3,000 games ... without winning a Stanley Cup. Jokinen is 30; Murray 33; Morrow 34; Iginla 35. In other words, Pittsburgh picked up smarts, grit and savvy, but also got a lot older.
Murray is sturdy and sound, and although he is notably slow-footed, the mobility of the other Penguin defensemen should help compensate for that. Iginla is one the best all-around players who doesn't have his name on the Cup. He is closing in on 1,100 career points, has a pair of Olympic gold medals, is still a gritty power forward, and has already made some magic with Sidney Crosby by assisting on Crosby's overtime goal for Canada against the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Iginla is the kind of player who can tweak his game, if necessary, to fit into a squad that already boasts Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Morrow and Jokinen add depth to a roster of forwards that was already imposing.
That would be the team known as the B's: the Boston Bruins. GM Peter Chiarelli figured he had his man, Jarome Iginla, locked up thanks to an apparent agreement with the Calgary Flames. When that fell through, he had to retool and search for another scoring forward who could add some punch to a squad that is strong in other areas. Boston led the Eastern Conference standings for much of the early part of the season. In order to make a run at the Penguins, the B's needed Chiarelli to come through with an alternative, and Jaromir Jagr is a good one. He may be 41, but his joy for the game seems as strong as ever. He is deadly on the power play, and if he has slowed down a bit, speed has never been the centerpiece of his game anyway: his ability to control the puck is. Though the Bruins lead the league with a 91 percent success rate on the penalty kill, their power play stands just 24th in the NHL (24 percent). Adding Jagr should help them fill their most glaring need, and his acquisition was a great audible.
If the Ottawa Senators had been where the Flames currently are, it's very likely they would have traded Daniel Alfredsson, their classy veteran captain who hasn't won a Cup, but has carried himself with great distinction since breaking into the league in 1995. The 40-year-old Swede has roughly the same number of points (1,102) and exactly the same number of titles (0) as Iginla. Bourque was in the same boat as a future Hall of Famer when it became clear the lifetime Bruin couldn't win a championship in Boston, so the B's engineered a sort of mercy trade to the contending Colorado Avalanche and Bourque got his title. Iginla may have the same opportunity, but Alfredsson's Senators are simply playing too well for them to be sellers. Ottawa is 19-11-2 and a good bet to play hockey in May. Alfredsson has a respectable 20 points and would have been a good fit on a contender, except the Sens feel he is already playing for one.
That would be the very same Senators, who swiped Cory Conacher from the Lightning in return for goalie Ben Bishop. Without much time on the power play, Conacher, a feisty undrafted forward from Canisius College and now a Calder Trophy candidate, has put up 24 points during his rookie campaign, and at 23, he joins a club with other successful rookies (Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Wiercioch) who will give the Senators help this season and beyond.
Face it: Marian Gaborik and John Tortorella were the oil and water of the NHL. The now ex-Ranger forward has always been an offensive threat. With identical career numbers of 333 goals and 333 assists, Gaborik is equally capable of striking as a sniper or a playmaker, and he has three 40-goal seasons to his credit. Tortorella's defense-first, in-your-face system simply didn't mesh with Gaborlk's smooth-skating, creative tendencies, especially when the coach rode the forward as hard as he did. This isn't meant to knock Tortorella. Gaborik broke into league in 2000 and has played on only two teams that have won playoff rounds. His game can be soft and a good nudge isn't necessarily a bad thing for him. But he is not, and will never be, a defensive whiz. He won't fling himself in front of shots the way Ryan Callahan does and he just wasn't going to be a great fit for Tortorella's system. So often the Ranger coach would say, "It's who we are. It's how we play." That wasn't Gaborik. Now he goes to a club where the pendulum has started to swing forward better than anyone expected. After a predictably rocky start, the Blue Jackets are contending for a playoff spot in the West, which would have been unthinkable three or four weeks ago. Gaborik thrived in a less intense spotlight in Minnesota and could well do the same in Columbus, a team that is run by a European GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, and is discovering how much fun winning can be.
Roberto Luongo needed the Marian Gaborik treatment for different reasons. He wasn't at odds with his coach, but his career in Vancouver has been fraught with what-ifs. As many big saves as he has made during his career, fans remember him for gaffes and bad goals, and there was great relief when the Canucks finally went with Cory Schneider as their starter this season. Luongo hasn't started for Vancouver since March 18. So far, he has compiled average numbers (7-4-3; .904; 2.44) in 16 games. Though he has 346 career wins , he is hamstrung by a 12-year, $64 million contract that ties him up until age 43 and makes it hard for the Canucks to trade him. "My contract sucks," he said openly during a press conference on Wednesday, after it became clear that both he and Schneider were staying put. "Unfortunately it's big factor in trading me and it's probably why I'm still here . . . I think disappointment is the right word." Luongo may or may not be justified in feeling that he can still help a team win as an NHL starter, but other teams that looked at the price of acquiring him, and the commitment required to keep him, and simply passed.
Granted, the Stars made some moves that will enable them to build for the future. What does it say, though, when your team is still trying to pull itself up to a playoff spot -- Dallas is 13th, but just three points out of eighth -- and it deals its captain (Morrow), leading scorer (Jagr), and arguably best playmaker (Derek Roy) in three separate trades for assets that won't offer much help for a while? It says you give up. The Stars couldn't reach an agreement with Roy on a contract extension. He sounded happy to be in Dallas last summer, when he joined his new club after eight seasons in Buffalo. But all that is forgotten after just 30 games as a Star.
The Roy trade, by the way, makes good sense for the Canucks, who needed some quality production up the middle to go with healthy centers Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre. Yes, Manny Malhotra is done for at least the season because of lingering vision problems, but if Ryan Kesler rejoins the team soon, it gives Vancouver even more depth at center or a chance to move Kesler to the wing.