Trading places: NHL deadline deals’ effect on playoff teams
Excuse Derick Brassard for having a little difficulty finding his bearings after the veteran center took an unorthodox cross-country route in reaching the NHL playoffs.
Starting the season with Pittsburgh, Brassard was traded to Florida and spent 10 games with the Panthers before landing in Colorado in time to help the Avalanche’s late-season surge to clinch the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff berth. Brassard is also re-adjusting to center after playing on the wing in Florida.
“It’s been kind of a weird season for me personally. By coming here, I had to try to adjust quickly,” Brassard said Monday as Colorado prepares for a first-round matchup against Calgary. “I feel like I’m fitting in really well. I wish I could chip in a little more. I think it’s been three or four games, since I’m back to my normal position.”
Brassard, who has four goals in 20 games for Colorado, was one of 32 players involved in 20 deals struck at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25.
Brassard’s acquisition — Colorado gave up a third-round draft pick — wasn’t the most notable of the day. And yet it was a reflection of numerous teams’ approach to addressing needs before making a final playoff push and beyond.
The Winnipeg Jets led the way in completing six trades, including acquiring veteran center Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers. Central Division rival Nashville responded by acquiring forwards Mikael Granlund from Minnesota and Wayne Simmonds from Philadelphia. Vegas struck what was the most impressive deal by landing forward Mark Stone in a multiplayer trade with Ottawa.
The trades don’t include various deals struck in the days leading up to the deadline, such as Columbus’ addition of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate swaps with Ottawa.
And while other teams were wheeling and dealing, teams such as Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay elected to stand pat. The Lightning roster was already deep and talented at all positions.
“Well, I think if I was as the GM in Tampa, I’d probably stand pat, too,” former NHL executive turned broadcaster Brian Burke said. “They’re the class of the league this year.”
In the end, Burke wondered how many of the trades will truly make the difference in determining the Stanley Cup champion.
“The trade deadline, so many mistakes are made,” Burke said. ”(You have) 15 teams making moves at the deadline, and there’s (only) one parade.”
Of the 16 playoff teams, only two — Pittsburgh and Colorado — were sitting outside the top eight spots in the conference standings on Feb. 25. Montreal dropped out in the East and Minnesota in the West.
The Jets’ additions failed to push them ahead of the Predators in the race for the Central title, though they were enough to keep Winnipeg ahead of the late-charging S. Louis Blues. Winnipeg was a point behind Nashville on Feb. 25 and finished the season in the same position.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, believes his team is better prepared in opening the playoffs against St. Louis.
“They’ve meshed in,” Cheveldayoff said of the newcomers.
“They’ve gone through the newness process,” he added. “That’s over. They’re just like every one of us now.”
In Nashville, the Predators believe they added leadership to the locker room and more of a hard-hitting presence on the ice in preparing to open against Dallas.
“Just seeing who we match up against in the playoffs, it’s those heavier teams, bigger bodies and having guys up front who can handle the bigger D,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “The moves we made made our team better.”
In Columbus, the Blue Jackets went all in by adding to their roster rather than subtracting players such as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin — both eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Panarin led the team with 87 points, while Bobrovsky closed the season by going 10-3, including four shutouts.
Add in the likes of Duchene, Dzingel and defenseman Adam McQuaid, and the Blue Jackets believe they have the depth for a daunting first-round matchup against Tampa Bay.
“They’ve been through the trenches with us. They’ve been able to feel a part of this team, take ownership of this team and know their role within it,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “You look at it, and we’re four deep everywhere. Our defensive core is set. It just makes you feel more confident.”
In Washington, the defending Stanley Cup champions benefited by adding forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen.
Hagelin, a trusted two-way forward, had three goals and 11 points in 20 games with the Capitals after combining for just eight points in 38 games split between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. Jensen’s addition is even more important with defenseman Michal Kempny sidelined with a lower body injury.
“I think they kind of filled holes that maybe we had really well,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “Even if Kemper didn’t get injured, I think adding another good NHL guy was important for us.”
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Arlington, Virginia, and AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.
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