The real answer to the perennial question, who won the trade deadline, cannot be fully known for months and, in some cases, years. It will not, however, stop us from at least providing some discussion about which way the scales will tip for teams around the NHL. Here's a look at the buyers and sellers, and which ones might have swung the balance of power in their direction as the 2015 trade-deadline period comes to a close.
The Blackhawks' poor play and the long-term loss of Patrick Kane combined to force a change of thought for GM Stan Bowman, who responded with two bold moves. First, he acquired veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the Philadelphia Flyers for a second-round pick and another pick that could become a second-rounder, depending on how far the Blackhawks go in the playoffs. Then, Bowman sent a first-round pick in 2015 and defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Antoine Vermette. The price for both was high, but Bowman sees a team that came within a goal last May of advancing to a second straight Stanley Cup finals berth and likely back-to-back Stanley Cups, and would not let this period pass without giving this squad all the tools to get back to the promised land. With Kane out until late May, Vermette is a key addition to the Blackhawks' arsenal. He plays a complete game and can play center or wing. Timonen is a wild card, having missed the entire season with blood-clotting issues, but he's been cleared to play and has the potential to more than make up for the kind of depth the Hawks lost when Nick Leddy was sent to the New York Islanders before the season. Does this make the Blackhawks a Cup favorite? We wouldn't go that far, but it certainly sets the stage for what might be a fascinating first-round matchup against the St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis Blues
Speaking of the Blues, a year ago we were banging their Cup drum heavily after GM Doug Armstrong acquired Ryan Miller and Steve Ott before the deadline. They were gone after six games, but with the Blues enjoying a solid season with homegrown talent Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko emerging as bona fide NHL offensive talents, the expectations are once again high in St. Louis. While many felt Armstrong would be quiet at the deadline, he ended up adding a potentially important piece in defenseman Zbynek Michalek from the Arizona Coyotes for Maxim Letunov. The Blues also get a conditional third-round pick, which is connected to Michalek's ability to return from a concussion. Assuming Michalek returns to action and assuming Kevin Shattenkirk comes back from a knee injury suffered right after the All-Star Game, the Blues will be as deep along the blue line as any team in the Western Conference and maybe the league. One perplexing move, though, saw the Blues acquire veteran forward Olli Jokinen late in the day from the Toronto Maple Leafs, although we say can't exactly why. Maybe it all works out for the Blues this time around.
The Jets aren't locked into a playoff spot by any stretch of the imagination, but given the way they're playing at this stage, it's hard to imagine long-suffering Winnipeg fans won't finally see NHL playoff action in their city in mid-April. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has proved himself to be both bold and shrewd in first unloading disgruntled winger Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian (and a college prospect) for Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford (along with a first-round pick and a pair of prospects). Myers and Stafford have both made contributions to the Jets since their arrival and Cheveldayoff followed that up by acquiring Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick. Tlusty is well-known to head coach Paul Maurice, having played for him in the minors, in Toronto and in Carolina, and should provide much-needed offensive depth. The Jets are going to be a tough out and the additions over the trade period will make them even more difficult to dislodge come mid-April.
It seems like a long time ago, but credit goes to GM David Poile for adding defensive depth in defenseman Cody Franson and a nice complementary forward in Mike Santorelli without breaking the bank and for giving those players an extra couple of weeks to acclimate to new surroundings and new teammates. The Preds are the best team in the NHL and the additions make them, in theory, better suited for a long playoff run, which is, after all, the whole point of the trade deadline.
It took until the final minutes of the trade-deadline period, but Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray landed an important piece to bolster a blue line that needed bolstering, adding James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Rene Bourque, William Karlsson and a second-round pick in 2015. The deal might have been sweeter had Murray been able to get Columbus to eat some of Wisniewski's salary, but that didn't happen. That said, the Ducks also got a third-round pick and Wisniewski is a nice add, and not just for what he brings to the table this season; he's under contract for the next two seasons with a $5.5 million cap hit, although the real dollar payout is $5 million and $3 million the next two seasons. Assuming that Sami Vatanen returns from injury before the playoffs, head coach Bruce Boudreau will have lots of options when it comes to the offensive deployment of his defensemen. Wisniewski has some risk-reward to his play, but he should slot in nicely with the Ducks' group and make them more dangerous come playoff time. A more curious move was the swapping of defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who'd played a lot with Cam Fowler, going (back) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Simon Despres, a first-round pick in 2009 (30th overall). The Ducks also added Korbinian Holzer from the Leafs to provide added blue-line depth for what will no doubt be a war of attrition as they try to navigate the Western Conference playoff waters.
The balance of power, especially this season, doesn't just apply to teams headed to the playoffs but to those teams that could find themselves at the very bottom of the standings, and the Coyotes' play has them in the hunt for the bottom-of-the-league standings. But beyond having a team that is losing games at a precipitous rate, GM Don Maloney was a beast during the deadline period, picking up a prospect from the Blues for Zbynek Michalek, and a first-round pick and a prospect for Vermette. And, in the biggest windfall of all, a first-round pick, a second-round pick, a top prospect (Anthony Duclair) and defenseman John Moore from the New York Rangers for Keith Yandle, a player who really didn't fit into the Coyotes' long-term plans with the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson as one of the game's premier offensive defensemen, and minor league defenseman Chris Summers. The assets, when factored in with other young assets such as Max Domi (who played with Duclair on the top line in the last World Junior Championship for gold medal-winning Canada), along with possibly landing super-prospects Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid, suggest the path back to relevance isn't as long or meandering as the team's play this season suggests.
Detroit Red Wings
After exploring a deal for Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, GM Ken Holland went to Plan B and acquired veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick that becomes a second-round pick if the Wings go to the Cup finals. Zidlicky is the right-handed shot the Wings have been looking for the past couple of years and is a good fit because he won't have to do too much to be effective. The Wings already own the league's top power play and Zidlicky will only add to that. The move came less than 24 hours after Holland acquired Erik Cole and a third-round pick from the Dallas Stars for a second-round pick and two prospects. And in doing so, Holland brought in a player who should help spread out the Wings' scoring depth, especially five-on-five. A good Detroit Red Wings team is more fully formed today than it was before the deadline.
Tampa Bay Lightning
We'll follow up the Red Wings' successes with the obvious connection in Tampa, which is especially germane given that there's a good chance the two teams will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. A year after making a stunning deal to acquire Ryan Callahan from the New York Rangers for disgruntled Martin St. Louis and two first-round picks, Hall of Fame Red Wing Steve Yzerman, now the Lightning GM, acquired a solid defenseman in Braydon Coburn from the Philadelphia Flyers. The cost was steep, as the Lightning sent a first-round pick and a third-round pick and injured defenseman Radko Gudas for Coburn. But this is a clear win for the Lightning, who were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round last year but look to be a more dangerous unit this time around, and Coburn will join a team that has both skill, size and, now, even more experience. Whatever expenditures went into acquiring Coburn were mitigated by bringing in two second-round picks from the Boston Bruins for Brett Connolly.
OK, we're on an Atlantic Division kick here as the Canadiens kept pace with their division neighbors by making a couple of key moves. After acquiring Devante Smith-Pelly for Jiri Sekac in an effort to improve the Habs' size/toughness up front, GM Marc Bergevin came up with one of the most sought-after defensemen on the rental market in right-handed-shooting Jeff Petry of the Edmonton Oilers. Not only did Bergevin add an important piece to his blue-line corps -- the Habs rank first in the league in goals allowed per game -- but he did so economically, sending only a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick to the Oilers. Bergevin also added veteran forward Torrey Mitchell late in the day Monday. With the league's best goalie in Carey Price, the Canadiens look to enter the playoffs as not just a top seed but a slight favorite to qualify for their first Stanley Cup finals since 1993. Bergevin's work over the trade period did nothing to suggest that's not a distinct possibility.
New York Rangers
If there is a team that looks at this point to be the top challenger to the Canadiens to come out of the Eastern Conference, it would be the Rangers. After threatening to ship off Mats Zuccarello, they signed the forward to an extension and added James Sheppard from the San Jose Sharks, but the big move of the trade-deadline weekend was the Rangers' add of smooth-skating defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes. As noted, the Rangers paid a steep price in Duclair, two picks and defenseman John Moore, but they added a powerful offensive presence to a team that currently has the 11th-ranked power play. Yandle's arrival does present some interesting issues for Dan Boyle, who signed a two-year deal last summer to essentially provide the kind of dimension that Yandle brings. But top to bottom, this is a playoff-ready squad -- assuming, of course, that netminder Henrik Lundqvist returns from injury in full health as expected.
It was a relatively quiet trade period for the Capitals under rookie GM Brian McLellan, but we do like the adds of veteran Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes for Jack Hillen and useful forward Curtis Glencross from the Calgary Flames for a second- and a third-round pick. Good teams don't necessarily need to make major moves but rather fill in around the edges, and that appears to be what the Capitals have done. This team is built for the playoffs and appears even more playoff-ready than it was last week.
In some ways, the Penguins are more off the radar now than at any time since Sidney Crosby entered the league. But GM Jim Rutherford has quietly tinkered and toyed with this lineup, adding David Perron early on and then swapping Marcel Goc for Max Lapierre before bringing in defensive forward Daniel Winnik and then repatriating former prospect Ben Lovejoy from the Ducks, where Lovejoy has blossomed as a useful top-six defender, for Simon Despres. The Penguins also added Ian Cole from St. Louis in exchange for Robert Bortuzzo in the hopes of being tougher to play against in their own zone. Are the Penguins better than a year ago, when they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers in the second round, prompting the firing of GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma? Yes. Are they better prepared for a long playoff run? In theory, yes. That theory will be put to the test in about six weeks.
The Sabres finally unloaded winger Chris Stewart in the waning minutes of the trade period, sending him to the Minnesota Wild for a second-round draft pick, about five months after the first discussion about his departure began. Earlier, of course, they acquired Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian from the Winnipeg Jets, and maybe most important toward their bid to maintain their hold on 30th place, GM Tim Murray sent netminder Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders for Chad Johnson and a conditional pick. What that leaves the Sabres with in terms of goaltending is Johnson (3.08 GAA, .889 save percentage) and Anders Lindback (3.71 GAA, .875 save percentage), which might be the most lamentable goaltending tandem in recent history. It's the kind of goaltending that might just guarantee either Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid will be a Sabre next season, and Murray can turn his attentions to rebuilding this franchise instead of tearing it down.