Senators load up with winners for stretch run

Thus, the first trade domino falls.

The Ottawa Senators got tougher and more experienced on the blue line and deeper and more dangerous up front.

The Carolina Hurricanes get more mobile along the blue line and younger up front.

See how simple that is?

Following a trend established since the lockout, both Ottawa and Carolina did their trade deadline shopping early as the Senators acquired veteran scoring machine Cory Stillman and rugged defenseman Mike Commodore from Carolina on Monday, sending the Hurricanes promising forward Patrick Eaves and puck-moving defenseman Joe Corvo in exchange.

Stillman, 34, and Commodore, 28, were both part of the Hurricanes' Cup-winning squad in 2006. Stillman waived a no-trade clause to join the Senators, who plugged two significant holes in their lineup and can once again consider themselves the early favorites to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the second year in a row.

"I think it's a message again to the community that this team wants to win a Stanley Cup," Ottawa GM Bryan Murray told reporters in Ottawa late Monday.

"Does this put us closer? I believe so, just because of what we've added in these two individuals," he said.

In Stillman, the Senators have acquired a player who has quietly built a reputation as a top-notch point-producer both in the regular season and the playoffs.

During the 2006 playoffs, Stillman had 26 points in 25 games and was a crucial part of the Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup. He missed the first half of last season recovering from shoulder surgery but enjoyed a strong start this season. Although he has scored just once in his past 11 games, Stillman was still fourth in team scoring with 46 points in 55 games.

Stillman, who also won a Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, will help out on the Ottawa power play and might give the team the secondary scoring it sorely lacked against Anaheim in the finals last year.

A native of Peterborough, Ontario, Stillman will be joined by Commodore, who became a sensation in Calgary and later Carolina with his wild, bushy hair and outgoing personality. But the 6-foot-5, 228-pound native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, is also a solid, bruising defenseman who should fit in nicely with a multitalented Ottawa defensive unit.

"I think our presence around our own net has been lacking a little bit, and Mike brings that dimension to the hockey team," Murray said.

The acquisition of Corvo, 30, should help solve a long-standing problem of mobility along the blue line. And while the Hurricanes are very much in the playoff picture, the deal speaks as much to the Hurricanes' future as to the here-and-now.

The Hurricanes have frittered away a significant lead in the Southeast Division and were one point behind Washington when Monday's deal was made. They have not won three in a row since Oct. 9-13, and missing the playoffs for a second straight year after their Cup win is a distinct possibility.

"It's not a shake-up, it was a deal made out of necessity," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Monday afternoon.

The team has been trying to add more speed and mobility along the blue line for a long time, Rutherford said. The Carolina defense has contributed just 13 goals this season.

"Whether it was now or in a 10-game winning streak, we would have done the same thing," he said.

Corvo, playing on a deep Ottawa team that limited his playing time, had six goals, 27 points and was plus-13. He is expected to help out with a power play that was tied for 16th overall as of Monday -- and he has two more years on his contract with an annual cap hit of $2.67 million.

Eaves, coming to the end of his entry-level contract, will be interesting to watch.
The 23-year-old, who was the 29th overall pick in 2003, scored 20 goals as a rookie two years ago but struggled to find a permanent place in an Ottawa lineup that is chock-a-block with experienced skilled players and useful role players.

Rutherford is counting on the son of former NHLer and veteran U.S. college hockey coach Mike Eaves for the coming weeks but more so, perhaps, down the road.

"If I can say anything, I sure feel bad about having to give up a guy like Patty. I like him as a person, I think he has a chance to score goals in this league and be a good player," Murray told reporters. "But deals are tough to make. Deals are always give and take."

Indeed, Rutherford lamented losing two players who were big parts of the team's seminal Stanley Cup win. But in Corvo and Eaves, he has two players he knows will be in his lineup next year and beyond.

Both teams have a history of making early deals. Rutherford grabbed Doug Weight early in the trade season in 2006 and Murray's predecessor John Muckler added center Mike Comrie before the trade frenzy a year ago.

"Eventually, you get to a point where you want to do it prior to the cutoff date where everybody's scrambling in the last day," Murray said.
"We felt comfortable in doing it early."

Rutherford joked that now he can relax during next week's GMs' meetings in Naples, Fla., instead of having to have hushed trade discussions in corners with other GMs.

Oddly enough, for all the rumor mongering that accompanies the trade season, this deal wasn't forecast anywhere before it happened. This in spite of the fact Murray and Rutherford have been talking on and off for more than two weeks.

So, does this open the floodgates? Will GMs, fearful of being beaten to the punch in shoring up their lineup, make moves well in advance of the Feb. 26 deadline?

Certainly every deal that gets made takes more assets off the market regardless of whether you're a buyer or a seller -- and four pretty good assets got locked up Monday.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.