Solid gambles by Preds, Kings and Caps should strengthen Cup chances

No, the NHL's trade deadline was not pushed up to Wednesday.

It just felt that way with two big trades and one very noteworthy signing.

When the dust settled, Stanley Cup contenders Los Angeles and Washington added veteran, character depth, and the Nashville Predators hoped they joined them as a legitimate contender with a whopper of an acquisition.

Not sure what the Feb. 29 trade deadline will bring, but it's going to be hard to beat the sizzle of a Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. This is a trade we are going to chew on, analyze and debate for more than a decade.

Most interesting to me was that both Predators general manager David Poile and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen used the exact same word in their very first comment to me over the phone Wednesday night in separate conversations: "Reluctant."

As in, each GM described how reluctant he was in dealing away his young star.

But young, No. 1 centers and young, right-handed stud blueliners don't grow on trees in this league. So in this case, it cost one to get the other.

"We've been trying for 18 years to get a No. 1 center, it never lined up in the draft, it never lined up in free agency," Poile said over the phone. "On balance, we have a better chance with our team now going forward both offensively and defensively."

Poile and the Predators have drafted and developed a litany of good blueliners over the years, but have never landed that elusive top center. It's an itch that needed a big-time scratch.

While I heard for a few weeks the Predators were coveting Johansen, and it was fairly known the Blue Jackets would deal Johansen only if they got a top-shelf, young stud blueliner, never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted Jones would be dealt. I mean, never.

I thought Jones was more of an untouchable than Shea Weber, to be honest with you. I know there are other NHL GMs who felt the same way about Jones in Nashville.

But credit to Kekalainen who made it clear he was not dealing Johansen to Nashville unless he got Jones in return. And no other team came close with an offer for Johansen that made Kekalainen turn his attention away from Nashville.

Talks between both clubs were on again, off again, but Kekalainen said they picked up more seriously around Dec. 27-28, right after the holiday trade freeze lifted.

And then bang, around 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, both GMs swallowed hard and signed off on it.

"Good trade for both teams, fills a need to make each team more complete," said one rival Western Conference GM who requested anonymity.

That was the reaction I got from most of the dozen or so NHL GMs I reached out to Wednesday night, that both the Predators and Jackets did well here.

But not all.

Said one GM via text: "Jones does not see the rink like a one/two D-man -- great athlete -- all the tools but that hockey sense of a one/two not there. The other guy [Johansen] will be interesting/big time player; all about attitude (his ability and inconsistency reminds me of Jason Allison early in his career). If he figures it out he is a stud -- the other guy is a solid three."

But another GM countered that Jones by far is the "sure thing" in this equation and the Jackets have made the safe deal here long-term, because Johansen is such a wild card as to whether he'll truly grow into a reliable No. 1.

Added another GM: "But the big center is exactly what Nashville needs to make a run at the Cup."

My sense is the Jackets got the surer commodity in Jones. But if Johansen, in fact, reaches his potential, the Predators hit a home run.

In many ways, both teams probably did here.

Say this for Kekalainen, his two biggest trades in the past 12 months have been for Brandon Saad and Seth Jones. Not too shabby.

But I really respect the gumption here by the veteran Poile, too. The Predators as constructed before this trade were never going to win a playoff series in the Central Division against Chicago or Dallas and maybe not even St. Louis with the lack of a true No. 1 center. Not unless Pekka Rinne stole each win by a 1-0 or 2-1 score.

Now at least they've given themselves a shot. If Johansen gets back to the form we've seen at times over the past few years, the Predators are a more dangerous team and still have a deep blue line.

As one NHL scout noted to me Wednesday night, perhaps the only team in the NHL that could afford to trade Jones and not blink was the Predators because of their depth on defense.

Elsewhere on this busy day, the Kings believe they've filled two holes in their lineup: No. 3 center and bottom pair, right-handed defenseman.

In Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn (whom the Philadelphia Flyers retained half of their salaries), the Kings hope they've plugged those holes.

I heard last August the Kings kicked the tires on Lecavalier and Kings GM Dean Lombardi confirmed Wednesday night that was indeed the case.

But the trade didn't pick up steam until the past month or so.

When Lecavalier promised the Kings he would retire at the end of the season, that certainly help seal the deal.

On Tuesday when I spoke to Lecavalier about his hope of getting dealt (talk about timing, ha), I could really sense his pride and desire to get one more shot at helping a team win. Lombardi told reporters on a media call Wednesday night that Lecavalier also came across to him as a very motivated player, one who's ready to accept a lesser role.

Whether it works or not, the Kings gave up a prospect in Jordan Weal that I don't think they thought was ever going to really play for them, plus a third-round pick. So a small price to pay to gamble that Lecavalier, 35, still has a bit more juice in his tank and that the 26-year-old Schenn still has enough upside in his game to make a difference, the way Matt Greene was for the Kings in a third-pairing role.

The price was cheap, the reward could be beneficial. I've got no issue at all with this move by a Kings team looking very much like a threat to win its third Cup. The time is now.

And finally, the Caps' signing of Mike Richards certainly grabbed some Twitter attention.

The Caps believe Richards' ongoing legal issues from his summer border arrest probably won't impact his availability this season.

This is a decent buy-low opportunity. Richards is beyond motivated, the best team in the East has few holes, but bottom-six center depth was a question mark.

Lombardi, of all people, when asked about his former player, says he believes now that all the facts are out on the situation surrounding Richards' arrest, that the former Kings center has a great opportunity in Washington and that the Kings GM is "pulling for him."

The Caps have been keeping tabs on Richards for months, and both GM Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz held conversations with former Kings teammate Justin Williams as a way of vetting Richards before making the move. Smart.

If Richards doesn't pan out, the Caps didn't invest much at all. So why not?

OK, everyone take a deep breath. Wednesday was fun.