Each March, NHL front offices launch into a mad scramble to tweak their teams ahead of the league’s trade deadline.
Teams out of playoff contention look to offload expiring contracts in exchange for long-term assets, while teams still in the playoff hunt have their eyes on the immediate future as they try to load up on stars and role players alike on short-term deals in the hopes of stringing together a long Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Some of these moves are hits, and some are misses. This year, four rental players have stood out above the rest:
Nick Paul, F (Tampa Bay)
Say it with me, “Nick Paul does it all!” After getting traded from the Senators, Nick Paul has been a perfect Swiss army knife-type player for the Bolts. The 27-year-old has taken on a large role in the playoffs, seeing his on-ice minutes climb from 14:06 per game in the regular season to 18:55 in the playoffs. He’s been instrumental to Tampa’s strong penalty-killing efforts against two of the best offenses in the league, eating up the second most shorthanded minutes. Recently, Paul’s been centering Tampa’s top line to replace the injured Brayden Point between Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. But most importantly, Paul scored both goals in the Lightning's 2-1 nail-biting game 7 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tampa’s acquisition of Paul is just further proof that the Lightning’s roster management is unparalleled. The Lightning’s ability to fill out their roster with key role players contributed to their back-to-back cup victories, and could be what leads them to the coveted “three-peat.”
Claude Giroux, F (Florida)
It’s easy to overlook Claude Giroux’s contributions after the Panthers got swept out of the second round. Still, even in the Tampa series, Giroux contributed to a 33 percent of the team’s points (this stays impressive so long as you disregard that Florida only netted three goals against Tampa -- but at least he was there, right?).
All joking aside, Giroux was crucial in helping the Panthers get through round one against the Capitals. The veteran put up seven points in sux games and was a difference-maker, even while most of Florida’s top talent underperformed. Giroux’s eight points in 10 games were good for second on the team. So, despite the fact that a Cup still eludes him, the former Flyer seemed to be one of Florida’s few bright spots this post-season.
Evander Kane, F (Edmonton)
We're taking some liberties here because he technically wasn't a deadline acquisition, but he was signed with the clear intention of helping the team's scoring efforts in the post-season. He’s had more time with his team than most rentals, which could be a factor why he’s been able to net a league-leading 12 goals in 12 playoff games.
Kane’s impact is hard to deny. He leads the team with two game-winning goals, and the Oilers have won every game that Kane has scored in. Oddly, his scoring has come in bunches. Kane’s 12 goals have only come in five games, and each of those five games has been multi-goal efforts (two of them were hat tricks). Even while scoring in bursts, Kane has added some additional firepower to an Oilers team that’s long relied on the offensive output of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Andrew Copp, F (New York)
Copp started off the post-season strong, playing at a point-per-game pace in the Rangers’ first-round victory over the Penguins. Then, in his first three games against the stifling Hurricanes, Copp was kept off the scoresheet. Thankfully for the Rangers, the versatile forward came alive again on Tuesday, posting a team-leading three points in a critical 4-1 victory that tied the series at 2-2.
Copp’s performance on Tuesday shows exactly why he’s been great for the Rangers. In the first period, he connected on the power play, setting up a Frank Vatrano goal with a beautiful cross-ice pass. Two minutes later, Copp assisted on the Rangers second goal after out-battling Vincent Trochek for a puck in Carolina’s zone. Then, with just under 9 minutes left in the game, Copp finished on a Ryan Strome pass on the rush to put the Rangers up 4-1. He did it all while also gobbling up a team-leading 2:41 on the penalty kill.
Like Nick Paul, Copp is a player that’s worn many different hats in the post-season. He’s been a factor on both special teams, he leads all Rangers forwards in defensive zone starts and he’s been playing an average of just over 20 minutes per game. To top it all off, Copp is third on the team with 10 points in 12 games. The former Jet has spent this post-season flexing his versatility and helping the Rangers with a little bit of everything.