Now that the NHL’s trade deadline has passed, people will be looking to see which teams made out the best. Of course, in some cases, we won’t see excellent results right away, but this is a fun exercise in projection and expectation. In no particular order, here are the big winners on and around trade deadline day:
1. Colorado Avalanche: Like most teams on this list, the Avalanche were excellent before the trade deadline, and now, they`re even better and deeper. Avs GM Joe Sakic had plenty of salary cap space to work with, and he used just about every available dollar to make the league's best roster that much more dangerous. Colorado now has improved its bottom-six group of forwards with former Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen and journeyman Andrew Cogliano, and they’ve bolstered their defense corps with former Ducks D-man Josh Manson.
It must be reiterated that the Avs were excellent before these trades, and though they lost out on the Claude Giroux sweepstakes, Colorado can take solace in the fact they’re almost assuredly going to be the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Lehkonen, Cogliano and Manson aren’t superstars, but the Avalanche don’t need them to play top roles in winning games. It’s all about their overall depth, and the Avs now have superb depth at virtually every position.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins didn’t make a slew of moves before the deadline, but their big move – acquiring winger Rickard Rakell from Anaheim, for forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, goalie prospect Calle Clang, and a second-round draft pick in this summer’s draft – makes a high-octane offense notably better.
At a time when many of their fellow Metropolitan Division rivals were making significant additions, the Pens made their splash with Rakell, a slick performer who had 16 goals and 28 points in 51 games with a sub-par Ducks team. Rakell will fit in perfectly with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter, and they don’t have to commit to him long-term, as Rakell is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Now, don’t take that to mean he’s 100 percent pure rental; Penguins GM Ron Hextall may move money around if there’s real chemistry there, and if Rakell helps Pittsburgh on a deep playoff run. For now, he’s going to prosper playing alongside two of the game’s all-time greats. That’s good for him, and for the Penguins.
3. Minnesota Wild: We said earlier this month on THN.com that the Wild were likely going to be movers and shakers at the deadline, and lo and behold, Minnesota GM Bill Guerin added depth at forward with former Avs center Tyson Jost and at defense with former Sharks D-man Jacob Middleton. But Guerin’s biggest move came in the form of reigning Vezina Trophy-winner Marc-Andre Fleury, who was acquired from Chicago for a conditional second-round pick. That’s a great deal for the Wild, who lose nothing off their roster in exchange for a goalie who can steal games for them the rest of this regular season and in the playoffs.
Fleury’s numbers this year – including a .908 save percentage and a 2.95 goals-against average – are rather pedestrian, but you have to factor in the fact he’s been playing on a not-so-good Blackhawks team. He should be much better with the Wild’s defense corps playing in front of him, and you can now make the argument that, on paper at least, Minnesota is tied with Nashville for having the best goaltending in the Central Division. This is the big push the Wild have long needed, and it could pay off with a lengthy playoff run.
4. Seattle Kraken: Say what you will about the expansion Kraken’s poor first season, but you have to give GM Ron Francis credit for building up a huge pile of draft picks. After the deadline passed, Francis had dealt away veterans Mark Giordano and Marcus Johansson, but he’d stockpiled a whopping 34 draft picks – including eight second-rounders, five third-rounders, and seven fourth-rounders – over the next three years.
Building through the draft is the smartest road to being a genuine Cup frontrunner, and although Kraken fans may not see drastic improvement next season, the seeds have been planted by Francis. Patience is a virtue of his, and because of it, eventually, Seattle will be a force in the Pacific Division.
5. New York Rangers: Blueshirts GM Chris Drury already had a stellar roster to work with before making any deals, but he was not satisfied with the status quo, and he went out and added real talent – former Jets winger Andrew Copp, former Panthers winger Frank Vatrano, and former Canucks winger Tyler Motte – to shore up their secondary scoring, while also addressing their defense by acquiring veteran Justin Braun from Philadelphia.
The Rangers probably will still go as far as star goalie Igor Shesterkin will carry them, but Drury gave him help, while not deleting any talent from his current roster. The Rangers have to keep up with the Joneses in the Metro, and they were able to do that by the deadline.
6. Florida Panthers: The Panthers overpaid for defenseman Ben Chiarot, but in Claude Giroux, they landed the best available player at the deadline. It’s true Florida GM Bill Zito dealt away most of his top draft picks in the next three years, but this is a franchise that needs to make noise right away, so there’s an urgency surrounding them that Zito addressed.
The Panthers also have to find a way to outlast Atlantic Division rivals in Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston, all of who made major moves before the deadline. Adding Giroux, Chiarot and blueliner Robert Hagg just increases their impressive wealth of talent.