By Bill Whitehead
Wednesday’s much anticipated NHL trade deadline played out like Season 2 of The Walking Dead: slow, slow, slow then bam, a major payoff at the end. Hey, the little girl was right there under their noses the whole time. Same for the deadline as it inched closer and closer to its 3 p.m. finish – general managers finally put together a number of deals after a long lull. In all, 17 deals were made, many in the deadline’s last hour.
New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather traded away Marian Gaborik in a six-player deal that returned among other players Derick Brassard. New York also acquired Ryane Clowe from San Jose for three draft picks.
The Blueshirts received immediate dividends as Clowe scored twice and had an assist, and Brassard had a goal and three assists in New York’s 6-1 pasting of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Clowe was named the game’s first star while Brassard was the second. The two looked like they had been playing together for years. Clowe was everywhere, and Brassard demonstrated his playmaking skills with a sweet backhanded pass from the low slot right onto the stick of Clowe after Brassard earlier lifted a backhander past Marc-Andre Fleury for his first goal as a Ranger.
Minnesota made a major deal as well in landing Buffalo captain Jason Pominville. The streaking Washington Capitals went all-in on attempting to earn a playoff spot after a dreadful start by trading for Martin Erat but parted with top prospect Filip Forsberg, an 18-year-old forward whom many consider a future top line player. Forsberg was drafted No.11 overall in last year’s draft in Pittsburgh and has been an elite player in Sweden this season.
But the most surprising transaction of the day occurred between Ottawa and Tampa Bay as the Senators shipped goaltender Ben Bishop to the Lightning for winger Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick. The 6-foot-7 Bishop didn’t fit into Ottawa’s goaltending plans, and the Lightning, who have been plagued with poor netminding for years, made the move. The shocker was that it was Conacher and a pick that was sent to Ottawa, not the Lightning getting the pick. A solid Calder candidate, Conacher was a fan favorite and a feel-good story as he played well early while skating on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but the Canisius alum’s numbers had dwindled significantly of late. Now he’s the top scorer on the Senators with 24 points.
But why would Bolts GM Steve Yzerman trade so much for a player who was the odd man out of the Ottawa crease, plus throw in a draft pick to boot, especially when Anders Lindback was supposed to be the answer in net? Yzerman gave up three good picks and a prospect to get the 24-year-old Lindback and Kyle Wilson. At least one – or maybe both – will likely be a bust.
Florida general manager Dale Tallon saw his trade deadline unfold a little differently than last year.
Last February, Tallon pulled the trigger on two deals that added depth to the Panthers as they pushed for the Southeast Division title. First, he acquired Jerred Smithson from Nashville for a sixth-round pick in 2012. A few days later he traded a prospect and a third-round selection this year for Wojtek Wolksi, a shootout specialist who wasn’t getting much ice time with the Rangers. Smithson was typically great on faceoffs and the penalty kill, while Wolski scored the game-tying goal on his first day with the Panthers, a 3-2 shootout win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh.
Smithson again was a part of Florida’s plans as Wednesday’s deadline neared. Tallon shipped the unrestricted free agent – 54.8 percent in the faceoff circle — to Edmonton, the NHL’s worst faceoff team (45.0 percent), for a fourth-round pick. Florida isn’t better off with No. 25 out of the lineup, and if Tallon decided to, he could purse the 34-year-old UFA on July 1. The other deal involved Mike Santorelli, who scored the game-winning goal last Thursday in a shootout win over Buffalo. Santorelli had been put on waivers numerous times and Winnipeg finally claimed him; eventually, it seemed as though some club would take a chance – which is something Santorelli had plenty of in Florida. With all the injuries Florida has incurred, no player, especially Santorelli, can make a claim that he didn’t have a chance to prove himself. His GWG Thursday, though, may have convinced the Jets that they needed that kind of spark as they continue to lose games but still hang on to the top of the Southeast.
But that was it on Tallon’s end. As one of only four teams that really have no shot at the playoffs, Florida was expected to have its roster picked over by 26 vulture-like clubs. However, Tallon wasn’t willing to part with Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc or anyone else for peanuts, which is the right move. No point to bust up the roster simply because of a slew of injuries nor deal a top rookie like Jonathan Huberdeau or promising one in Drew Shore, which is exactly what Tampa Bay did.
“When you’re at the bottom, teams just expect you to panic and give up players. That’s not going to happen here,” Tallon told the Miami Herald’s George Richards.
A case could be made that the best deal Tallon made was signing prized prospect Nick Bjugstad to a pro contract and bringing the Minnesota Gopher star to South Florida for his debut Saturday against the Washington Capitals, but that wasn’t a trade deadline transaction between Florida and another club.
Fortunately for the Florida Panthers, Tallon making very few deals turned out to be the best deal of the day.