#FlaPanthers Ekblad Living Up to the Hype

By Bill Whitehead

It would probably be asking too much for Aaron Ekblad to wax too sentimentally over returning to Philadelphia, site of where he was drafted just six months ago. Ekblad went through all the fanfare then of being the likely No. 1 pick – visiting downtown, hitting Pat’s and Geno’s for cheesesteaks and taking batting practice at Citizens Bank Park.

But it’s unlikely the emotions of coming back to the City of Brotherly Love (it’s actually his second time back, having played in Florida’s 4-1 loss on Nov. 6) will faze the 18-year-old defenseman because, well, we’ve learned that not much affects Ekblad at all.

Not the media and fan attention, not the immediate success, not recently being named the third star for the first week of this month, and not being thrust into the Calder Memorial Trophy race for the season’s top rookie, likely led by Nashville’s 20-year-old Swede Filip Forsberg and his 12 goals, 18 assists and point-a-game pace.

In fact, Ekblad’s fantastic story from heralded, can’t miss prospect to rookie blueliner who’s fitting right in should have added another chapter Tuesday in Florida’s epic, almost neverending 20-round shootout win over the Capitals. After Tom Wilson missed to open the top of the fifteenth round, Ekblad had a chance to win it, and while few have been able to deny the Ontario native this year, Washington goalie Braden Holtby managed the feat. No knock on fellow blueliner Dylan Olsen – one of five Cats shooters who kept victory possible — but if you were betting on which defenseman would be successful late in the shootout, the smart money would’ve been on Ekblad, not Olsen.

All of this credit goes to Florida GM Dale Tallon.

Tallon’s phone rang constantly with the proposal of deals in June when the Panthers’ brass was deciding on whom to take. Yet Tallon said the day before the draft he knew the name of the player he was drafting and felt confident that wouldn’t change over the next 24 hours. Of course, he wasn’t tipping his hand.

On the day of the draft, the rumors kept floating. Vancouver really wanted in, and defenseman Jason Garrison and the Canucks’ first-round pick at No. 6 (eventually Jake Virtanen) were involved. The Maple Leafs popped up in the conversation, too, and Toronto’s pick at No. 8 seemed like a prime spot with Tallon having praised the offensive wizardry of William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers, who were expected to be taken in that range. The Flyers, trying to incite the home crowd, also made pitches, one rumored to include Vincent Lecavalier among others. Heck, maybe even a Schenn or two could have been had in the right deal.

 

_DSC0288

 

Tallon, though, stuck to his guns and took the BPA – Best Player Available – and went with Ekblad. He did create a little drama by mentioning the Ontario Hockey League – the league of both Ekblad and Sam Bennett – but ultimately no one was shocked by the pick.

 

Now, 29 games and 18 points into Ekblad’s first season, not a soul in Florida would do anything differently at that draft if there were a do-over. No one would take ex-Cat and current Tampa Bay 30-year-old defenseman Jason Garrison and his 3-point, 13-assist performance in four more starts, plus the pick and other spare parts from Vancouver, over Ekblad. Lecavalier is 34 and played in just 16 games and has fewer goals than Ekblad. Brayden Schenn is on pace for a nice 20-plus goal season, but he and the Flyers’ pick at No. 17 wouldn’t have been worth it, so that would be a no as well. Nylander and Ehlers were chosen by Toronto and Winnipeg at eighth and ninth, respectively, but Ekblad’s contributing to Florida’s playoff push right now while those two are still working on their NHL futures.

photo (1)

Ekblad’s been that good. Just ask his teammates.

“I call his stick a slingshot because (the shot’s) off so quick and pretty hard. He’s a good defenseman to have. He’s always getting pucks through and always making good plays,” Nick Bjugstad said recently after Ekblad’s 3-assist game against Buffalo.

Added Tomas Kopecky: “He’s such a smart player. He kind of reminds me of Nick Lidstrom. He’s so quick on that blue line, and every shot is getting through. For the guys standing in front (of the net), it’s so easy when you know that puck is going to arrive. They all get there.”

When Ekblad was reminded that he was among the league’s leading scoring defensemen, he put that all into perspective, too, saying, “Those guys are great players. I’m sure they’ll surpass me again. I don’t want to get too cocky or anything like that. I’m happy to be producing…our guys are making great plays and giving me that opportunity.”

Tallon praised Ekblad’s character and all-around game over the summer in Philadelphia. And the former Barrie Colts defenseman, as humbly as possible, assessed his game by saying he was solid in every phase of play. He reiterated this in every interview, whether it was the first time we talked to him or third or fourth.

In 2006 after a loss on Monday Night Football, Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green lashed out at the media after his club blew a lead to the Chicago Bears. Green yelled emphatically and repeatedly that the “Bears are what we thought they were.”

Aaron Ekblad definitely is who Dale Tallon thought he was and who we are learning he is.

Follow Bill Whitehead on Twitter @BillWhiteheadFL and in Scripps newspapers online at TCPalm.com

Advertisements

No Room for Grimaldi Right Now With Cats

By Bill Whitehead

As stunning as the news was last Tuesday that Rocco Grimaldi was being called up from San Antonio so he could help out in Los Angeles, the word Sunday that he had been sent back down was, well, non-stunning. After sparking a rally in Nashville that helped the Panthers shock the Music City faithful and had them staying a little later at Bridgestone Arena than expected, the Cats decided to ship Grimaldi back to the AHL.

No surprise there.

First, understanding the connection with Grimaldi is necessary. The first NHL Draft that I covered was the 2011 one in St. Paul, a weekend that produced Calder Trophy-winning rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, Grimaldi in a second-day shocker, Vincent Trocheck and other exciting prospects like Kyle Rau, Jonathan Racine, Yaroslav Kosov and Logan Shaw.

Being drawn to and liking the 5-foot-6 Grimaldi, a polite, forthright, devout son of parents in law enforcement, proved to be as easy as Florida GM Dale Tallon picking the California native with the 33rd selection overall. Grimaldi was cordial in speaking with the media, had a plan of playing in college at North Dakota and expected to be with the Panthers after that. The one word I left Minnesota with to describe Grimaldi after talking to him was “determined,” which probably has plenty to do with his upbringing, skill level and competitive spirit, perhaps due to his physical stature.

Fans loved him and lined up to meet the 21-year-old forward in camp. His play in the preseason on a line with close friend Trocheck (read about their friendship) and Quinton Howden had fans loving him even more. His play in seven NHL games so far has only fortified Cats fans’ opinions, and their ire at him being sent down again is justified.

But there’s just no room on this roster.

The injured forwards who traveled with the Panthers on their recent 2-1-1 road swing against Western Conference playoff teams are getting healthy. Sean Bergenheim, Brandon Pirri and Dave Bolland all skated and appear close to returning. Bolland has been day-to-day since being injured in the season’s fourth game – Gerard Gallant’s first win – on Oct. 17 in Buffalo. Florida was 1-2-1 after that Roberto Luongo 1-0 shutout; they’re now 7-5-6. That’s how long Bolland has been out.

Yet Bolland has to play. He wasn’t brought in by Tallon just to mentor upstarts Grimaldi and Trocheck at practice and sit in the press box on game night. Earning $5.5 million this year and also the next four, No. 63 must be on the ice. His contract and keen ability to be injury-prone may irk fans, but has he been bad for Florida so far? A fair assessment can’t be made over four games played – four games, mind you, where the Cats were deplorable, when everyone thought the sky was falling, and when all talk of the Panthers around the league usually ended with “McDavid Sweepstakes.”

Bergenheim needs to be in, too. He scored the only goal in that Buffalo win, and when healthy – a big assumption – he’s productive. Same with Pirri, who Heimlich Maneuvered the club when the offense was gagging on early-season fumbling and bumbling. The healthy ones are making their cases as well. Tomas Kopecky contributes a ton, while Tomas Fleischmann played his best hockey at the end of the road trip. Scottie Upshall, who missed the last two games, is an emotional player who leaves it all on the ice, often with good results.

It’s a forward-filled roster that’s bursting at the seams. It’s like a fat man after a cheap lunch-time buffet: swelled, plump, and with few options.

Grimaldi will be back at some point this season. Injuries open up spots all the time, and his talents are undeniable. He’s fast, relentless and low to the ice (naturally). And on a team that’s pass-happy, he’s generally a shoot-first guy. His bond with Trocheck is tight, too, and the duo should be paired up in Florida red sweaters for years to come. Plus, if you’re really upset that he was reassigned to the Lone Star State, find solace in that he’s still in the organization; he possesses the kind of talent that could easily have been the centerpiece in some offseason trade, though there was no talk one was in the works.

My least favorite player quote right now – perhaps of all-time and you hear it often – is, “It is what it is.” I’ve heard it in baseball clubhouses, NASCAR garages, football locker rooms, hockey dressing rooms. You name the sport and designated changing room or interview area and I’ve heard it uttered when, frankly, the athlete had nothing else to say. As an aside, I’d love to hear an athlete say for once, “It’s not what it is. Really, it’s something entirely different that you couldn’t comprehend at all. It simply isn’t what it is.”

But this Florida Panthers’ roster? It is what it is.

 
Follow Bill Whitehead on Twitter @BillWhiteheadFL and in Scripps newspapers online at TCPalm.com

 

#RedWings 3, #FlaPanthers 1: Anyone have the answers?

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE – Florida Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek was looking for answers following the club’s 3-1 loss to Detroit on Thursday night at the BB&T Center.

Two shots in the first period. Just six more in the second. Lackluster effort for roughly 55 minutes before that frantic few moments of desperation with a 6-on-4 advantage after Detroit’s Brian Lashoff committed a cross-checking penalty with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.

And how does this happen after such a dominating performance in a 48-shot, 4-1 win over Toronto two nights earlier? How do the Cats not at least come close to giving even half that effort in the final home game before the Olympic break?

“I guess it’s the same as every team that has difficulties doing it. It’s a lot of games, and it’s hard for them to play at that pace, I guess. I wish I knew,” said Horachek.

“They outworked us. It’s as simple as that. It’s disappointing. We want to play a whole game, but it just wasn’t there.”

Scottie Upshall, just out of the penalty box and behind the Detroit defense, provided the lone offensive highlight when he batted down a long, aerial pass from Tomas Kopecky as the first period was about to end. Uppy possessed the puck, skated in on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and beat him 5-hole for a 1-0 lead.

One goal on two shots in the first period.

“It’s happened against us before. I’ve seen it before many times,” Horachek said of the Panthers (22-28-7) scoring on one of two shots. “I’ve seen some strange things where you dominate and they get one shot on one play. The last time Detroit was in this building I think we had nine or 10 shots and many chances, and they scored on their first chance with about three minutes to go in the first period.”

It’s often said that athletes don’t pay attention to the numbers, but defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Mike Weaver were aware of the worst number and mentioned it in their post-game interviews – eight Florida shots over the first 40 minutes.

“Detroit’s a pretty defensive (-minded) team. Obviously they have an offensive side to them, but we need shots. You’re not going to score in this league if you’re not getting a lot of shots, and we had eight shots in two periods…you can’t do that. We’ve got to create more from the point in throwing shots to the net and getting traffic. It’s simple,” said Weaver.

Simple? Maybe. However, Horachek’s having a hard time finding a reason for the lack of effort after such a spectacular one against the Maple Leafs.

And the Cats are running out of time.

Jovanovski, Upshall Elevate Panthers’ Play

By Bill Whitehead

A big “Welcome Back” is in order for Florida Panthers Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall after a successful return to the lineup, wouldn’t you say? Both played Saturday night in the Cats’ 5-4 win over Nashville, and while the pair’s arrival may not be a “put them over the hump” moment, it should signal some improvement as the club heads to Montreal for its third game against the Canadiens in three weeks.

How long has Jovo been gone? So long that his name didn’t even pop up under “Tags” when I started typing it. That long. Longer than this blog’s existence.

The captain Jovanovski was rock solid in his season debut after being sidelined with a hip replacement. Jovo logged 15:54 of ice time and was a plus-3 for the Panthers (16-20-6). The most telling moment for me was when Jovo grabbed the puck and led a headstrong 3-on-2 rush in the third period. With Florida up 4-2 at the time, Jovo displayed the knowledge of a veteran who was aware of the game’s situation: He dished the puck to one of his forwards, let them move in on Predators’ goal and quickly backed out, choosing not to get caught too low on the play.

His performance against Nashville is the type of play Florida needs from Jovo, especially with Florida’s most interesting pairing, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen, out with injuries. On Saturday night against the Capitals, Minnesota’s Ryan Suter stole the show by becoming the first Wild defenseman to every record a hat trick in the team’s 5-3 win. Jovo does not have to be that guy. He just needs to be a reliable leader.

If Saturday’s play is the standard this new and surgically improved Jovo has set, interim coach Peter Horachek will be just fine with that. Jovo’s presence as a leader is immeasurable, but his addition to the blue line is sorely needed. Florida’s defensive corps has demonstrated a tremendous inability to clear the puck at times, and turnovers like Dmitry Kulikov’s that led to Nashville’s second goal by Mike Fisher will haunt the offensively challenged Cats. Jovo should help remedy those problems.

Upshall’s return after a three-game absence should be just as significant as Jovo’s. The winger put together a strong November, scoring 12 points in a sizzling 11-game stretch late in the month. Uppy wears his emotions on his sleeve and has benefited the most by the departure of former coach Kevin Dineen and arrival of Horachek, and his importance to the club runs deep.

Sure, Uppy’s going to take an untimely penalty on occasion, but he’s also more than likely to keep a play alive, do some of the dirty work that’s often necessary to turn close losses into close wins and is an emotional leader. He may be the most hot-headed Cat on the squad (and occasional water bottle squirter from the bench), but every team needs a player like that.

Welcome back, guys. Florida is already better for it.

FITTING END: Kopecky’s game-winner in the shootout was his second in less than a month. And Saturday night’s ending was only fitting after the way a strange New Year’s Eve played out at BB&T Center.

That game against the New York Rangers was an odd one, starting with the 5:00 start. Florida seemed to have victory in hand and led throughout before Kopecky made the horrible mistake of vacating his defensive position in front of Tim Thomas to go get a stick from the bench after dropping his. New York’s Dan Girardi blasted the tying goal past Thomas from the spot where Kopecky was.

The scene in the dressing room afterward was also strange. While interviewing Brad Boyes, the media was interrupted by new owner Vincent Viola, who wanted a word with his players to close out 2013. While the media questioned Kopecky’s decision – one that Horachek called “a little bit surprising” – the interim coach came across somewhat uncharacteristically short with the media.

It’s understandable considering the circumstances of the loss, and let’s face it, you just don’t expect a two-time Stanley Cup winner and player who’s approaching a decade in the NHL to make such a rookie gaffe.

So from a redemptive standpoint, it just made sense that Saturday’s game-winner came, like it did against Washington last month, deep in the extra session from Kopecky, who improved his shootout record to 3-for-7 when he roofed his shot in the bottom of the sixth round over goalie Marek Mazanek’s glove.

It almost made the two-goal lead that evaporated late in regulation forgettable.

Almost.

HIGH FIVES: The number five played a prominent role in Florida’s win to close out – yes – it’s five-game homestand that ended 2-2-1 after starting with regulation losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, a good win over Montreal, the extremely disappointing shootout loss to the Rangers and the weekend win over Nashville.

Sean Bergenheim has five goals in last five games. His linemate and fellow Finn Aleksander Barkov carries a five-game point streak to Montreal for Monday’s game. The pair’s line – the B Line – had five points in the win over Nashville. Finally, Jonathan Huberdeau tallied the fifth multi-assist game of his career.

KICK SAVES: The Panthers are facing the Atlantic Division-rival Canadiens for the 77th time, holding a 36-26-6-8 career advantage. Florida is 16-12-3-5 in Montreal…Florida is 6-3-1 in both their last 10 games and last 10 road games, and is 9-4-1in their last month of play…Barkov’s five-game point streak is tied with Upshall and Olsen for the longest this season…Brad Boyes has a three-game point streaking (2-2-4).

Surprising Offense a Bright Spot for Dylan Olsen

By Bill Whitehead

Late in Florida’s 3-2 shootout win over Washington Friday night, I turned to press box seat mate Erin Brown (@rinkside on Twitter) and made a pretty accurate but not so fresh observation about a certain Panther on the ice. “You know,” I said, watching the Panthers’ blueliners skate, “there’s a whole lot to like about Dylan Olsen’s game.”

That assessment comes after watching Olsen for just nine games with the Panthers following his trade along with fellow former Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes, also playing impressively, for Kris Versteeg. Later while all of the media was drawn to the forward side of the room because of the 10-round epic shootout, I kept peering over to the defensive side where Olsen was nowhere to be found. After talking to Jonathan Huberdeau about his Barkov-like move and listening to Tomas Kopecky describe his game-winning shot that beat Washington’s Philipp Grubauer, I finally saw Olsen and headed over.

Olsen, who has seven points (3 goals, 4 assists), is known as a defensive-oriented defenseman, but you wouldn’t have known it early in second period. After Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad kept the puck in the Caps’ end, Kopecky took a pass from the Calder winner and had his shot from the slot deflected by Alex Ovechkin. Olsen corralled the puck and fired the game’s first goal past Grubauer from a bad angle near the bottom of the left circle.

The goal gave Olsen, a 2009 first-round draft pick (28th overall), a 5-game point streak, which is quite a surprise for a player who had two goals during his 69-game AHL career. Olsen has brought a physical, responsible defensive game and has stood out with partner Erik Gudbranson, whom he played with at the U18 tournament at Fargo in 2009 and in the World Junior Championships at Buffalo in 2011.

For a moment, forget about the deal with Chicago that current Panthers GM Dale Tallon made with his former organization. Olsen and Hayes have been exceptional with Florida in their brief time, while Chicago has Versteeg in their bottom six. The Panthers made out well in the deal, and the Blackhawks are super talented and won’t miss Olsen and Hayes — right now at least.

I finally made my way to Olsen and asked straightforwardly, “Should we have just expected this offense all along?”

“It’s kind of weird,” Olsen replied with a chuckle. “This has never happened to me before, having put up points like this. I guess you could call it kind of lucky, but it’s been going really well. The forwards are dominating down low and grinding out their players. Obviously, playing with Gudbranson and shutting down other teams’ top lines and playing well defensively is really contributing to our offensive success.

“The puck popped out, nobody was there, I figured take it to the net. Sure enough, nobody came out to block it or anything. I just saw an opening and put it on net.”

After watching NHL Tonight, I realized why Olsen wasn’t immediately available. He was doing an Arena Cam interview with anchor Kathryn Tappen for the late night wrap-up show. At one point before Olsen’s spot came on, a graphic popped up promoting the 22-year-old Calgary native: Coming Up…Dylan Olsen.

Good to see the kid getting the publicity for the contributions and impact he’s made with the Panthers.

Panthers Preview: Adding in Camp Creates Buzz

By Bill Whitehead

Few teams are able to make a major splash just three weeks before the season begins and send a shock wave throughout the league.

The Florida Panthers managed to do just that.

In need of a backup goaltender after reserve Scott Clemmensen went down due to minor knee surgery, the Panthers extended inquiries to previous goalie Jose Theodore, quirky Ilya Bryzgalov and former Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas.

Thomas, out of the game all last year after leading Boston to a Stanley Cup title two years ago, accepted the offer of a tryout, joined the club and signed a 1-year contract the day before the Panthers were sold for $250 million to New York financial executive Vincent Viola and Douglas Cifu.

Newcomer Brad Boyes, also brought in on a tryout and who made the final roster, vouched for the work ethic and grit of his former Bruins teammate.

“He never gives up on anything. It’s impressive. He’ll keep going. He’ll get angry (if you score on him in practice)…It shows in the games he plays, the number of highlight saves he’s made. A guy like that, with his resume, on a team like this is going to be positive,” Boyes said.

“He’s a proven winner.”

Thomas played against cross-state rival Tampa Bay in two preseason games for the Panthers, an organization celebrating its 20th anniversary. His performance in the finale – a 5-3 win at BB&T Center – was typical of what most expect from a 4-time All-Star and 2-time Vezina Trophy winner.

“There are some new guys on this team, and we’re looking to become a team and have confidence in each other,” Thomas said. “We need to have confidence we can win a game when we’re up in the third period. I was real happy with what I saw in front of me.”

Said coach Kevin Dineen of Thomas, who will start Opening Night in Dallas: “His intensity and compete level is a great example for our whole team. It’s a good addition.”

Tomas Fleischmann, who has played in every game during his two-year Florida career, said a sense of excitement was created with the news of Thomas joining the team.

“We didn’t have (his kind of experience) last year, and we had injuries in goal. He’s going to help (Jacob Markstrom) get better. Every time I played against him, he worked hard. It’s good for every guy to see in the dressing room. It’s a great thing for us. He works hard and everybody’s going to see it. They’ll try to work harder than him and that’s what’s going to make us better,” Fleischmann said.

Tomas Kopecky scored 15 goals for Florida last year, tying his career high and pacing the Panthers. The winger said he spoke with fellow Slovakian Zdeno Chara, a teammate of the goalie’s in Boston, over the summer to learn more about Thomas.

“He definitely knows how to win. Zdeno said he’s very competitive, even in practice. He’s going to make you better during the practices. He’s a tough goalie when he’s on his game, and his results speak for themselves,” Kopecky said.

Florida continued to make additions last week, inking offensive defenseman Tom Gilbert and skilled but oft-injured blueliner Ryan Whitney to shore up an experienced defense that features Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver.

Forward Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, made the roster and is expected to make big contributions. The 18-year-old Finn will likely center the second line featuring top rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and Boyes.

“The kid is awesome. He’s a great center,” said Fleischmann of Barkov. “I’ve been excited to play with him. He’s a great guy and he knows what he’s doing. It took him a couple of periods to get used to (the speed). He’s just going to be an unbelievable player, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Two crucial transactions occurred during free agency that resulted in one win and one loss for the Panthers.

Shawn Matthias, a restricted free agent, was signed by GM Dale Tallon to a two-year, $3.5 million contract. Matthias, 25, made a handful of electrifying plays during a breakout season that saw him record a career-high 14 goals, tied for second with Huberdeau. However, the club did lose unrestricted free agent center Stephen Weiss, who debuted with Florida in 2001 and signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

HEALTHY CATS

Only three clubs – Detroit, Ottawa and Philadelphia – lost more man games than Florida, who had 361 in last year’s 48-game season. The return of forwards Sean Bergenheim (groin), Kris Versteeg (knee) and Scottie Upshall (ankle), who played in zero, seven and 27 games, respectively, will be a boost.

FRESH DIVISION

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that saved half of last season resulted in change. Southeast Division champs two years ago, Florida joins the Atlantic Division with Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Cats can expect plenty of Canadian travel in its near future.

PREDICTION

35-37-10 (80 points)

Tim Thomas in the crease can flat out steal the Panthers five or six games this season, maybe even a few more if the defense in front of him is improved from a year ago and the offense can fulfill its potential. Florida’s roster is a much better one now that when camp opened, too, and health will be the most important factor. If healthy, Florida can be a fringe playoff team but that’s if everything goes right, and more than likely some woes will develop. Still, the Panthers should finish better than the 16th in the Eastern Conference many pundits predicted and likely in front of Buffalo and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division.

Note: Be sure to read the links below to the shorter version of my preview of the Florida Panthers and the upcoming season. It appeared in Wednesday’s three Scripps newspapers on the Treasure Coast.  Some extra player nuggets, photos.

the_stuart_news_PantherC!

the_stuart_news_PanthersC3

Trade Deadline a Flurry of Activity at End

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.