Trade deadline winners, losers and analysis: The Pacific Division
The Pacific Division not long ago was a conglomerate of powerhouse franchises, but the mighty have fallen. Entering the 2012 NHL trade deadline, the Pacific clearly stood as the weakest division in the Western Conference, with only the mediocre Southeast keeping it from being the weakest in the entire NHL.
At the bottom of the division, the Anaheim Ducks spent most of the first half of the season under head coach Randy Carlyle looking like the only challenge they would make was for the first overall draft pick. Since replacing Carlyle with Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks have rocketed up the standings to challenge for a playoff spot. At the top of the division, perennial pre-season favorite San Jose is currently chasing the surprising Phoenix Coyotes, much to the delight of Phoenix’s thirty or forty hard-core fans. In the middle of the division, slightly overachieving Dallas and slightly underachieving Los Angeles both are in the battle for one of the bottom playoff seeds.
Could any of these teams use the trade deadline to put itself on top of the divisional mix? San Jose and Los Angeles were both rumored to be heavily involved in the Rick Nash sweepstakes. As for Phoenix, Anaheim and Dallas — hockey pundits spent countless thousands of words leading up to the deadline ruminating on whether they would buy or sell?
As the smoke clears from the February 27 NHL trade deadline, it’s time to sort things out and analyze the evidence.
Midway through the season, while the Ducks were seemingly getting destoyed on the ice virtually every game, the superstar forward trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan all found their names plastered all over the trade rumor pages, along with star defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. As it turned out, what the team really needed was a change behind the bench. Anaheim was 7-13-4 when Boudreau was hired on December 1, and have gone 20-13-6 since to put them back in the throes of contention.
Not wanting to break up a unit which was playing well, the Ducks made no major moves to sell at the deadline. Still on the outside of the playoff picture, they also made no major moves to buy. They basically made four separate deals exchanging minor leaguers, with no major prospects involved in any of them. This was a wise decision, as the Ducks have a very talented nucleus of players it would be foolish to break up, while sacrificing the future when the playoffs are far from a definite possibility would also be unwise.
Going into next season, the Ducks are a terrific bet for a bounce-back season. Their only unrestricted free agents are Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, both of whom are not deciding on with whom to re-sign, but rather whether to stay with the Ducks or retire from the NHL. If they do in fact hang up the skates, the Ducks have two blue-chip prospects ready to replace them at forward in Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. Ducks GM Bob Murray was prudent to be inactive at the deadline.
Winner or Loser? — Neither due to inactivity, but the Ducks were wise not to panic.
On February 16, the Stars were outside the top eight western seeds and traded unrestricted free agent defenseman Nicklas Grossman to the Philadelphia Flyers. Rumors flew that they were sellers at the deadline, willing to give up not only UFAs like D Sheldon Souray and RW Adam Burish, but also key line-up cogs C Mike Ribeiro and C/RW Steve Ott, both of whom would have attained huge returns in a seller’s market.
Instead, Dallas responded with a hot streak, going 5-1-1 to vault them back into the playoff mix. GM Joe Nieuwendyk did nothing at the deadline, rather opting to try and make the playoffs, although they are not realistic Stanley Cup contenders. Grossman gave them a return of a second and third round draft pick from Philadelphia, which they will be able to use to bolster their prospect pool in the future.
Winner or Loser? — Winner. They got a nice return for Grossman, a player they stood to lose anyway, and might still make the post-season regardless. With a young and talented core led by Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Alex Goligoski, the Stars stand to improve next year and threaten to win a wide-open Pacific Division.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings entered 2011-12 with high expectations. With a world-class goaltender in Jonathan Quick, a star-studded blueline headed by Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, and incredibly strong up the middle with all-star center Anze Kopitar and newly acquired Mike Richards, many expected the Kings to rise to the top of the Pacific.
Reality failed to match expectation. Despite Quick’s Vezina-worthy season, the Kings found themselves unable to score, last in the league in goals for when they fired head coach Terry Murray and replaced him with Darryl Sutter, who prefers a more forechecking style of play and allows his defensemen the freedom to pinch in the offensive zone.
While the Los Angeles offense improved slightly, it became apparent that centers Kopitar and Richards needed more talent on the wings to make the Kings a more viable offensive threat. On February 23, GM Dean Lombardi made the biggest trade of the deadline, sending Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for mercurial C/RW Jeff Carter, a former 46-goal scorer with incredible offensive talent but reputed to be prone to sulkiness and laziness, on and off the ice. It was a huge risk to take — Carter is the type of talent who can potentially cure a team’s offensive woes, but the enigmatic player is signed to a huge contract which spans through 2022.
After the Carter acquisition, team captain Dustin Brown was rumored to be shopped around by the Kings. It would be an unforgiveable mistake for the Kings to deal Brown, beloved in the locker room and a warrior on the rink, a fierce hitter and relentless two-way stud who can play both wings with equal acuity both offensively and defensively. Lombardi quickly backtracked on the availablility of Brown after being torched by the media, but his actions reek of the panic created by a a front office worried about job security.
Winner or Loser? – Loser. The Kings gave up too much for Carter, a player the Blue Jackets were dying to be rid of. With no other suitors for Carter’s services, Columbus might have given him up for simply the draft pick or Johnson straight up at the deadline. His contract is prohibitive and could cost Los Angeles when they make the expected play for star New Jersey LW Zach Parise when he reaches free agency following the season. The Kings now have a full decade of hoping Jeff Carter shows up that game to look forward to, and still are no lock for the 2012 NHL post-season. On the bright side, trading Brown would have been an epic blunder. His value far outweighs his contributions on the stat-sheet.
Entering February, the Coyotes were in financial dire straits, far from the playoff picture, and looking like big-time sellers at the deadline. Two of their best players, LW Ray Whitney and RW Shane Doan, were both impending UFAs rumored to be available at the deadline. Then coach Dave Tippett rallied the troops, goalie Mike Smith caught fire, and the ‘Yotes responded with an 11-0-1 February. The only move they made at the deadline was as a buyer, acquiring solid two-way center Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a second and fifth round pick, plus a depth goaltending prospect. Currently, they sit ahead of the Sharks atop the division, in the third seed in the Western Conference.
Winner or Loser? — Winner. The Coyotes were weak up the middle, but strong everywhere else. While far from an impact player, Vermette solidifies the Coyotes’ depth at center and makes them a tougher team to face in the post-season. In a weak division with no legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, Phoenix can conceivably win the division and enter the playoffs with the third seed in the west.
San Jose Sharks
Year in and year out, it seems, the San Jose Sharks are picked by many pundits in the hockey media as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Year in and year out, they lose in the Western Conference playoffs and are branded as “chokers”. But are they?
In the past five years, the Sharks have only lost to a team less talented than them once, in 2008 to the Dallas Stars. The other four years, they simply lost to superior teams: the powerful Anaheim Ducks in 2009, the conference champion Vancouver Canucks last year, and the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks and 2007 Detroit Red Wings.
The Sharks were never chokers, they flat-out were never the best team in the conference. They attempted to address that deficiency prior to this season, acquiring RW Martin Havlat and D Brent Burns in separate trades with the Minnesota Wild. Yet, as the season wore on, they could not distinguish themselves from the pack as an elite team on par with Vancouver or Detroit, much less Phoenix, St. Louis and Nashville.
Rumors swarmed that San Jose was vying to make a blockbuster deal for the deadline’s grand prize, superstar Columbus LW Rick Nash. But what did they have to offer in exchange? The off-season swaps with Minnesota stripped the organization of their top prospects. Reports stated that the Blue Jackets wanted either C Joe Pavelski or C Logan Couture along with power forward Ryane Clowe, all key cogs in the every day line-up.
When the deadline passed, the Sharks had not acquired Nash. Instead they addressed depth issues, trading for C Dominic Moore from Tampa Bay and then LW T.J. Galiardi and RW Daniel Winnik from Colorado. In return San Jose simply had to give up weaker depth players and a second-round pick.
Winners or Losers? – Winners. First off, trading Pavelski or Clowe would have been disasterous — the two have proven to be the Sharks’ best clutch and post-season performers over the past few years. With the addition of Moore, Galiardi and Winnik the Sharks attained an entire line of solid grinders who can put the puck in opposing nets and play reliable defense. They gave up little in return, and are clearly a stronger team now than they were prior to the deadline. They are not in the Western Conference’s top tier with Vancouver and Detroit, but improved their standing in the second tier along with St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago and Phoenix — and at very little cost.
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