Adding star players at deadline could pay off big for Blues, others
Five teams made big-time acquisitions near the trade deadline, but which teams made out the best heading into the stretch run?
It may depend on your definition of star player, but before the curtain was dropped on the NHL trade season, several high-end players moved to new teams. Some cost a heck of a lot more than others, but each was acquired by a team looking to fortify its roster for what those teams hope lead to a lengthy run into the postseason.
Trading for stars can be a tricky thing, especially when they're more than likely rentals. It obviously doesn't guarantee the Stanley Cup. Nothing does. But the one thing you can almost always say when a team trades for a star player is that they got better on paper.
It's hard to predict how players will do in new surroundings and with unfamiliar teammates, but with the skill level and experience of those moved, expectations should remain high.
At least five teams acquired what most would consider a big-name addition at the trading deadline and made good rosters better. With the exception of the New York Rangers, who landed Martin St. Louis, all of the marquee players acquired are on expiring contracts. Perhaps most of them won't be returning to where they were dealt, so there's a lot riding on this last stretch of the regular season and the postseason.
Here's a look at which teams should most benefit from star additions.
1. St. Louis Blues : Ryan Miller
The Blues made the biggest splash and paid the most for their star acquisition in getting Miller. The question is how much of an upgrade Miller is compared to Jaroslav Halak , who was shipped to Buffalo in the Miller deal and subsequently traded to the Washington Capitals. On the surface it's not much, but the way Miller has played this year, it's not hard to understand why the Blues pulled the trigger.
General manager Doug Armstrong mentioned that even if Miller was a six percent improvement, it can mean a huge difference and he's right. Miller could be even more of an improvement than that, however. Though Halak's even-strength save percentage was better than Miller's, the Blues' new netminder has seen a lot more rubber -- 400 more shots worth. And you better believe those 400-plus more shots included a lot of high-quality chances.
He also comes in refreshed to join a team actually playing for something, which Miller hasn't done since the 2010-11 season. Additionally, he's still a pending free agent, so this last stretch is as much an audition as it is an opportunity to contend.
By adding Miller -- and Steve Ott , to bolster center depth -- the Blues are in a better position to compete for the Stanley Cup than they were before the deadline. It's hard to know if they're the favorites at this point, but they are certainly going to be a difficult matchup for a lot of teams and are going all in on making this year count.
2. New York Rangers : Martin St. Louis
It's not every day you can add the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner to the fold, but the Rangers did it. They paid a large price to get a player that everyone knew wanted out of Tampa Bay, but nabbing Martin St. Louis in the midst of not being able to agree to a contract with Ryan Callahan is not a bad trade off.
The fact that St. Louis has another year left on his contract is the added bonus, but he definitely brings an element to a Rangers lineup that could use an offensive boost. Even at 38 years old, St. Louis is still in the league's elite when it comes to producing. He has 61 points in 63 games this season and has shown no signs of slowing down.
The thing that makes St. Louis so great is that he makes everyone around him better. If he continues to play with Rick Nash , that should lead to a boost in production from the big winger. It should also help energize St. Louis' former Tampa Bay teammate Brad Richards .
On top of the production and the playmaking ability, St. Louis also has Stanley Cup experience. It's hard to know if the Rangers are going to be able to compete for the Stanley Cup this season, though they certainly look better to do so now. Even if they fall short, this is a roster that doesn't seem terribly far off from contention, perhaps as early as next season.
3. Los Angeles Kings : Marian Gaborik
The last time the Kings acquired a natural goal scorer from the Columbus Blue Jackets, they ended up carrying around a shiny trophy at the end of the season. Though Gaborik would be hard pressed to match the impact of Jeff Carter , he brings some much-needed scoring depth and all at a very affordable price.
Gaborik is not without risk, obviously. He has a history of injuries that will cause concern and it's unclear if he will be a fit in Darryl Sutter's system. Gaborik was knocked for being an "east-west player on a north-south team" in Columbus. LA is as also north-south, perhaps even more so.
Dean Lombardi is an expert in taking advantage of these types of situations, though. Instead of going for broke and attempting to bring in Thomas Vanek, the deadline's top prize, he aimed a little lower and made his team better still. As he did in trades for Carter and before him Mike Richards , Lombardi found a player in Gaborik whose team had soured on his talents. That meant a relatively bargain price for Gaborik, with the Blue Jackets picking up part of his salary.
Los Angeles is the NHL's best possession team this season, but it is 27th in goals per game. Adding Gaborik, who has six tallies in 23 games this season, is a low-risk, high-reward situation. Gaborik is only two seasons removed from a 41-goal season and if he's with Anze Kopitar for an extended period, watch out.
4. Montreal Canadiens : Thomas Vanek
The Habs pulled the surprise of the deadline by acquiring Vanek, at a surprisingly low price. Giving up a prospect who is trending down and a second-round pick to pick up a guy who has more points than anyone on the Habs' roster is a big win.
Perhaps it was patience that paid off for GM Marc Bergevin, who waited out the big market and watched as the clock ticked down and the Islanders' desperation to move Vanek set in.
Montreal is getting by right now thanks to a weakened Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are in the playoffs as of right now, but this is a club that has struggled to score consistently and is among the lower half in the league when it comes to generating shots on goal.
Vanek, who has 21 goals already this season and 53 points -- also more than anyone on the Habs -- is an instant improvement. He's a top-line player, meaning the Habs can juggle their lines a little bit to find more balance in the scoring attack.
Additionally, Bergevin added veteran defenseman Mike Weaver to shore things up on the back end. It's hard to see the Canadiens as a Stanley Cup threat right now, but they're poised to make a deep run if Vanek can help drive an offense that has looked a little too stagnant of late.
5. Minnesota Wild : Matt Moulson
The Wild must be resigned to their fate as having to get into the playoffs via the wild card. They're probably not catching any one of Colorado, Chicago or St. Louis, but you just have to get into the postseason. Moulson definitely helps with that and he makes Minnesota a much tougher team to play against once the playoffs roll around.
This is the second straight deadline where the Wild went aggressive and acquired a high-end scorer from the Buffalo Sabres. Last year it was Jason Pominville and now it's Moulson. It's not easy to bring in two legitimate top-six forwards like that in back-to-back years, but Moulson rounds out the roster even more than Pominville did last season.
The Wild, similar to Montreal, are just getting by at this point. Otherworldly goaltending at the beginning of the year really helped, but as the goaltending situation gets thrown into a blender by injuries, the scoring has to pick up. Minnesota is 25th in goals per game and 27th in shots per game, which just isn't going to get it done against top teams.
Bringing in a proven scorer in Moulson, who should be able to find an uptick in production from his time with the Sabres, is a major supplement. The Wild can spread the scoring a bit more and make their top two lines more of a one-two punch than they are currently.
Additionally, adding Ilya Bryzgalov was a low-cost maneuver to shore up the goaltending situation, if only slightly. Are the Wild contenders this year? Probably not, but they are better and if Josh Harding gets healthy, perhaps they can go on a run.
Though bringing in stars is great and can pay off like it did for the Kings in 2012, sometimes it's all about the little deals. The Chicago Blackhawks' seemingly innocuous addition of Michal Handzus proved helpful in the team's Stanley Cup run last spring. So here's a brief look at five teams that made minor deals that could pay off big time:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins : Key additions -- Marcel Goc , Lee Stempniak
2. Detroit Red Wings : Key addition -- David Legwand
3. Arizona Coyotes : Key addition -- Martin Erat
4. Ottawa Senators : Key addition -- Ales Hemsky
5. Boston Bruins : Key addition -- Andrej Meszaros
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