GMs made deadline moves with playoffs in mind

Updated: March 10, 2006, 1:38 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Any time you hear "Brendan Witt" and "sweepstakes" in the same sentence you know, with all due respect to Mr. Witt, you're not talking a red-letter day in the history of the NHL's trade deadline swap meet.

Not that there weren't deals made. In fact, a record 25 trades were made between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday. The 40 players dealt ranks as the second-highest single-day player movement in the history of the trade deadline.

Deadline deals over the years
Season Date Trades Players
2005-06 March 9, 2006 25 40
2003-04 March 9, 2004 20 32
2002-03 March 11, 2003 24 46
2001-02 March 19, 2002 17 35
2000-01 March 13, 2001 17 31
1999-00 March 14, 2000 12 23
1998-99 March 23, 1999 21 30
1997-98 March 24, 1998 19 38
1996-97 March 18, 1997 18 35
1995-96 March 20, 1996 13 21
1994-95 April 7, 1995 19 32
1993-94 March 21, 1994 18 35
1992-93 March 22, 1993 9 14
1991-92 March 10, 1992 11 22
1990-91 March 5, 1991 14 33

But on a day that saw no fewer than 18 defensemen trade uniforms, the 2006 trade deadline will be remembered for the depth and role players that were on the move and the superstars that stayed at home. And that's not such a bad thing, really.

In the old NHL you could predict what was going to transpire at the trade deadline days in advance. There were only a handful of big-market, big-payroll teams that could engage the aging stars or potential unrestricted free agents that small-market teams and teams outside the playoff bubble couldn't afford to keep.

No more.

Nary a superstar traded hands Thursday. Was there a Hall of Famer among the group? Not one that immediately comes to mind unlike other trade festivals, which have included names like Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch, Doug Gilmour, Phil Housley, Tom Barrasso, Dave Andreychuk and so on.

Instead, this first trade deadline in the new NHL was all about GMs making moves that might not have been the stuff of headlines in mid-March but moves they hope will pay dividends on some steamy playoff night in late May or early June. In other words, real hockey stuff, the kinds of deals that between now and Stanley Cup time will separate the men from the boys.

Herein, a look at the Day of the Defenseman.

Risk vs. Reward Part I

We all know the risk that Colorado Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix took in acquiring troubled Montreal Canadiens netminder Jose Theodore, he of the broken heel and the 3.46 GAA and .841 save percentage. But the bigger risk Lacroix has taken is in leaving the team's playoff fate in the hands of two goaltenders named Peter Budaj and Vitaly Kolesnik, who as of Friday morning had just 23 NHL starts between them.

Budaj, a rookie, has started 15 games this season; while he has given up two goals or less in 10 of those starts, he has yet to face the pressure of a playoff run. Even though Budaj did emerge as the starter for Slovakia in the Olympics, going 2-1, that is an entirely different dynamic than what he will face as the interim starter for the Avalanche.

Kolesnik, the presumed backup, saw his first NHL action this season and has started just seven games.

There are various reports about when Theodore might return to action, but it certainly won't be much before the end of the month, at the earliest, and Lacroix was talking about Theodore's availability for the playoffs. But that's assuming the Avalanche will be in the playoffs.

After their date Thursday with Chicago, the Avalanche appeared comfortably ensconced in fifth place in the Western Conference with 78 points. But a closer look reveals the Avs' position is by no means secure. The three teams directly behind Colorado all have at least one game in hand -- and should Los Angeles, Edmonton and Vancouver win those games, two of the three would leapfrog the Avalanche. Then there's ninth-place Anaheim, which, entering Friday, had four games in hand and was eight points in arrears of the Avalanche.

In the end it might not matter so much if Theodore can get his groove back but whether he'll have to wait until next season to prove it.

Risk vs. Reward Part II

The Oilers gave up a first-round pick to obtain a No. 1 goaltender who has never been a No. 1 goaltender. Still, you have to like Kevin Lowe's thinking on grabbing Dwayne Roloson from Minnesota instead of paying even more for Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour.

Roloson has proved he can put up big-time numbers in the past, and he's got something to prove now that the Oilers have attached their Stanley Cup wagon to him. It says here the Oilers won't regret this move.

From trade deadline to Stanley Cup: The West

Speaking of Mr. Lowe: A day after bringing in Roloson (see above), Trader Kevin added one of the most sought-after potential free agents in the market, the Bruins' Sergei Samsonov. Like Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, Lowe had to pay to land one of the few true offensive players on the market, sending Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny (son of the great Slovak icon Peter Stastny) and a second-round pick to Boston. But in Samsonov the Oilers now have an explosive force to go with Ales Hemsky and the rest of their gritty forwards. In a Western Conference where any playoff team could go all the way, the Oil might have given themselves an early edge.

From trade deadline to Stanley Cup: The East

Of all the teams that made moves in the days and hours leading up to Thursday's deadline, Rutherford may have done the most to ensure his team goes into the stretch run without any significant holes and hits the postseason with legitimate Cup dreams.

After a preemptive strike last month to acquire highly coveted center Doug Weight essentially for a bag of pucks and two broken sticks, Rutherford then moved decisively Thursday to bring in veteran forward Mark Recchi to fill the void left by Erik Cole, who may be gone for the season with a cracked vertebra. It cost Rutherford a couple of prospects in Niklas Nordgren and Krys Kolanos, but the return could be a trip to the Eastern Conference finals -- and perhaps further. Recchi's addition will also help the team's push to finish first overall, an achievement that was crucial to Tampa's Cup run in 2004. People talk about acquiring veteran leadership at this time of year and it all sounds like white noise after a while. But Recchi is that kind of player.

Who missed the trade boat?

Tampa Bay. GM Jay Feaster hit the trade deadline worrying about his defensive depth, third- and fourth-line grit and goaltending. By the end of the trade period Feaster had addressed none of those concerns. The Lightning, in a 1-4 skid since the Olympics, continued the slide with an 8-5 loss to the Sabres Thursday night.

Who didn't mind missing the boat?

Buffalo. The Sabres divested themselves of third goaltender Mika Noronen, which will make things less crowded at practice. But other than that, Darcy Regier opted not to tamper with the chemistry that has made the Sabres one of the feel-good stories of the NHL campaign.

Team Nowhere?

Toronto. The Leafs added aging defenseman Luke Richardson and then traded less-aged defenseman Ken Klee. Remember the one about the deck chairs on the Titanic? They had Maple Leaf logos on them.

King kudos

Operating under the radar as many West Coast teams do (at least as far as the eastern-centric hockey world is concerned), the Los Angeles Kings may have done as good a job as any team at solving immediate and long-term needs. Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel, acquired late Wednesday from the Islanders, will bring welcome firepower to a power play that ranks 25th. Likewise, the Kings have struggled killing penalties, ranking 28th, and both new additions should help out in that area. As for the many rumors that the Kings were on the verge of obtaining Florida's Roberto Luongo, that deal never materialized (no surprise there). But the Kings remain solid in net with Mathieu Garon returning to form after a pre-Olympic swoon.

Who stayed home?

Todd Bertuzzi, Keith Tkachuk, Bryan McCabe, Belfour, Luongo and Joseph -- all big-name, big-dollar stars rumored to be on the move -- stayed put. Perhaps the guy with the most reasons to stay home was Olli Jokinen, who went from being shopped around to signing a four-year, $21 million deal with his hometown Panthers on Thursday afternoon. Here's to Florida GM Mike Keenan for keeping his captain in the fold. Odds now increase significantly that Luongo, due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, will likewise remain with a Panthers team that shows signs it's not all that far away from being a playoff contender.

Who waved the white flag?

By divesting themselves of Parrish, Sopel, Oleg Kvasha and Brad Lukowich, the Islanders have called it quits, although they did manage to assemble a nice cache of prospects and draft picks for the next regime.

Likewise, by moving Jamie Lundmark, Denis Gauthier and Sean O'Donnell, the Coyotes appear to be looking ahead, although they also got good value for these assets.

By trading Samsonov to the Oilers, the Bruins are at least holding the white flag, if not waving it.

Deadline calendar

The trade deadline will continue to be 40 days from the end of the regular season for the life of the current collective bargaining agreement. But some GMs would like to see if pushed back even further into the season. Rutherford would like to see the trade deadline as early as Feb. 1. That way the trades are all about the hockey, Rutherford said.

Deadline chemistry?

There is a carnival-like atmosphere that surrounds the trade deadline. Canadian sports channels were on the air at 8 a.m. ET Thursday with live trade deadline programming (those first hours rehashing the Richardson deal must have made for compelling television). Fans and the media get whipped into a lather with each player swap or non-swap, as the case may be.

But more often than not the trades have little bearing on playoff success. Bob Hartley recalls coaching in Colorado when stars like Theo Fleury, Darius Kasparaitis, Rob Blake, Andreychuk and Bourque arrived during his tenure. The team won one Stanley Cup, in 2001, a year after Bourque arrived and after the departure of most of those other big-name additions.

"A hockey team is like a puzzle," Hartley said. "You just have to hope they'll fit in at the right spot."

One player who stands out in this round peg, square hole category for Hartley is U.S. Olympian Brian Rolston, now a mainstay with the Minnesota Wild.

"I remember we got Brian Rolston. We tried everything, and I love Brian Rolston," said Hartley, who used the forward with the big shot with everyone including Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. "But it just didn't work."

At Witt's end

Tell us again why Witt, who has never won anything and who demanded a trade before the season started, can command a first-round draft pick and a prospect? If Nashville goes to the Western Conference finals, that will be answer enough. But we still don't get it.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.