- Jim Kelley
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To hear coaches, general managers and even some players spin it, there was nothing but winners all around after the National Hockey League trade frenzy finally (some might argue mercifully) came to an end Tuesday afternoon.
We see it differently. So without further adieu -- except of course to the seemingly endless number of ex-New York Rangers who are now scrambling to catch the next flight to somewhere, anywhere and everywhere -- we present 2004's trade deadline winners, losers, house cleaners and, dare we say it, bystanders.
Boston Bruins: Obviously, landing Sergei Gonchar (Washington), the league leader in scoring among defensemen, is their biggest acquisition, but a nice series of smaller acquisitions -- Michael Nylander (Washington) and Brad Boyes (San Jose) -- provide additional depth to a team that lacked it.
Colorado Avalanche: We don't put a lot of stock in the Avs acquiring Tommy Salo from Edmonton, not with the way he's been struggling of late. If the pickup says anything, it's that GM Pierre Lacroix is going with David Aebischer as his No. 1, despite the fact he hasn't played a full game in the postseason. Lacroix improved the Avalanche's grit quotient up front with Matthew Barnaby (Rangers) and Darby Hendrickson (Minnesota) and upgraded their faceoff efficiency with veteran center Chris Gratton (Phoenix). Lacroix also improved his defense with the addition of Bob Boughner from Carolina (currently injured, but expected to return for the playoffs) and Kurt Sauer (Anaheim). It's no small matter that Lacroix imported some "North American types" to supplement an already talented team.
Some might bemoan the loss of young defenseman Derek Morris. But in doing so, they're undermining the ability of rookie John-Michael Liles and the physical play of defenseman Ossi Vaananen, who was acquired from Phoenix with Gratton. Both goalies still have to prove themselves, but the Avs today are harder to play against than they were a few days ago.
Ottawa Senators: In a very short period of time, the Senators added toughness in Rob Ray (free agent), explosive goal scoring off the wing in Peter Bondra (Washington) and made a major upgrade in their defense with Greg de Vries (Rangers). Say what you want about the need for an improvement over goaltender Patrick Lalime, he's had success in the playoffs. Considering the Senators didn't give away anyone of consequence off their current roster, GM John Muckler sent a message: The Sens are going for it all.
Nashville Predators: What's not to like? The Predators picked up a bona fide scoring winger in Steve Sullivan (Chicago), upgraded their second-line center position with Sergei Zholtok (Minnesota) and stiffened their blue line with Brad Bombardir (Minnesota) and Shane Hnidy (Ottawa). A hardworking, overachieving team is a lot more dangerous with a little more talent.
New Jersey Devils: It's not unusual for a really good team to do very little at the deadline, but the Devils did more than it appears. They added some substantial skill up front in forward Viktor Kozlov (Florida) and a decent two-way player in Jan Hrdina (Phoenix), who can check as well as contribute offensively. It might not be enough if Scott Stevens (concussion) doesn't return in full form, but it's still a substantial improvement for the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Philadelphia Flyers: On volume alone, the Flyers are winners, and if they get Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau back from injuries, they may well be the team to beat. However, there are two questions: Is Sean Burke the answer in goal, and is the defense really improved with Vladimir Malakhov (Rangers), a talented but often underachieving player, in the fold?
Phoenix Coyotes: It's not going to show this season, obviously, but the Yotes have improved their offensive skill. Some players, such as Morris and Mike Comrie (Philadelphia), have proven ability and might show more in a bigger role. Others, such as University of Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard, have a bright future. Nothing to get excited about yet, but there may well be a future in Phoenix, providing they get a coach.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have been sagging a bit, but they are a good team and should be better with center Curtis Brown (Buffalo), who can kill penalties, win faceoffs against the best of them and score the occasional goal.
Toronto Maple Leafs: We hesitate to jump on the ever-revving Leafs bandwagon. After all, Calle Johansson (a free-agent defenseman) hasn't played all season, Ron Francis (Carolina) is 41, though he clearly has little left in the tank, and center Chad Kilger (Montreal, via waivers) is something of a giant enigma in that the tools never quite fit in the box. But then the Leafs did get Brian Leetch, and that alone makes a good offensive team better at both ends of the ice. Even if Francis supplies only faceoff wins and character, it's a boost. Johansson, who was a steadying presence on Washington's blue line, could help again. They're a better team, but the Leafs don't have a safety net should Belfour's wonky back go out and haven't fully addressed their physical needs.
Vancouver Canucks: The Todd Bertuzzi incident looms large and clearly impacted general manager Brian Burke's moves. The Canucks didn't address their goaltending, either by replacing Dan Cloutier as No. 1 or acquiring a veteran backup. But they added significant offense in left winger Geoff Sanderson (Columbus) and Martin Rucinsky (Rangers), some defensive experience in Marc Bergevin (Pittsburgh) and a couple of depth players in Sergei Varlamov (St. Louis) and Sylvain Blouin (Montreal). Where everyone fits remains to be seen, but the pickups themselves aren't bad.
It's probably not fair to put the loser tag on every team we name here. After all, are any of these guys worse than the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals? Still, these teams didn't get a whole lot better.
Chicago Blackhawks: How can you lose at the trade deadline when you quit the season a long time ago? Call me in three or four years and we'll talk. Maybe by then people will forget that Steve Sullivan (Nashville) and Alexei Zhamnov (Philadelphia) are gone.
Columbus Blue Jackets: While moving Geoff Sanderson (Vancouver) for anything (third-round pick) is a win at this point in the season, this is a team that should have been keeping up with its expansion brethren and hasn't.
Minnesota Wild: A heartbeat away from the Stanley Cup finals last spring, the Wild never mustered a credible threat this season and didn't seem to try. With their kind of defense and goaltending, a little early-season move to goose the offense would have done wonders. Instead, the Wild let Marian Gaborik's holdout dictate their fate and folded the game plan to wait for a new collective bargaining agreement.
New York Islanders: Perhaps the only team that can make an eight-point lead look unsafe, the Islanders aren't winning right now and need to at least assume Buffalo still is trying to overtake them. Getting defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev (Chicago) for a fourth-round pick and reacquiring Steve Webb doesn't seem like enough.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Nothing left to give, nothing they can afford to get. It's almost as if there is no there there.
This is the category where teams get off a little easier than just being tabbed losers. You could argue that there are no winners here, but there was a plan.
The house cleaners
New York Rangers: Someday it may well be a good thing that Brian Leetch, Matthew Barnaby, Chris Simon, Petr Nedved, Alexei Kovalev, Jussi Markkanen, Martin Rucinsky, Vladimir Malakhov, Greg de Vries and Paul Healey (what did he do?) are gone. Given the season they've had on Broadway, it's a good thing already. But this wasn't a fire sale, it was a raging inferno that left charred remains. One can't help but wonder whether the Rangers even have enough players to finish the season. Despite missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season, there is something to plan for during the postseason -- Mark Messier's retirement speech. Is that Neil Smith we hear snickering in the background?
Washington Capitals: Eight veterans and a boatload of cash are off the books. Heck, they even "traded" Calle Johansson -- a retired player -- to the Leafs (actually, they just gave their permission). GM George McPhee made moves for the future, and more than a few of them should turn out better than the ones Sather made. But the Caps aren't a whole lot better than Pittsburgh anymore, and that's not good for hockey in Washington.
Carolina Hurricanes: Trading away Boughner and Francis doesn't qualify as a total house cleaning, but it's not a big house to begin with. One can only assume GM Jim Rutherford has faith that all of his players will rebound from their subpar season.
Florida Panthers: Perhaps the biggest base of talented youth in the league, GM Rick Dudley sponged off the ledger books in trading away Bure and Kozlov (either that or he just doesn't like guys whose first name starts with V).
The wheel spinners
Buffalo Sabres: They made a nice pickup in defensemen Jeff Jillson (Boston via San Jose) and Brad Brown (Minnesota) to fill holes in an injured defense, and getting Mike Grier (Washington) addresses the need for size on the wing. But the Sabres needed goaltending and a quarterback for their power play and got neither.
Edmonton Oilers: Petr Nedved (Rangers) could help a little, and defenseman Tom Gilbert (Colorado) could do the same, but didn't you expect a little more from a team that really needs to make the playoffs and never really replaced Todd Marchant?
Los Angeles Kings: They made decent pickups in defenseman Nathan Dempsey (Chicago) and Anson Carter (Washington), but that's about it. However, it's understandable when there are so many injured players who can't be moved.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs seem as though they're trying, but I've yet to see the team that really improved itself by acquiring the enigmatic Kovalev. Yeah, he's got talent, but will he use it?
St. Louis Blues: They didn't need a whole lot to get back into playoff contention, so getting Mike Sillinger (Phoenix) helped in that regard. But where's the backup in goal and depth on defense? They could have had Brian Savage (Phoenix) for free on waivers, but given they got him for future considerations, they probably did.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks: They swapped defensemen with the Avalanche, getting Martin Skoula for Kurt Sauer, last week, and waited until the deadline to see whether they were a buyer or a seller. They ended up doing nothing.
Calgary Flames: GM and coach Darryl Sutter made a couple of moves to address toughness issues (Chris Simon, Rangers) and depth (Marcus Nilson, Florida). He likely could have done more had he been able to find a taker for goaltender Roman Turek.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Reacquiring Stan Neckar qualifies as a move, but it's marginal at best, as he's been out almost all season with groin problems. Still, when you're the hottest team in the league and just picked up a little defensive depth for next to nothing, who's to complain?
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.