SPORTS

With no clear-cup Cup favourite, contenders all make trades before deadline

03/02/2015 08:44 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT
NHL general managers usually like their teams by this point in the season. Some love their teams.

This trade deadline wasn't made for that line of thinking. With no clear-cut Stanley Cup front-runner and a wide-open playoff picture, every team in the post-season race made at least one significant move within the past few weeks.

Deadline day was short on big names but not meaningful activity. The Montreal Canadiens added Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry and Buffalo Sabres forwards Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell to make a run in a wide-open Eastern Conference, and the St. Louis Blues got Arizona Coyotes defenceman Zbynek Michalek and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Olli Jokinen to try to get through the brutal West.

"The West is as tough as it ever was," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told reporters in Winnipeg.

Days after the Pacific Division-rival Los Angeles Kings got defenceman Andrej Sekera, the Anaheim Ducks acquired James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Korbinan Holzer from the Leafs and Simon Despres from the Pittsburgh Penguins to stack their blue-line.

Ducks GM Bob Murray looked at the Kings and others and was determined to make sure his team could play with them.

"You build to compete and beat certain teams. L.A. is a prime candidate," Murray said on a conference call Monday night. "We're capable now of competing against most of the teams in our conference."

No team within six points of a playoff spot in either conference stood pat. Some in the hunt like the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks sold with an eye on contending in the future.

Calgary didn't want to mortgage that, especially with the news that captain Mark Giordano is out for the remainder of the season with a torn biceps tendon. The Flames sit in a playoff spot but wouldn't have been able to replace the Norris Trophy candidate.

The Tampa Bay Lightning got the trading going after midnight when they sent first- and third-round picks to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenceman Braydon Coburn and dealt forward Brett Connolly to the Boston Bruins for two second-round picks. General manager Steve Yzerman said his No. 1 goal was to improve defensively and believes getting Coburn gives the Ligntning "a better chance to win in the playoffs."

Their chief competition in the Atlantic Division answered later.

Montreal gave up a second-round pick and a conditional fifth to rent Petry for the rest of this season and the playoffs, then strengthened its forward depth by getting Flynn and Mitchell in separate trades.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs still," GM Marc Bergevin told reporters in San Jose. "As far as I'm concerned, we still don't have a little nick next to the Montreal Canadiens in the standings, which means we haven't made the playoffs yet. But we put ourselves in a good spot."

The Detroit Red Wings, who were rumoured to be interested in Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, instead gave up a conditional third-round pick to get right-handed-shooting defenceman Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils.

The Canadiens, Lightning and Red Wings are separated by six points in the Atlantic. Six points also separate the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division: the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

All four teams made a move within 24 hours of the deadline, with the Islanders shoring up their goaltending by getting backup Michal Neuvirth from Buffalo and Pittsburgh getting more experience on defence.

"It's hard to sit back and do nothing when people are trying to do something," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters in Arlington, Va., after getting Curtis Glencross from the Flames a day earlier. "The Eastern Conference is pretty even in my mind."

The Nashville Predators lead the West, but there's no unstoppable force in that conference, either, especially since the Chicago Blackhawks learned star winger Patrick Kane was out until deep into the playoffs with a broken clavicle. After getting Andrew Desjardins from San Jose on Monday and landing Antoine Vermette from Arizona on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman believes this is the strongest this group has ever been at centre.

In a depth move, the Vancouver Canucks acquired 22-year-old forward Sven Baertschi from Calgary for a second-round pick in this year's draft.

In total, 19 teams made at least one trade involving an NHL player on deadline day, with 43 total moved. Twenty draft picks changed hands, too, including one first-rounder.

"Everybody says they're not going to trade picks and as soon as the first one goes, it's like, 'Whoa boy, we're off to the races," Flyers GM Ron Hextall told reporters in Voorhees, N.J. "Everybody says nobody's going to trade their first pick and (Pittsburgh) trades one (in January), and all of a sudden they start flying around. I'm not surprised. It happens every year."

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