BY STEPHEN WHYNO
The 2016 NHL trade deadline is no time for conservative behavior.
Before the weekend even arrived, the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks loaded up with Andrew Ladd and more, and on Saturday the upstart Florida Panthers made three trades to prepare for the playoffs. The pressure’s on other contenders even more than usual leading up to the 3 p.m. ET deadline Monday.
“I think teams making a push put pressure on themselves to accomplish something,” said Brian MacLellan, general manager of the league-leading Washington Capitals. “You get caught up in it during the deadline. I think (fellow GMs) want to show their team they’re adding. The fans want to see you add something, and more than not, there’s not enough players that can have an impact on your team for everybody to accomplish that.”
At the 2016 trade deadline there actually might be. Even with Ladd, Jiri Hudler (Panthers), Eric Staal (Rangers) and other big names off the board, a surplus of sellers could make for a flurry of activity in the final hours, particularly with more players moving over the border from Canadian teams out of contention.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have already sent goaltender James Reimer, defenseman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks and Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche, but they still have pending free agents Michael Grabner, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Brad Boyes available.
“You look at it as to what is best for your team, what’s best for today, what’s best for tomorrow,” Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “(The trade deadline) gives us an opportunity to stay along the plan that has been put in place.”
It’s rebuilding time in Toronto and replenishing time in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The Canucks have perhaps the best rental player still available in defenseman Dan Hamhuis, and Flames blue liner Kris Russell should be highly sought after, too.
Out West, the Blackhawks’ additions of Ladd, forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff turned up the heat on the Central Division-rival Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators and also the Pacific-leading Los Angeles Kings. The Stars have two of the league’s most dynamic scorers in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin but could use another defensive defenseman to play with John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski and Johnny Oduya.
The Blues and Kings are hurting and as currently constructed would have a tough time against Chicago in a seven-game series. Los Angeles is missing winger Marian Gaborik — the trade-deadline addition who helped them win the Cup in 2014 — and two-time Cup-winning defenseman Matt Greene, so GM Dean Lombardi could use some additional depth.
Los Angeles also now has to worry about the Anaheim Ducks and Sharks. After missing the playoffs last season, San Jose is serious about contending this spring and must be considered a real threat to come out of the West.
“We always think it’s important to try and compete to win every year,” GM Doug Wilson said. “We’ve got some veteran guys that have worked their tails off this year and deserve that.”
The East-leading Capitals have an 11-point cushion over the Blackhawks in the Presidents’ Trophy race, but that doesn’t mean they can feel comfortable. MacLellan added defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres last week, and the road to the final has gotten rougher since that trade.
Florida added Hudler, winger Teddy Purcell and defenseman Jakub Kindl and on a conference call Saturday night, GM Dale Tallon said: “Who says we’re done? We want to win and we want to put the best team out there.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a position to get better if they get NHL talent for young winger Jonathan Drouin, on the block since he requested a trade earlier in the season. The defending Eastern Conference champions still have Steven Stamkos despite his pending free-agent status, and if they get a defenseman will be even more formidable than last spring.
The Rangers already are after sending second-round picks and prospect Aleksi Saarela to the Carolina Hurricanes for Staal. New York and Washington have met in the playoffs five times in the past seven years, and the division format puts them on another crash course.
“Internally, we’re trying to be the best we can be as a Ranger team and improve it, and try to become a harder team to play against,” GM Jeff Gorton said Sunday. “I think he gives us an added dimension to make us more dangerous and a harder team to beat.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.
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