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ERIK DUHATSCHEK

More fine-tuning than fireworks Add to ...

For the better part of six hours, the question of the day revolved around the big Rostislav Klesla-for-Scottie Upshall swap. A winning or losing proposition for the Phoenix Coyotes?

Yes, it was that grim - for fans watching the NHL trade deadline shows unfold on TV and for TV analysts waiting for something to analyze.

Thankfully, just as the 3 p.m. (Eastern) deadline approached, the NHL trading game heated up enough to get semi-interesting, with the Pittsburgh Penguins' primary rivals, the Washington Capitals, making two moves designed to put their mystifyingly average season back on the rails.

As insurance in case defenceman Mike Green is out for any extended period, the Capitals began by picking up a decent puck-moving defenceman, Dennis Wideman, acquired in the Florida Panthers' fire sale. Later, the Caps pried Jason Arnott out of the New Jersey Devils' organization, meeting their need for a quality second-line centre, who also has a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé and a reputation for getting the locker room in line. Arnott had a terrible start to the season, but his game came around right around the time Jacques Lemaire took over as coach - and he was a big part of the reason the Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league now. The Devils were just too far back in the playoff race when they made their coaching change, and so they came to Arnott after another victory Sunday and asked him to waive his no-trade clause.

Astonishingly, Washington is fourth out of five teams in scoring in the Southeast Division, with its best players (Green, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin) all having mediocre seasons by their standards and no one else filling the offensive void. Chemistry is an unpredictable quality, but maybe 36-year-old Arnott - even at this advanced stage of his career - can get more out of Semin than anyone else has been able to do this season.

In order to rent Arnott for the rest of the season, the Capitals paid a reasonably high price - face-off specialist David Steckel, the man that put Sidney Crosby on the shelf with a hit to the head in the Winter Classic, plus a second-round pick.

The big question: Is a quarter of a season enough time for Arnott to make an impact on the leadership side of the equation, which is as important as what he can do for them on the ice?

Otherwise, it was a day of tweaks, with all the major deals coming in the weeks before the deadline. Ultimately, the volume and scope of all the earlier deals undermined the action of the final 24 hours, but when you add up a month's worth of wheeling and dealing, there were a handful of significant player moves.

Some were interesting on a pure hockey level. Klesla, traded to the Coyotes from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Upshall, replaces the shutdown defenceman that Phoenix lost when Zbynek Michalek left last summer as an unrestricted free agent. Klesla can help the Coyotes greatly, provided he stays healthy.

Others were curious because of what they didn't do. Yes, Dustin Penner's move to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers gives the Kings another big body, but the their primary weakness is overall team speed. How does the slow-moving Penner address that shortcoming? On the other hand, Penner made an impact during the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup championship run in 2007, by ramping up his physical play. Provided the Kings actually make the playoffs, Penner adds to their overall postseason experience.

The Florida Panthers will miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, and under general manager Dale Tallon are immersed in another major rebuild. Three of their seven leading scorers (Wideman, Chris Higgins and Radek Dvorak) were dispatched Monday and others (Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Tomas Vokoun) may be on the way out at or before the draft.

A handful of teams, including the perennial contenders, the Detroit Red Wings, stood pat, which is sometimes the best strategy. A year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks added one small piece - defenceman Nick Boynton - and ended up winning the Stanley Cup because they liked what they had and didn't want to tamper with their chemistry.

It was virtually the same approach in Vancouver, where the Canucks added a couple of small supplementary pieces (Maxim Lapierre, Higgins), but will sink or swim on the backs of the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, the health of their defence and the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo.

And no amount of headline-grabbing news on deadline day was ever going to change that.



 

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