How do these names sound as the follow-up to Tuesday’s flurry of middling and blockbuster trades on the eve of the NHL’s trade deadline: Steven Stamkos, Pekka Rinne, Kris Letang, Mikko Koivu and Dave Bolland?
None of them are likely to be included in any deals before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. (EST) trade deadline, but the equivalent will happen for their teams over the next week or so.
For example, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman will get the equivalent of a far bigger deal than trading the unhappy Martin St. Louis once Stamkos is cleared to play after almost four months on the injury list with a broken right tibia. (That is expected to happen as early as Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres.)
Combine that with the Tuesday return of centre Valtteri Filppula from a fractured ankle and, simply by standing pat, Yzerman accomplished the equivalent of a trade for two top-six forwards, one of them a superstar, while giving up nothing.
Every year at this time there are several NHL teams in that enviable position, not having to rush to the phone because of the good fortune of having a star player get healthy at the right time. This year is no different and it should add an interesting twist to the playoff stretch drive.
Aside from the Lightning, who went into Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues two points behind the third-place Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference, the teams to watch are the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and, to a lesser extent, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Pittsburgh Penguins also rate a mention, although it is still not clear when or even if star defenceman Letang (stroke) will be able to return this season.
The Predators were six points out of the last wild-card spot in the West before Tuesday’s game, which is not promising. But they landed one of the best goaltenders in the NHL with 21 games to play, as Rinne finally returned to the lineup after undergoing hip surgery last October.
Most intriguing are the Wild, who were also active on the trade front Tuesday, quelling rumours New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur would end his career there by landing Ilya Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers as insurance for Niklas Backstrom, who will miss the rest of the season with an abdominal injury. Plus, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was able to fix what was once a large hole down the middle when veteran centre Koivu returned last Monday from an eight-week absence due to a broken ankle.
While Koivu was out, sophomore centre Mikael Granlund (who also missed a month with a concussion) did a good job filling-in on the Wild’s top line. For now, he will keep that spot between Zach Parise and Jason Pominville while Koivu works his way back up to speed with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley.
If Bryzgalov can continue the solid goaltending he showed in his NHL comeback this season with the Oilers, and be insurance for rookie Darcy Kuemper, who was 11-2-2 with a .930 save percentage after taking over the No. 1 job, the Wild are well-positioned to hang on to their playoff spot in the Western Conference and make a move on the top five.
The Maple Leafs are not expected to make any noise on deadline day. But the best thing they can do to introduce a two-way game to their notoriously inconsistent season is to get hard-nosed centre Bolland back in the lineup after a four-month absence with a severed ankle tendon.
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