The West just got wilder and the Columbus Blue Jackets are going all in on their late-season NHL playoff push.
The Blue Jackets followed up last week’s addition of Ottawa forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel by acquiring New York Rangers defenceman Adam McQuaid and New Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid as Monday’s NHL trade deadline arrived — moves overshadowed by a series of trades made by some of the top contenders in the Western Conference.
A year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, the Vegas Golden Knights not only acquired Ottawa forward Mark Stone but also reached an agreement to sign the pending unrestricted free agent to a contract extension.
The Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets completed six trades, most notably acquiring centre Kevin Hayes by sending forward Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick to the retooling Rangers. Hayes has topped 40 points in four of his five NHL seasons, and is initially projected to take over the second-line centre spot alongside Patrik Laine.
“It’s obviously tough to leave New York, but I’m excited to join the Jets,” Hayes said. “I mean, everybody knows how good they are and the type of players they have on their team.”
And the Nashville Predators, one point behind Winnipeg, refused to stand by and watch. Nashville acquired forward Mikael Granlund in a trade that sent Kevin Fiala to Minnesota, and then added power forward Wayne Simmonds in a deal with Philadelphia.
“It’s really competitive,” San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said, assessing the transformed landscape. “You look at the top of the food chain in the West, each team added some players. It will be a challenge going forward.”
Wilson improved his lineup a day earlier by acquiring Gustav Nyquist in a deal with Detroit. And then there were the blockbuster moves he made last summer by acquiring Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson and re-signing forward Evander Kane.
The Colorado Avalanche, who began the day ninth in the West and a point out of contention, attempted to fortify their playoff chances by acquiring forward Derick Brassard from Florida. Brassard is a 12-year-veteran who is switching teams for the second time in three weeks after being dealt to Florida by Pittsburgh.
Aside from Columbus, the most notable move in the East involved the Boston Bruins. They acquired forward Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was initially considered a seller leading up to the deadline. He instead continued a buying spree by shoring up Columbus’ blue line and goaltending depth.
“I think Jarmo — and that’s what I love about him — I think he’s got some jam. He wants to win,” coach John Tortorella said. “He’s letting the team know, and the team has heard it loud and clear, that he’s worked hard to upgrade our roster.”
Just as notable, the Blue Jackets didn’t trade forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, two players eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
The additions come at a time the Blue Jackets have won seven of 10 and jumped into third place of the Metropolitan Division standings, a point ahead of Pittsburgh, which is currently ninth and out of the playoff picture.
Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan was intrigued by how Kekalainen approached the deadline.
“He got put in a difficult situation with two of his real high-end players that weren’t willing to commit to re-sign,” MacLellan said. “I think you’ve got to give him credit for going all in on it and seeing what happens.”
The defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals didn’t make any moves Monday, after upgrading their roster last week by acquiring forward Carl Hagelin from Los Angeles and defenceman Nick Jensen from Detroit.
The Penguins made two moves in shoring up an injury-depleted defence. They acquired Chris Wideman in a trade with Florida, and Erik Gudbranson in a deal that sent Tanner Pearson to Vancouver.
The league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning were among the teams standing pat. Others included the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes, who are attempting to snap a nine-year playoff drought — the NHL’s longest active streak. Carolina currently holds the conference’s second and final wild-card berth.
The rebuilding Senators added to their haul of prospects and draft picks by acquiring defenceman Erik Brannstrom, centre Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round selection in trading Stone to Vegas.
The 19-year-old Brannstrom was the key to the deal. He was selected with the 15th pick in the 2017 draft and currently has seven goals and 21 assists as a rookie with the AHL Chicago Wolves.
“Erik Brannstrom is the top defence prospect in the game; simply a dynamic talent who will be a major component of our future,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said. “He was undoubtedly the best prospect available at the trade deadline and in addition to his talent, he is a natural born leader.