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Eric Duhatschek

Canucks create biggest deadline splash with beefed up roster Add to ...

In the end, there were no blockbuster deals completed Monday as the NHL’s 2012 trading deadline passed, with 16 deals officially completed, many of them involving roster tweaks as opposed to seismic shifts. The Columbus Blue Jackets were dangling the two biggest fish, forwards Jeff Carter and Rick Nash, and only Carter was moved, last week to the Los Angeles Kings.

The fact that the Blue Jackets couldn’t find a new home for Nash means that soap opera will play out a little longer – until the June entry draft at least, where all the teams that fail to win the Stanley Cup this spring will revisit the chance to land a skilled, but disgruntled power forward, seeking a divorce from his original NHL team.

It meant that the most memorable tremors were created by Canada’s only legitimate Stanley Cup contender, the Vancouver Canucks, and right there at the witching hour too.

First, the Canucks acquired centre Sami Pahlsson from the Blue Jackets, a third-line centre with a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé (2007, with the Anaheim Ducks). Then, just as all the TV analysts were pondering what that move might mean for Cody Hodgson, who had been the third-line centre, Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis provided the answer.

Gillis made a bold move, sending Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres along with spare defenceman Alexander Sulzer. In return, the Canucks landed one of the league’s emerging young heavyweights, Zach Kassian, along with a skilled defenceman, Marc-André Gragnani, who had a breakout playoff for the Sabres last year, scoring seven points in seven games.

All in one fell swoop, the Canucks addressed a couple of bothersome issues on what is otherwise a deep, talented team. Pahlsson will provide penalty-killing and face-off skills and take some of the pressure to do those things away from Ryan Kesler, a perennial Selke Trophy candidate, who can be deployed in more of an offensive role now. Last year, there was a great deal of concern that Kesler was being overplayed – and then he got hurt in the semi-finals against the San Jose Sharks and wasn’t much of a factor when they played the final against the Boston Bruins.

Kassian is a reasonably skilled tough guy, who can provide his teammates with a little protection, so the next time Brad Marchand delivers an unscheduled face wash to Daniel Sedin, someone will be there to provide a response.

All in all, it amounted to a good day’s work for Gillis, who addressed his organizational needs without surrendering his primary trading asset, goaltender Cory Schneider. Pahlsson is five years removed from that memorable playoff on behalf of the Ducks, but he was mentioned in the MVP conversation back then. Considering most rentals went for second- and third-round picks, the acquisition cost for Pahlsson – a pair of fourth-round draft choices – was modest by this year’s standards.

Pahlsson sounded shook up by the trade, but presumably, Vancouver’s contingent of Swedish players, the Sedins and defenceman Alexander Edler, will make the transition easier.

Hodgson too was taken aback by the news. His name had been featured in the rumour mill for years and at 22, didn’t emerge as an NHL regular until this year. He actually played more playoff (12) than regular-season (eight) games for the Canucks last season, after spending much of the year with the Manitoba Moose. Of late, he had been one of the hottest rookies in the NHL, so his departure came as something of a surprise – to him and to a lot of people in Vancouver. With the Sabres, Hodgson has a chance to be a top-six forward, which he likely wouldn’t have been if he’d stayed in Vancouver, and played behind Kesler and Henrik Sedin. Hodgson’s acquisition also positions Buffalo to trade away Derek Roy in the off-season, a player whose name had been kicked around in the rumour mill all year.

For the most part, trading deadline action involved a lot of shuffling of pieces, teams mimicking Vancouver’s actions – narrowly targeting their perceived deficiencies and then making moves to remedy them. There were far more hockey deals than usual too, beginning in Edmonton, where the Oilers acquired heart-and-soul defenceman Nick Schultz from the Minnesota Wild for Tom Gilbert. Schultz is exactly what the Oilers need in this middle stage of their rebuilding process, a steady, stay-at-home defenceman, who plays quiet, efficient minutes.

If the Oilers ultimately morph into a 21st century version of their run-and-gun dynasty teams, then Schultz will play the part of Lee Fogolin, who was Kevin Lowe’s partner on the No. 2 five-man unit that also included a couple of guys named Messier and Anderson.

When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and the rest go on the attack, Schultz will be there to provide something that the current edition of the team didn’t have, a defensive presence in front of whoever happens to be tending goal that night.

One of the teams that usually spends deadline day on the sidelines because of financial restrictions, the Nashville Predators also made a noteworthy splash. They ended up with checking centre Paul Gaustad from the Buffalo Sabres, to solidify the bottom end of the roster, the Montreal Canadiens’ mercurial Andrei Kostitsyn to add scoring, and weeks ago, ex-Hab Hal Gill to stabilize the defence. Pretty good, when you think about how nicely they supplement the defensive corps of Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. The only question in Nashville, as in Vancouver, is how does the chemistry of a good team shift with so many new players in the mix. Check back in April, when the answers start to come.

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