My first reaction to the wild drama of 11th hour trades in the NHL remains the same: Don’t over-react…unless you witness a team over-reacting.
Case-in-point, the St. Louis Blues, which captured their fifth straight win since the acquisition of goalie Ryan Miller from Buffalo. Included were three straight road victories against Central Division foes, allowing St. Louis to surpass Anaheim as the top team in the Western Conference.
The Blues, a hockey club with a solid goalie in Jaroslav Halak, now looks almost invincible with Miller, who is comparable in statistics, but owns a reputation for winning.
While the deal transforms St. Louis into a Cup contender, can Halak become the difference-maker in Washington?
The Capitals enter the week just a single point behind Columbus and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth.
Halak is an upgrade, even if temporary, to start over a young yet growing Braden Holtby. And the switch of Dustin Penner (from Anaheim) to replace Martin Erat is another plus. But the remainder of the Caps schedule makes the road to the playoffs almost impossible.
This week is a home-and-home against Pittsburgh, a probable playoff opponent if they make it. Next week, it’s three games in hockey’s new Death Hole: California (Ducks, Kings and Sharks). Then 5-of-7 on the road before closing at home with Chicago and Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay is quickly slipping to a date with a nearby golf course because of failures on both ends of the ice.
On defense, the Lightning have held an opponent to a single goal just once in their last 17 contests.
But at the deadline, GM Steve Yzerman launched captain Martin St. Louis, the defending NHL scoring champion, who wanted out after an initial Olympic snub. Sure, he finally gained a berth to Sochi, but it left a bad taste in his mouth.
Some would say, “Fine. St. Louis is out, but Steven Stamkos is back.” Wrong.
Stamkos was successful directly because of St. Louis, and with no other true playmaker on the roster, Stamkos, who still looks anything but 100 percent healthy, will suffer in point production. Winger Ryan Callahan, just picked up from the Rangers, may fill the void, but he’s only a rental for the stretch run.
(Note: Callahan, you’re nuts! You were offered $6 million for six years by NYR. No other team would dare offer you anything close.)
If the Bolts slip and miss the playoffs, then all five teams in the old Southeast Division will be hitting golf balls – a prediction made in this column at the start of the season.
Meanwhile, St. Louis reunites in New York with Brad Richards, bolstering the offense of the Rangers, who would host Philadelphia in the first round if the season ended today.
Minnesota was involved in the biggest goalie move no one talked about. Darcy Kuemper will be the No. 1 goalie for the balance of the season with Niklas Backstrom being shut down with injuries and Josh Harding suffering new complications with his medication for multiple sclerosis.
The Wild improved their offense with the pick-up of Ilya Bryzgalov, too. And with seven straight games coming up against the weaker East, this team will get strong looks in the next two weeks.
The LA Kings raided Columbus for offense, getting Marian Gaborik at a cheap price. Now they’re scoring while still playing defense, leading to a league-best 7-game win streak.
Dallas rallied too late to top Minnesota on Mike Modano Night, but lost goalie Kari Lehtonen indefinitely after a head-to-head collision with Wild winger Erik Haula, who received a major penalty for charging.
Fortunately, the four teams chasing the Stars – Phoenix, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary – all look incapable of catching them.
Along with Modano in Dallas, congratulations to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom for getting their numbers retired this past week. Too bad Lidstrom isn’t still skating. With four centers injured or playing hurt, the Wings streak of 23 consecutive playoff appearances is in jeopardy.
Maybe the winner in the trade derby was San Jose, who stood pat – no moves. With 24 goals in their last six games, plus a recent shutout by goalie Antti Niemi, this could finally be the year in the Bay Area.
Contact Nick at [email protected].