Deadline Deals Tighten Competition

Barclay Poole
Mar 15, 2001

The NHL trade deadline has passed. Rumors and "what ifs" can now be replaced with updated rosters and line combinations. Although this year's deadline may be remembered most for the names that did not move, a number of key acquisitions were made. As we move toward the playoffs, several teams used the trade deadline and the preceding weeks to position themselves as contenders for Lord Stanley's Cup.

The West
Certainly Colorado seems to be the team to beat. They have all the key ingredients to be successful in the playoffs - great goaltending, great leadership, depth at forward and 3 of the top defenseman in the game. The Avalanche were predictably quiet on deadline day, as they had the smarts to wrap a deal for Rob Blake up weeks in advance and avoid last minute shakeups.

The biggest move of deadline day occurred when St. Louis acquired power forward Keith Tkachuk from Phoenix. Tkachuk will add much needed toughness up front, which will be a key to battling teams like Dallas, Detroit, San Jose and Colorado in the playoffs. Flames' center Cory Stillman was also acquired, rounding out two very good scoring lines. Whether or not their injury-ridden defense and shaky goaltending are adequate remains to be seen.

Dallas continued its tradition of acquiring wily veterans, picking up defenseman Grant Ledyard. The Stars know just how important defensive depth is to a playoff run, as they have represented the west in the finals two years in a row. Age is certainly catching up with the Stars, but their experience and leadership will make them tough in any seven game series.

San Jose has a legitimate shot at making some major noise in the west. Though Jeff Friesen will be missed, acquiring Teemu Selanne adds an element that the team has lacked - a pure scoring winger. Grouping Selanne with tough, hard working forwards, such as Owen Nolan, Scott Thornton, Todd Harvey and Mike Ricci completes a very nice offense. Two other players, Winger Bill Lindsay and defenseman Jeff Norton were also added, providing depth for what could be a lengthy playoff run.

Two Canadian teams, Vancouver and Edmonton are well stocked with good young talent and strong work ethic. But the financial situation of Canadian teams became evident once again as neither of these small market teams had the needed cash to pull off big deals. Only the minor additions of defenseman Drake Berehowsky to Vancouver and defenseman Sven Butenshcon to Edmonton were made.

The East
Certainly the East does not possess the raw talent that the top four teams of the west have. But the current Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils are at the top of the list and there are several talented teams who will be very scary come playoff time. New Jersey's interest in Keith Tkachuk did not materialize at the deadline. But their earlier acquisition of Sean O'Donnell adds to an already suffocating defensive core and goalie John Vanbiesbrouck is on board in case anything should happen to Martin Brodeur. The Devils look to be in great shape to make another run.

But several teams are waiting in line for a crack at New Jersey. Most notable are the Ottawa Senators, a team that has as much scoring depth at forward as anybody. The Senators' two key acquisitions at the deadline were a prime example of how a team can improve without subtracting from its core. Highly sought centerman Mike Sillinger was acquired to concentrate on key faceoffs and defensive play while defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn will add depth and Stanley Cup experience to a young, but talented defense.

The most active team at the deadline in the east was the Washington Capitals. Adding veteran Trevor Linden will bring leadership and playoff experience while Dainus Zubrus will provide added offense. With veterans Adam Oates, Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig playing very well, the Washington Capitals are a very hot team.

The Buffalo Sabres failed to pull off a much-anticipated trade of Michael Peca. However, they were able to acquire veterans Donald Audette and Steve Heinze. Both are enjoying very productive years and the Sabres will benefit from their offensive abilities. Their obvious strength however, lies in goaltender Dominek Hasek and the team will go as far as he can take them. This may be the Sabres' last shot with Hasek manning the net. Gaining something from a Peca trade could have possibly put this team over the top.

The other 3 main players in the East, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Pittsburgh all made minor moves, but the trades that weren't made was the much bigger news in these cities. Pittsburgh failed to add a proven goaltender to step in and be the backbone of their potent offense. Philadelphia failed to gain anything for restricted free agent Eric Lindros as a deal could not be worked out with either Toronto or St. Louis. Like Buffalo, failing to use such an asset in upgrading the team may come back to haunt the Flyers.

This year's playoff could be one of the most competitive we have seen in some time. There are no true weak links in either conference. Certainly teams like New Jersey, Colorado and Detroit look like the favorites. But teams like Buffalo, San Jose, Washington, Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia and St. Louis are very well positioned to get hot and make a run. There is only one problem. Just how much can we expect the survivor of each conference to have left for the Stanley Cup Finals?

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