Eastern Conference Winners; Who’s Poised to Make a Run?
The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and along with the endless parody accounts and the fake Bob McKenzies of the world, some pretty big pieces were shuffled around the East.
But wading through the post-deadline dumpster fire and the #FireGarthSnow hashtags, just who came out best positioned to make a run at perennial Eastern Conference powerhouses Pittsburgh and Boston?
Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens were able to bolster their sluggish offense by adding highly coveted rental Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders. The steep price, you ask? A conditional second-round pick in 2014 that only is in play if Montreal makes the post-season, and prospect Sebastian Collberg, currently residing in the Swedish Elite League. The trade itself wasn’t announced until shortly after the 3 PM EST trading deadline, leaving many to believe that Islanders GM Garth Snow had completely overplayed his hand with Vanek.
The deal is nothing short of a fleecing by Montreal, who adds Vanek to an offense that sorely needed a spark. Vanek’s 21 goals and 53 total points will go a long way in helping offensive production for a team that is barely in the NHL top 20 in goals per game (2.48).
Perhaps more importantly, Vanek has consistently played very well against the rival Boston Bruins. He’s shown an ability to break down defense, notably against Boston captain Zdeno Chara, and has tallied 61 points in just 53 career games against Boston. His staggering point total goes along with an incredible plus-21 rating against the Bruins, and should help close the gap between Montreal and their fierce rival.
New York Rangers: As we covered ad-nausem yesterday on FTHN, the Rangers completed a deal of epic proportions, sending former captain Ryan Callahan along with 1st and 2nd round picks in 2015 and 2014 respectively, to the Lightning for Martin St.Louis, in an unprecedented captain-for-captain swap.
St.Louis provides immediate offensive firepower for a Rangers team that desperately needed it. Despite his age, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner is firmly entrenched as a top 10 scorer in the NHL, his 61 total points good for 8th overall. As was on display last night in the Rangers 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, St.Louis’ arrival has rejuvenated embattled centerman Brad Richards, and his tutelage of young stars Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan cannot be quantified on a stat sheet.
Washington Capitals: Unfortunately, a perennial rival of the Rangers also improved in the days leading up to the March 5th deadline. Washington was able to add rental goalie Jaroslav Halak to its ranks, as well as big bodied forward Dustin Penner from Anaheim.
Halak provides much needed Braden Holtby insurance for the Capitals, who have been looking for a consistent answer between the pipes for quite some time. Holtby was chased Wednesday night in Philadelphia, after allowing four goals on only 18 shots.
In Penner, the Capitals get a mountain of a man that can park his huge 6’4, 247 pound frame in front of goaltenders, something the Capitals have been searching for throughout the year. Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post points out that Penner’s tip-ins (10) and backhanded shots (12) are almost dead even with the entire Capitals team (12 in each category), and his physicality should be a welcomed addition in a wide open Eastern Conference.