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Atlantic: Breaking down the division at the deadline

by Chuck Gormley

The Rangers have points in seven straight games and 10 of their last 12.
Watch the Rangers add to their point total
Sometimes, like in the magical spring of 1994, trade deadline deals can transform a talented team into a playoff powerhouse. Just ask Neil Smith, who threw caution (and some might say his team’s future) to the wind when he acquired Stanley Cup veterans Glenn Anderson and Craig MacTavish from the Edmonton Oilers and Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Mike Gartner, Todd Marchant, Tony Amonte and Matt Oates.

The buffed-up New York Rangers responded by breaking a 54-year-old curse.

There are other examples of deadline deals pushing teams over the top. In 2000, Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque asked to be traded to a Cup contender and was sent, along with Dave Andreychuk, to the Colorado Avalanche for Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Sami Pahlsson and a first-round pick. Bourque’s request ended with his first and only Stanley Cup ring in 2001.

In 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes obtained veteran Mark Recchi at the deadline (two months earlier they had picked up Doug Weight) for Niklas Nordgren, Krys Kolanos and a second-round pick and recorded six points in seven playoff games to help the ‘Canes to their first Stanley Cup.

Perhaps that is why 91 players were traded in the month of February last season. But only one – mucker Brad May – went on to win a Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

With Tuesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline drawing near, there is no shortage of high-profile names being tossed around by NHL general managers. You’ve got your UFA rentals -- Marian Hossa, Rob Blake, Brian Campbell, Dan Boyle, Vinny Prospal, Michael Ryder -- who have the option of signing elsewhere on July 1.

You have your potential salary dumps -- Brad Richards, Jaromir Jagr, Bryan McCabe and Olli Jokinen -- who have multiple years and/or multiple millions remaining on their contracts.

And you’ve got Peter Forsberg, who needs to be placed on an NHL roster by 3 p.m. on Tuesday to be eligible to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I think there will be a lot of trades,” Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren predicted three days before Deadline Day. “Right now, there is still a lot of posturing going on.”

If you place any stock in recent history, the rent-a-player approach rarely benefits the team on the receiving end. Last year, the Nashville Predators gave up two promising players (Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent) and two draft picks (first and third) for Forsberg and were bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Forsberg never returned to Nashville.

The New York Islanders surrendered two prospects and a first-round draft pick for Ryan Smyth, got knocked out in the first round and watched Smyth walk.

The Atlanta Thrashers gave up three draft picks (including a first-rounder) for Keith Tkachuk, lost in the first round, and Tkachuk skated off into the sunset.

“First-round picks used to have a lot of value,” Anaheim Ducks General Manager Brian Burke said. “And now guys throw them around at the deadline like quarters.”

Here’s a quick look at possible trade strategies for the five teams in the Atlantic Division.

New York Islanders -- Two weeks ago, the Isles had lost seven straight and were looking like playoff no-shows. But a six-game win streak changed all that and now the Islanders are knocking on the postseason door again.

So, will Garth Snow’s Isles go from sellers to buyers? He’s got three soon-to-be UFAs -- forwards Mike Comrie, Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko -- who could make a huge impact on a Cup contender.


The Isles could pull a reverse trade from last year and acquire young prospects for Comrie, Satan or Fedotenko, or they could roll the dice with the players they have and hope a healthy Rick DiPietro can steal them a playoff series or two.

Snow made a commitment to the Islanders’ future by signing Trent Hunter to a five-year extension and with top prospects Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo poised to make contributions next season, it’s more likely the Islanders will add youth than experience.

Philadelphia Flyers -- A year ago, the Flyers were last in the NHL and played the role of sellers. This year, they are injury-ridden, battling for a playoff spot and clearly in the buyers’ market.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said he wants his nucleus of young players to experience the pressures and excitement of the playoffs this season, but not at any cost. In other words, he is hesitant to trade Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger, Scottie Upshall, Claude Giroux or James van Riemsdyk for a rental like Rob Blake, likely sign elsewhere July 1.


But with Mike Richards (torn hamstring) out at least three weeks and Simon Gagne (concussion) done for the season, Holmgren finds himself in a very precarious position. Does he mortgage some of his team’s future (Carter, Upshall, Giroux, van Riemsdyk) for a chance to get into this year’s playoffs?

“That’s what we’re weighing right now,” he said. “If the price is too high or nothing makes sense, we won’t do anything.”

New York Rangers -- Fans will talk for years about the Canadiens’ incredible five-goal comeback against the Rangers last week, but overlooked since that shootout defeat is the fact the Blueshirts have points in seven straight games and 10 of their last 12.

That resurgence could keep GM Glen Sather from conducting the fire sale many expected a few weeks ago. Tormenting Rangers fans is the uncertain futures of forwards Martin Straka, 35, Jagr, 36, and Brendan Shanahan, 39.

Should the Rangers stand pat and see how far their veterans can take them in the playoffs? Or should they send them to Cup contenders and bring in younger support for Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Sean Avery?

New Jersey Devils -- Only a cynic (or a Rangers fan) would suggest the Devils tear apart their nucleus and trade for Marian Hossa.


Quite frankly, the Devils look just fine the way they are. As long as they can keep winning 2-1 games the way they did Sunday against Washington and pencil Martin Brodeur’s name on the lineup sheet, the Devils will be contenders in the East.

The Devils are peaking at the perfect time, having won five in a row and seven of eight to grab the conference lead.

The Devils are a little green on the back end with Andy Greene, Sheldon Brookbank and Johnny Oduya and could benefit from a veteran defenseman who can serve as a seventh D-man.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- With captain Sidney Crosby poised for a return to the lineup and Evgeni Malkin on a tear, the Penguins have been surprisingly resilient without their MVP and could benefit from a mid-range deal for a veteran defenseman.

Playoff-tested Rob Blake would be the perfect rental for the Penguins, whose lack of experience on defense could hurt in the postseason. The Penguins have one of hockey’s most intriguing prospects in Angelo Esposito, who has 55 points in 47 games for the Quebec League’s Quebec Remparts. If they are willing to deal Esposito the Penguins could get in the running for a veteran defenseman like Blake, Dan Boyle or Brian Campbell.


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