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Eight contenders load up for playoff run before Trade Deadline

Teams strengthen Cup chances by adding key pieces

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

In the days, hours and minutes before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, rivals traded with rivals, first-round draft picks went flying, and the best teams got even better.


[RELATED: 2017-18 Trade Tracker]


Each of the top six teams in the NHL standings made significant improvements. So did the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and the top team in the League since Jan. 5. Don't forget the San Jose Sharks, the runners-up in 2016 either.

Here is look at eight teams that loaded up for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:


Boston Bruins

The hope is that forward Rick Nash will mesh with center David Krejci on the second line, use his 6-foot-4 frame to get to the net, and play a strong all-around game. If he plays up to his potential, he can be a difference-maker.

The concern is that he has 15 goals in 77 NHL playoff games. His shooting percentage is 12.1 in the regular season but 5.7 percent in the playoffs. Is that because he's been unlucky? Or because it's harder to get to the hard areas in the playoffs and he's been on the perimeter too often?

The Bruins also added defenseman Nick Holden and forwards Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels. How much does Gionta have left at 39 after not playing in the NHL this season and being captain of the United States at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics?

Video: Gionta, Nash and Wingels become Bruins


Nashville Predators

Forward Ryan Hartman adds a pain-to-play-against element, as long as he stays disciplined. Center Mike Fisher helps give the Predators more depth down the middle than ever before, at least in theory.

Last season, when they went to the Cup Final, Fisher was their No. 2 center. Now he'll be their No. 4 center behind Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino. The issue is that he hasn't played this season, is coming out of retirement and jumping in down the stretch, and it remains to be seen how well he will get up to speed.

The Predators also hope to sign forward Eeli Tolvanen, their first-round pick (No. 30) in the 2017 NHL Draft, when his season ends with Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League. Tolvanen had nine points (three goals, six assists) in five games for Finland at the Olympics, tied for second in the tournament.


Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins might be stronger down the middle now than they were when they won the Cup the past two seasons.

They still have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, each healthy and at the top of his game. Malkin is first in the NHL in scoring since Jan. 5 with 38 points; Crosby is second in that span with 32. And now they have Derick Brassard at No. 3 center instead of Bonino and Riley Sheahan at No. 4 instead of Matt Cullen.

Brassard has 55 points (22 goals, 33 assists) in 78 NHL playoff games; Bonino has 40 (16 goals, 24 assists) in 75.

Though the Penguins would have loved to have kept Cullen in free agency -- or brought him back in a trade from the Minnesota Wild -- he's 41, has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists), and is winning 50.6 percent of his face-offs. Sheahan is 26, has 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists), and is winning 55.2 percent of his face-offs.

Video: NHL Tonight on the complexity of the Brassard trade


San Jose Sharks

The Sharks lost forward Patrick Marleau in free agency and center Joe Thornton to a knee injury. They filled the void internally but still needed an offensive boost, especially after the loss of Thornton. They entered Monday 17th in the NHL in scoring (2.83 goals per game).

Evander Kane adds speed and scoring. He is being welcomed in the room by captain Joe Pavelski, who played with him with Minsk of the KHL in 2012-13. He should be motivated with his contract about to expire, and it sounds like the Sharks are motivated to make him want to sign an extension.

"We see this as a great opportunity for him to get to know our group and the city of San Jose," general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement.


Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning led the NHL with 87 points. Forward Nikita Kucherov led the League with 82 points. They have center Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and more.

And now, subtracting only forward Vladislav Namestnikov from the roster, they have forward J.T. Miller and defenseman Ryan McDonagh too.

Miller offsets the loss of Namestnikov, and McDonagh, the key acquisition, upgrades the defense. The 28-year-old was captain of the New York Rangers and has 96 games of NHL playoff experience. The Lightning have half the defense that went to the 2014 Cup Final with the Rangers: McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman.

Video: Lightning acquire Ryan McDonagh from Rangers


Toronto Maple Leafs

After the Maple Leafs acquired center Tomas Plekanec, coach Mike Babcock didn't talk about his age (35), points (24) or speed (declining). He talked about his maturity, how well he plays without the puck, and how he wins face-offs, especially on his strong side.

In other words, he is Babcock's type of player and what the Maple Leafs needed.

Toronto has Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak at center on its first three lines. Plekanec will play a fourth-line, situational role, taking tough defensive assignments and freeing up the other three. He has played 87 NHL playoff games and is winning 52.6 percent of his face-offs this season.


Winnipeg Jets

Paul Stastny is a good No. 2 center on most teams and should be an excellent No. 3 for the Jets behind Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little. Better yet, he waived his no-trade clause to leave the St. Louis Blues. He wants to be in Winnipeg for this run.

Stastny, 32, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, is a smart, dependable, two-way player. He adds valuable playoff experience to a team that doesn't have much, with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 55 NHL playoff games.

Video: How do you feel about Stastny moving to Winnipeg?

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights added goal-scoring on the third line with Tomas Tatar and toughness on the fourth line with Ryan Reaves. Most important, they didn't subtract any key pieces.

The thought was that the Golden Knights would sell pending unrestricted free agents for assets at the deadline. But they kept winning and winning, and signed forward Jonathan Marchessault and defensemen Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb. On deadline day, they were one point behind the Lightning for first in the NHL standings, and kept forwards James Neal and David Perron.

This is more than an expansion team, more than the best expansion team in NHL history. This is a legitimate contender.

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