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Five teams that bolstered defense at trade deadline

by Dan Rosen

Starting with the blockbuster trade that brought Tyler Myers to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11, the run-up to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline was essentially a race among contending teams to bolster their blue lines.

The Jets, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings all acquired defensemen before the deadline.

In the case of trades the Penguins made with the Blues and Ducks, defensemen were swapped because of the different elements of the game they offer.

Considering what went on in the trade market more than a month ago, it's no surprise now that the defensemen traded have a chance to make a huge impact on their respective teams in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here are the five teams that have appeared to benefit the most by bolstering their blue lines before the deadline:

1. Anaheim Ducks

The additions of James Wisniewski and Simon Despres along with the subtraction of Ben Lovejoy have helped the Ducks become one of the best teams in the NHL at possessing the puck based on the metrics that are available.

Simon Despres
Defense - ANA
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 23
SOG: 103 | +/-: 11
The Ducks entered play Thursday fifth in the NHL with a 53.8 even-strength shot-attempts percentage (SAT%) since March 2, according to Anaheim was 17th in the NHL at 50.5 SAT% heading into trade deadline day.

Wisniewski has a 55.7 SAT% and Despres a 53.1 SAT% since arriving in Anaheim. The Despres-for-Lovejoy trade with the Penguins has turned out to be a steal for the Ducks. Lovejoy has struggled with Pittsburgh while Despres has been effective in his role with Anaheim.

The extra possession hasn't led to more offense, as the Ducks were averaging 2.83 goals-per-game in 64 games before the deadline and have averaged 2.64 in 17 games since, but on the whole it has led to better goals-against in the majority of their games.

The Ducks have allowed 48 goals since the deadline, but 31 of those goals came in six games, when goaltending issues were more apparent than any defensive deficiencies.

Overall, the Ducks have gotten what they were hoping to get from their defensive additions; they have a more mobile defense unit, particularly since Sami Vatanen returned from injury, and can now win either with finesse or grit.

Although their record doesn't reflect them being better since the deadline (10-7-0), the Ducks are better suited to win in the postseason with Wisniewski and Despres joining Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler and Clayton Stoner on defense.

2. New York Rangers

It took a couple of weeks, but the Rangers are getting what they were hoping for from defenseman Keith Yandle, who they acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on March 1.

Yandle, who struggled with the system play and was turnover prone in his first two weeks with the Rangers, has figured it out since and has been one of their most important offensive contributors.

He entered the game Thursday against the Ottawa Senators with 10 points in his past 10 games, including four points over a three-game point-scoring streak.

As Yandle has started to figure out the systems and where his teammates go on the ice, he has started to play better and his first pass out of the defensive zone, which is arguably the best part of his game because of how often he puts it tape-to-tape, has been on display and excellent.

Yandle has been playing more minutes as a result of his strong play, but the Rangers defensive depth is evident when they can use him on the third pair. Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal are considered the Rangers top-two left-handed defensemen.

3. Winnipeg Jets

Myers has had an impact on the Jets blue line because of the minutes he's playing, the assignments he's getting, and the points he's producing.

He has had a bigger impact on the Jets than defenseman Zach Bogosian, who went to the Buffalo Sabres with Evander Kane in the trade that brought Myers and forward Drew Stafford along with prospects to Winnipeg.

Myers hasn't been a dominant possession defenseman by any means with 49.27 SAT%, but he's played nearly 24 minutes per game and has started the most shifts of any Jets defenseman in the defensive zone. In addition, Myers routinely gets the tougher matchups.

Entering Thursday, Myers had 15 points and was a plus-9 in 23 games with the Jets. Take it for what it's worth, but he had 13 points in 47 games with the Sabres this season.

Winnipeg was 13-8-2 with Myers in the lineup (he missed the game March 14), including 8-3-0 with Myers in and Dustin Byfuglien out. Myers' impact helped the Jets overcome losing Byfuglien for 13 games, including the past four because of a suspension.

4. Washington Capitals

Tim Gleason hasn't had a big impact on the score sheet with two points in 16 games for the Capitals since they acquired him on Feb. 28, but he has had an impact in rounding out the top six and making Washington deeper and more experienced overall on the back end.

The Capitals have been slightly better defensively with Gleason in the lineup than without him this season. They've allowed 2.18 goals per game in the 16 games with him in the lineup as opposed to 2.52 per game in the 65 without him.

Sample size might be a reason for that, but having Gleason as the No. 6 defenseman instead of Nate Schmidt or Jack Hillen has given the Capitals a better top-six defense group to play in front of goalie Braden Holtby.

Gleason's presence also has given coach Barry Trotz the confidence to play Mike Green more at even strength because he trusts the third pair now more than he did before Gleason arrived. That means Trotz is also using top-four defensemen John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner less during even-strength play, which is keeping them fresher.

5. Detroit Red Wings

Marek Zidlicky has fit in perfectly as the right-handed shooting defenseman the Red Wings so desperately needed in their lefty-laden lineup. Zidlicky and Brendan Smith have been Detroit's best defense pair since Zidlicky debuted on March 4 after being traded by the New Jersey Devils.

Marek Zidlicky
Defense - DET
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 34
SOG: 127 | +/-: -8
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has had them together in every game and they have been possession drivers. They each had a plus-57 SAT% through their first 19 games together (prior to Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens).

Zidlicky got off to a hot start offensively too. He scored the overtime winner in his Red Wings debut, a 2-1 win against the Rangers. He had three goals and seven points in his first seven games with Detroit.

To win in the playoffs the Red Wings will have to control the puck and use their power play. Zidlicky has been effective at helping them do this.


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