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Five underrated trades made prior to 2015 deadline

by Dan Rosen

The blockbuster trades, and even the ones that never get made, are the attention grabbers on Trade Deadline day in the NHL, but they are far from the only ones that can make a big impact.

Sometimes it's the lesser-known trades that enhance a team's chances of either securing a Stanley Cup Playoff berth or going deep in the postseason.

Take, for example, the impact forward Michal Handzus made with the Chicago Blackhawks after they acquired him at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline for a fourth-round draft pick. Handzus was a cheap addition, filled a hole at center, and helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Similarly, in 2012 the Blackhawks got defenseman Johnny Oduya for two draft picks. He has played a significant role in Chicago ever since, making the price of a second- and third-round pick seem well worth it.

Forward Chris Higgins has been a worthwhile contributor for the Vancouver Canucks since they acquired him prior to the deadline in 2011 for a defense prospect and a third-round pick. Higgins helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

Here are five examples of underrated trades made prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline (note they weren't all made Monday) that could be talked about as having a significant impact at some point this spring:

1. Blackhawks bolster blue line

Trade: Chicago Blackhawks acquire defenseman Kimmo Timonen from Philadelphia Flyers for a second-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2016

This might be another one of those moves like Oduya coming to Chicago in 2012.

Timonen hasn't played this season because of blood clots, but he was considered a top defenseman for the Flyers as recently as last season. There's no doubt he is rested and ready to play, and he has more than a month to get up to speed for when Chicago will really need him.

Timonen also fits how the Blackhawks play. He moves the puck quickly, can connect on a stretch pass, can get up in the rush, and is capable of helping Chicago's surprisingly average power play. He's still mobile for a defenseman who will turn 40 on March 18, and his legs should be fresh because he hasn't played a minute since April 30, 2014.

Chicago needed help on defense because of a thin third pair that has been featuring Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad and Tim Erixon. Come playoff time, Chicago's third defense pair could be Timonen and Trevor van Riemsdyk, a 23-year-old rookie who showed promise before sustaining a knee injury on Nov. 23.

Rozsival, at this stage of his career, is probably better as a seventh defenseman. Timonen and a healthy van Riemsdyk would allow him to be that.

2. Islanders improve goaltending

Trade: New York Islanders acquire goalie Michal Neuvirth from Buffalo Sabres for goalie Chad Johnson and a conditional third-round pick in 2016

Islanders general manager Garth Snow made another strong move in what has been a string of them since the end of last season. This one is under-the-radar too, but it could benefit New York come playoff time because Neuvirth is an upgrade over Johnson.

Neuvirth should push Halak for playing time for the rest of the regular season, creating a goalie competition that didn't previously exist between Halak and Johnson, who had a 3.08 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Islanders. At the very least, Neuvirth will give the Islanders a better chance to win than Johnson did when giving Halak a breather.

Giving Halak that breather is important. He has played in 46 games and has at times looked shaky. Neuvirth should instill more confidence in Islanders coach Jack Capuano than Johnson did, which means Capuano might be more comfortable using him.

New York has four more sets of back-to-backs remaining and is hoping to secure home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round.

This trade wasn't intended to make the Islanders a contender. They already think they're a contender. This trade was made to help Halak be fresher for the playoffs. If Halak falters, Neuvirth is a better fallback option than Johnson.

3. Red Wings find their veteran righty

Trade: Detroit Red Wings acquire defenseman Marek Zidlicky from New Jersey Devils for a conditional third-round draft pick

The Red Wings needed help on defense, preferably in the form of a puck-moving, possession guy with a right-handed shot. They got it with Zidlicky and didn't have to break the bank to make it happen.

Marek Zidlicky
Defense - DET
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 23
SOG: 103 | +/-: -7
The talk early Monday was about Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf potentially going to Detroit in a blockbuster, but the Red Wings didn't have to do that and still got a player who can play in their system, put up some numbers, contribute on their League-best power play (25 percent), and provide an element they did not have on their blue line.

Alexey Marchenko has proven he can play in the NHL, but the Red Wings didn't want to rely on a rookie to be their lone right-handed shot on defense going into the playoffs.

The Red Wings got Zidlicky for the price of a conditional third-round draft pick that will turn into a second-round pick if they make the Stanley Cup Final. That's a tradeoff they certainly would be able to live with if it happens.

Phaneuf, who might still be in play for Detroit after the season, would have cost draft picks and top prospects, not to mention six more seasons on the salary cap after this season.

4. Blues respond by acquiring Michalek

Trade: St. Louis Blues acquire defenseman Zbynek Michalek and a conditional draft pick from Arizona Coyotes for forward Maxim Letunov

Provided Michalek gets healthy and is able to return to form he will make the Blues defense deeper and better. He has been out since Feb. 14 with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong said the St. Louis medical staff was able to speak with the Arizona medical staff prior to the trade. They each felt Michalek was on a quick road to recovery. He is expected to resume skating Tuesday.

The Blues clearly are banking on Michalek coming back soon, just as they're hoping defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is able to return to the lineup later this month after abdominal surgery. Once the two of them are in the lineup, the Blues will have one of the deepest defense groups in the Western Conference.

St. Louis' defense pairs in the playoffs could be: Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo, Carl Gunnarsson with Kevin Shattenkirk, and Barret Jackman with Zbynek Michalek. That lines up well against any defense in the West. It's bolstered by what Armstrong called the deepest group of forwards St. Louis has had since he joined the front office in 2008.

Michalek is a solid possession defender (51.87 SAT percentage). He has some size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and he is 12th in the NHL in blocked shots (130). He can play against top lines and he's a righty, which was important for the Blues and a hole they created by trading Roman Polak at the draft last year.

Health is the biggest concern, but this could go down as a sneaky good trade by the Blues if Michalek returns as normal.

The Blues got bigger on defense by acquiring Robert Bortuzzo from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ian Cole. Bortuzzo will play while the Blues wait for Michalek and Shattenkirk, after which he will turn into a physical insurance policy.

5. Defense the talk, but Ducks improved up front too

Trade: Anaheim Ducks acquire forward Jiri Sekac from Montreal Canadiens for forward Devante Smith-Pelly (trade happened Feb. 24)

The talk around the Ducks on Monday was all about defense, adding James Wisniewski, Simon Despres and Korbinian Holzer and trading Ben Lovejoy and Eric Brewer, but let's not forget what general manager Bob Murray did last week, because acquiring Sekac is important to Anaheim's chances of contending for the Stanley Cup.

Jiri Sekac
Left Wing - ANA
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 18
SOG: 60 | +/-: 0
The Ducks already had size, which Smith-Pelly has, but they needed more skill in their lineup. Sekac has untapped potential at the NHL level. He has shown some of that skill in Anaheim, and there should be more to come.

Sekac has two assists in three games for the Ducks, and has played with a flair they were lacking.

As for the Ducks defensive additions, they had to trade William Karlsson, one of their top forward prospects, in order to get Wisniewski, but Anaheim already has Rickard Rakell as a third-line center behind Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. It needed to upgrade on defense, and Rakell's emergence made Karlsson a valuable asset in Anaheim's quest to get a defenseman.

Acquiring Despres for Lovejoy gives Anaheim another young, mobile defenseman, joining Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.

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