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Heart, as much as skill, in demand at trade deadline

by Adam Schwartz

Brad May was a late edition to the Anaheim roster last year. His grit and experience helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup.
May highlights
While blockbuster deals get most of the attention around the NHL during the trade deadline period, often, it is the less-ballyhooed swap that prompts playoff success.

Sometimes it is more than a player’s on-ice contributions that are helpful to a club’s run to the Stanley Cup. Off-ice leadership and other intangibles go a long way in assessing a player’s value. Often, it can be as simple as a veteran player showing younger players the simple things it takes to have playoff success.

There is a seemingly endless list of teams that have had success at the trade deadline by simply tweaking their lineup, as opposed to making a big, splashy deal, which often can throw off a team’s chemistry.

Not much attention is paid to these lesser deals, but many of them have been responsible for placing players into magical playoff moments.

Here are the 10 best character deals for the past 10 seasons:

2007 -- Colorado traded Brad May to Anaheim for goalie prospect Michael Wall -- May dressed for 18 of Anaheim’s 21 playoff games and his know-how was invaluable in helping Anaheim to its Stanley Cup victory. May embodied the Ducks’ gritty, rough-and-tumble spirit. A veteran of 68 playoff games heading into last season’s playoffs, May helped show a young Ducks’ team what it takes to advance deep into the playoffs.

2006 -- Pittsburgh traded Mark Recchi to Carolina for Niklas Nordgren, Krys Kolanos and Carolina’s 2007 second-round pick -- When Recchi was traded to Carolina, the Hurricanes were not hurting for offense by any means. Recchi, despite his offensive credentials, was not needed for top-line duty. Rather, Recchi, who won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, was added for depth and a calming influence. He responded beautifully and added seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in Carolina’s 25-game playoff drive to its first Stanley Cup victory.

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2004 -- Calgary traded a 2004 second-round draft pick to Florida for Marcus Nilson -- Nilson wasn’t Calgary’s most talented player, but he was a key depth player after his arrival. Nilson, scored four goals and added seven assists for 11 games playoff games – but he also did all the little things a team needs, as well -- as the Flames came within a goal of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1989.

2003 -- Columbus traded Grant Marshall to the Devils for a fourth-round draft pick -- Like Nilson, Marshall didn’t possess an elite-level skill set, but Marshall still played an unforgettable role after his arrival as New Jersey went on to win its third Stanley Cup championship that spring. Marshall scored six goals and added two assists for eight points in the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Marshall also scored one of New Jersey’s biggest goals in 2003 with his triple-overtime, series-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

2002 -- Carolina traded Chris Dingman and Shane Willis to Tampa Bay for Kevin Weekes -- Seeking depth in goal, Carolina made this trade. A few weeks later, Kevin Weekes relieved Hurricanes starting goalie Arturs Irbe in the first round of the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs after Irbe lost two consecutive games to the Devils to see a commanding 2-0 series lead turn into a best-of-three affair. Weekes started the next two games and was magnificent as the underdog Hurricanes defeated the Devils in six games. Weekes started the first four games of the next round against the Montreal Canadiens and went 2-2 until he was once again replaced by Irbe, who would lead Carolina to a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final.

2001 -- St. Louis traded Craig Conroy to Calgary for Cory Stillman and a seventh-round pick -- The shifty Stillman only scored three goals and added five assists for eight points in 15 games for the Blues in the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Stillman was clearly a big-game player for his new club. He scored the double-overtime, game-winning goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, which led to the Blues’ first appearance in a conference final since 1986.

2000 -- Philadelphia trades Mikael Renberg to Phoenix for Rick Tocchet -- Tocchet, who had previously been a Flyer from 1984 to 1992, was a fan favorite in that city and was welcomed back with open arms. He responded to the affection with an inspired performance. Although 36 at the time, Tocchet, a Cup winner with Pittsburgh in 1992, was able to score five goals and add six assists for 11 points in 18 game playoff games with the Flyers that year as the club reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before finally succumbing to New Jersey.

Rhett Warrener

1999 -- Florida traded Rhett Warrener and a fifth-round draft pick (Ryan Miller) to the Sabres for Mike Wilson -- Rhett Warrener was steady in his own end for Buffalo in its drive to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final – the Sabres’ first appearance in the NHL championship since 1975. The Sabres lost the Final in six games to the Dallas Stars, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Warrener had a sparkling plus-12 rating in that playoff year. Miller, meanwhile, was a steal for the Sabres. In retrospect the 27-year-old goalie is clearly the best player in the deal and has been Buffalo’s starting goalie since 2006, leading the club to consecutive conference finals.

1998 -- Dallas traded Todd Harvey, Bob Errey and Dallas’ fourth-round pick in the 1998 Draft (Boyd Kane) to the Rangers for Brian Skrudland, Mike Keane and the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 1998 (Pavel Patera) -- Keane had already won two Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and the Avalanche in 1996. The two-way right wing scored four goals and four assists for eight points and had a plus-8 rating in 17 games as the Stars advanced to the Western Conference Final. Skrudland, then 35, was not the player he once was, but he was able to contribute in a limited role. He scored just one goal in 17 games for the Stars, but the two-time Stanley Cup winner – 1986 and 1993 with Montreal – brought valuable experience to the squad.

1997 -- The Rangers traded Sergei Nemchinov and Brian Noonan to Vancouver for Esa Tikkanen and Russ Courtnall -- Esa Tikkanen was a productive pest for the Rangers in the 1997 playoffs. The Finnish native scored nine goals and added three assist for 12 points in 15 games as the Rangers advanced to the conference finals for the second time in four seasons. The 32-year-old Courtnall, meanwhile, had three goals and four assists for seven points in 15 games. He also brought 14 seasons of NHL experience to the Blueshirts in that playoff season.


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