As Bill Guerin hit the ice for the first time, a palpable sense of playoff electricity was in the air at HP Pavilion. In the midst of the excitement of the Sharks facing Peter Forsberg and the Nashville Predators, the stretch drive of the season has officially kicked off, a bit earlier than usual.
The reason for the longer sprint to the finish is partially because of the closeness of the playoff race, talent of the teams and certainly because of the earlier trade deadline that just concluded on February 27th. As the dust of that event settles, it is becoming pretty clear that the Sharks did very well on many levels.
On the ice, of course, the day was a smash hit. The Sharks picked up a solid, right-handed defenseman in Craig Rivet, who was the subject of inquiries by many teams. They also landed perhaps the top prize of the day in Bill Guerin, whose arrival in town brought a playoff-style number of television cameras, reporters and buzz into HP Pavilion.
What was most interesting was the “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude that seemed to be pervading Western Conference playoff teams. Here is a brief look at how everyone else did:
DALLAS: The Stars added Ladislav Nagy a couple of weeks ago and, at the deadline, they picked up Mattias Norstrom, a solid defenseman from the Los Angeles Kings, along with prospect Konstantin Pushkarev and a couple of upper mid-round draft picks. A good team was made more playoff ready.
NASHVILLE: The Predators fired the first salvo in the trade wars by picking up Forsberg from Philadelphia, hoping that he will represent the key catalytic factor in their hopes for a long, deep playoff run.
DETROIT: The Red Wings were in a lot of trade talks with teams, looking to load up for the playoffs. As the music began to stop and players began to slide into their respective locker stalls, the Wings were happy to find that Todd Bertuzzi was available from Florida for a prospect and some conditional picks. They’re hopeful that Bertuzzi is healthy, motivated and has his engine running when he arrives in the Motor City for the playoff drive.
VANCOUVER: The Canucks, fighting for the top spot in the Northwest Division and home ice in the playoffs, regained the services of Brent Sopel from Los Angeles and added Bryan Smolinski from the Chicago Blackhawks.
CALGARY: The Flames have a distinctly Shark-like look after bringing Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart in from Boston. Along with these two ex-Sharks, the Flames also have Jeff Friesen, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Andrei Zyuzin on the roster, Rich Preston behind the bench and Darryl Sutter in the GM’s office. Calgary will become a tougher team to play against in the post-season.
MINNESOTA: The Wild picked up Dominic Moore
from Pittsburgh for a draft pick, and added a less-heralded, but solid piece to their playoff puzzle.
ANAHEIM: The Ducks were in the hunt for a variety of players. Rivet and Guerin were on GM Brian Burke’s list. You’ll have to read his personal diary of the day in USA Today, and it’s fascinating. In the midst of finding out how expensive the price for rental players was, Burke ended up adding toughness and character to his team when he found Brad May available from Colorado. May joins a Burke-run team for a third time, making him Burke’s version of Jeff Norton for San Jose.
Perhaps the biggest splash occurred north of the border when the Edmonton Oilers moved Ryan Smyth out of the picture in a trade that sent the hard-working winger to the Islanders for two solid prospects and an additional number one pick. That deal meant that Smyth wouldn’t help a Western Conference team, and it brought sighs of relief in many camps.
Looking at the list above, all of the Western Conference playoff teams helped themselves. But while the price was potentially expensive, depending on how the two first-round picks do, the Sharks added the players who can add perhaps the biggest impact to any of the teams.
We saw some of Bill Guerin’s leadership the other night, as he showed a vocal ability to direct and encourage his teammates on the ice and on the bench. Now, we’ll see Craig Rivet adding the same stability, experience and importance to the Sharks’ defense.
All in all, the Sharks’ management team should feel proud of the work that they accomplished to make these deals a reality, and the players know now that the expectation is for them to challenge for a Stanley Cup.
Now, we’ll see how that challenge is accepted. It’s exciting.
For Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease,” I’m Dan Rusanowsky.