WASHINGTON – It’s fun to watch players zip from coast to coast at the NHL trade deadline.
But the point of it all is for teams to improve themselves. Sadly, it’s typically much ado about nothing. Ask Raffi Torres and the Sabres how poorly it can turn out.
In 2010, the forward failed to find the net in 18 games before getting benched during the playoffs. While he’s the epitome of a cautionary tale, similar stories abound every year. Players struggle to get comfortable, coaches pull out their hair trying to force a fit and the whole thing turns into an exercise in futility.
Thankfully, it’s possible to find success stories, which is why teams go on tantalizing manhunts every season. The New York Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals last season because deadline-acquisition Martin St. Louis excelled during the playoffs. The Rangers hope to win the Cup this year after picking up Keith Yandle.
That trade gets lead billing during the second annual “Trade Deadline Trophy Show,” which is (unofficially) sponsored by upcoming Wrestlemania 31.
Brock Lesnar Award (strongest move): The Rangers entered the deadline among the NHL’s elite. They can outscore teams or shut them out. They can make Madison Square Garden rock or silence an opposing team’s sellout.
But with St. Louis in the final year of his contract and Derek Stepan likely to upset the payroll as a pending restricted free agent, the Rangers know their time is now. They gave up a huge chunk of their future, including impressive prospect Anthony Duclair and a 2016 first-round pick, for Yandle.
The trade should bolster the Rangers’ goal total and power play, which ranked a respectable 10th. Yandle is one of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen, and he comes through when it matters with 19 points in 27 playoff games.
The Undertaker Trophy (back from the dead): The loss of Patrick Kane had Chicago reeling. Shouldering the load created by his broken clavicle seemed impossible.
General Manager Stan Bowman took on the challenge. The Blackhawks acquired reliable playmaker Antoine Vermette to help the forwards and took a chance on puck-moving defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is back after missing most of the season with blood clots.
The duo won’t make anyone forget about Kane, but they might keep Chicago alive long enough for the forward to return in 11 weeks.
Iron Mike Sharpe Award (set up for failure): Sabres GM Tim Murray is sincere in his hatred of tanking, but he knows his role.
“I was brought here into a team that was in the middle of a rebuild,” he said. “I’m going to continue the rebuild and try to get better.”
To get better, the Sabres needed to get worse. Their four trades (Michal Neuvirth, Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn) should achieve that. Inevitable individual hot streaks aside, the Sabres should get mowed down on a nightly basis by teams with superior top-to-bottom talent.
Bray Wyatt Award (most intriguing moves): Look at the haul amassed by Arizona: Duclair and fellow forward Maxim Letunov (a second-round pick in 2014), defensemen John Moore (first round in 2009) and Klas Dahlbeck (third round in 2011), first-round picks in 2015 and 2016, plus a second-rounder in 2015.
That’s one absolutely amazing deadline. The Coyotes can get competitive in a hurry if they are fortunate enough to add Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to that stable.
Reassessment in order
A few things accompanied Mikhail Grigorenko last week as he shuttled between Rochester and Buffalo. They were the words “bust,” “disappointment” and “last chance.”
It seems a little perspective is in order. No hockey player is a bust or on the brink of being done at age 20.
The center, drafted 12th overall in 2012, is actually ahead of the pace set by previous players picked at No. 12. Carolina’s Ryan Murphy (2011) is splitting this season between the NHL and AHL. The Islanders’ Calvin de Haan (2009) is a full-time NHLer for the first time at age 23. Ryan McDonagh (2007) and Bryan Little (2006) didn’t become regulars until age 22.
Seven of Grigorenko’s fellow first-rounders in 2012 have yet to debut in the NHL. Another three have played only a handful of games. That means one-third of the draft class would salivate at Girgorenko’s 57 games of experience.
Plus, it’s always worth remembering that Jason Pominville was still in the minors at age 23. Grigorenko needs room to grow.
On the fly
• The never-ending battle between Maple Leafs players, media and fans added another chapter when Phil Kessel lambasted everyone within ear shot for their treatment of captain Dion Phaneuf.
“The way the media treats Dion Phaneuf in this city is embarrassing,” Kessel told reporters during a game in Florida. “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. ... Is it his fault we’re losing? No. Did he build this team? No. It’s not Dion Phaneuf.”
• It’s hard enough for a goalie to win the Hart Trophy as MVP, so it’s nearly impossible to think a netminder can earn it in half a season. But is anyone more deserving than Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk? Since debuting in Buffalo on Jan. 15, Dubnyk is 18-3-1 and has made a franchise-record 23 straight starts while lifting the Wild into a playoff spot.
• Toronto President Brendan Shanahan sent a letter to the 16,000 season-ticket holders telling them prices would remain the same next season. “I have heard your frustration this season and understand it,” Shanahan wrote. “Stay with us.”