Teams left empty, others empty-handed at deadline
By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine
You laughed at all the rumors. You thought nothing would really happen at the trade deadline. You believed your local general manager, who told you he wouldn't be dumping salary.
You won't do that again.
Is Chris Osgood an upgrade for the Blues in the tough Western Conference?
As it turned out, the 2003 trade deadline was the busiest in league history, with 24 trades involving 46 players (and countless draft picks). In the 48 hours before the deadline, every single NHL club made at least one deal. The Wild were the last holdout to chime-in, dealing minor-league defenseman Lawrence Nycholat to the Rangers for minor-league goalie Johan Holmqvist in the final minutes before the clock struck 3 p.m.
As usual, the power teams looked to add valuable pieces for the playoff run, while the also-rans tried to dump unwanted salary from their payroll. Who won? Who lost? Here's our take. Remember, these are the winners and losers for one day -- the trade deadline day.
Winners (in alphabetical order)
Detroit Red Wings: They desperately needed a defenseman and they got a very good one in Mathieu Schneider, who has one more year on his contract. Earlier in the season, Kings coach Andy Murray felt Schneider was his best player. Schneider, who turns 34 on June 12, can play in all situations. His big shot from the point will give coach Dave Lewis another option on the power play. The club paid a heavy price in terms of high picks and youthful assets, but they didn't have to give up top young talent like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk or prospect Igor Grigorenko. And Schneider will help the Wings toward their ultimate goal -- the Stanley Cup.
Florida Panthers: They didn't do much, but they did find a taker for still-injured right wing Valeri Bure, who will make another $3 million next season. The Panthers picked up a bit of the salary, but they're happy that he's gone.
Los Angeles Kings: They decided they couldn't afford to keep Schneider, who makes $3.5M. But GM Dave Taylor managed to turn him into oversized (6-foot-9) 26-year-old defenseman Maxim Kuznetsov, agitating forward Sean Avery, a No. 1 pick in 2003 and a No. 2 pick in 2004. Then, Taylor dealt future unrestricted free agent Bryan Smolinski to the Senators for junior defenseman Tim Gleason, the 23rd overall pick in the 2001 draft. Gleason is projected as a top-four defenseman.
New York Rangers: Although it might be too late to save this season, the arrival of right wing/center Anson Carter will be another boost for the Rangers. Simply, Carter was the best player in the four-player deal between GM Glen Sather's new team and his old club.
Phoenix Coyotes: Maybe Wayne Gretzky does have some divine connections. Just when it looked like the Coyotes might have to sell off franchise goalie Sean Burke, the Flyers came calling for Tony Amonte. GM Mike Barnett couldn't close the deal fast enough. By moving Amonte, the club saved approximately $20M in salary over the next three years. That enabled them to pull Burke off the trade market. They also added a skilled No. 2 center (Jan Hrdina from Pittsburgh) and a big No. 3 center (Chris Gratton from Buffalo) at minimal cost. Nice work, boys. Now, if someone would just take Brian Savage off their paws? Well, I guess you can't ask for too many miracles.
St. Louis Blues: Forgetting the baffling deal for Bure, GM Larry Pleau managed to get an experienced Stanley Cup-winning goaltender from the Islanders for a prospect (Justin Papineau) that didn't fit in their plans. Is Chris Osgood good enough to push the Blues to the next level? Probably not. But he's definitely better than what they have. Ozzie will be asked to do less in St. Louis, which allows the second-fewest shots in the league. His presence should give his new teammates some added confidence in tough conference games against the Avs, Wings and Stars.
Toronto Maple Leafs: They started this craziness by stealing Owen Nolan from the Sharks last week. The additional acquisitions of Glen Wesley and Doug Gilmour will help in certain situations. Phil Housley is a power-play specialist, but he isn't a character player. No doubt, the Leafs will be better and deeper with these veteran players. That said, everything still depends on Ed Belfour.
Colorado Avalanche: Savvy GM Pierre Lacroix usually gets what he wants. But, this year, he wanted forwards Vincent Damphousse (Sharks) and Gratton. He didn't get either player. Instead, he traded young talent Radim Vrbata to the Hurricanes for slumping left winger Bates Battaglia. He also got defenseman Bryan Marchment, but only after the Flames rejected his overtures for Bob Boughner. Still, shed no tears for Lacroix, who still has Sakic, Forsberg, Roy, Blake, etc.
Edmonton Oilers: With finances in mind, the Oilers moved right winger Anson Carter and defenseman Janne Niinimaa in separate deals. If the Oilers were out of the playoff picture, the money dumps would be a bit easier to stomach. But the club is hanging onto the eighth playoff spot in the West. For Oilers fans, it was a very disappointing day.
New Jersey Devils: GM Lou Lamoriello has been a winner on many deadline days during his tenure in New Jersey. This time, he couldn't find the sniper he needed to push his club into legit Cup contention. Teemu Selanne, who had a no-trade clause, would have been a perfect fit, but he remains in San Jose.
Tampa Bay Lightning: They added defenseman Marc Bergevin (Penguins) and Janne Laukkanen (Rangers, off waivers). That won't be enough. They needed more of an upgrade for a legit playoff run. They didn't get it.
Washington Capitals: Sergei Berezin? Don't the Caps have enough one-way offensive players? Like the Lightning, they could have used some defensive help. And like the Lightning, they didn't get it.
E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org