Wednesday March 3rd, 2010

Well, the gavel's finally come down, putting a merciful end to a deadline day as dull as a community theater production of Ibsen's The Young Men's League. Even a record volume -- 30 deals involving 52 players -- wasn't enough to compensate for a pronounced lack of wattage.

While no seismic power shifts resulted from today's tinkering, there were a couple teams who appear to have bettered their circumstances.

The Penguins added a legitimate top-six winger in Alexei Ponikarovsky and a useful defender in Jordan Leopold to bolster their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals brought in character forwards Eric Belanger and Scott Walker to add depth and energy and maybe improve the penalty kill. The Kings took the same route, acquiring Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin. And the Coyotes went bonkers with the NHL's money, making moves to bolster a lackluster power play.

Biggest surprises? Dan Hamhuis and Tomas Vokoun stayed put. The Blackhawks were telling the truth when they said they were satisfied with their goaltending. And not one single first round pick changed hands.

Which of these deals will look best in the short run? I really like Buffalo picking up Raffi Torres and Anaheim grabbing Aaron Ward and Lubomir Visnovsky. Both teams look like nastier first round opponents. In the long run, I like the Avalanche. Peter Mueller may have lost his appetite for the game now, but he's moving into a fresh environment. Handled properly, he might get back on track and develop into the world-class talent he looked to be as a junior.

Here's how the day unfolded, moving from most recent deals to earliest:

KINGS get: LW Fredrik Modin

BLUE JACKETS get: 2010 seventh round pick

MY TAKE: With Modin and Jeff Halpern now in the fold, the Kings can limit the exposure of rookies like Rich Clune and Oscar Moller at playoff time. That assumes, of course, that the oft-injured Modin makes it to the West Coast in one piece. READ THE NEWS STORY

COYOTES get: LW Petteri Nokelainen DUCKS get: 2010 sixth round pick

MY TAKE: Another failed first round pick of the Islanders (16th overall, 2004), Nokelainen has hung around the fringes as a checking line center. He's strictly a depth addition for the Coyotes, who are spending the NHL's cash like it was an unexpected earmark.

PREDATORS get: LW Dustin Boyd FLAMES get: 2010 fourth round pick

MY TAKE: Not to overstate the value of Boyd, a player who has battled confidence issues this season, but, geez, this looks like an underpayment on the part of Nashville. At his best, the 23-year-old Boyd has decent wheels, a set of 15-goal mitts, and is solid on the penalty kill. He needs to gain strength to do a better job of protecting the puck, but that's part of the development process. He won't be a star, but he's a legitimate third liner.

From Calgary's perspective, they move out a potential RFA and create space for top prospect Mikael Backlund to earn a full-time job with the big club. All things being equal, that's not much in the way of motivation.

FLAMES get: D Steve Staios OILERS get: D Aaron Johnson, 2010 third round pick

MY TAKE: The first-ever deal between these two bitter, provincial rivals? I can't think of another one. Send me an email if I'm wrong. The Flames get a veteran defender who competes hard every night and brings leadership and stability to the third pairing. For the Oilers, this is simply a salary dump. Staios has another year left on a deal that pays him $2.7 million. Johnson is a depth defender whose contract expires this season. They'll take the third-rounder, the cap space and run.

CAPITALS get: D Joe Corvo HURRICANES get: D Brian Pothier, LW Oskar Osala, 2010 second round pick

MY TAKE: Instead of snapping up a proven goaltender or the defensive battleship that most pundits thought he'd target, GM George McPhee went for another puck-moving blueliner. Corvo is a high-risk, high-reward type who can really bring it from the point and should add depth to Washington's power play, but he has a well-earned reputation as a turnover machine whose defensive positioning can be exploited by speed. Mike Green, Jr.? Hey, he might be an ideal fit for this team, after all.

Pothier is small but useful defender whose efficiency has been curtailed by concussion issues. If he can get his head together, so to speak, he can be a top-four guy in Carolina. Osala is a mammoth winger (6-4, 220) who does his best work along the boards and isn't afraid to camp out in front of the net. He's been a decent scorer with the AHL's Hershey Bears, netting 23 goals last season and 15 so far this year. He has the look of a solid third-liner in the NHL, with the potential to mature into a top-six role.

Pothier and Corvo are expiring contracts while Osala has one more year on his entry-level deal. Carolina also announced they've dealt Andrew Alberts to Vancouver for a third-round pick. READ THE NEWS STORY

DUCKS get: D Lubomir Visnovsky OILERS get: D Ryan Whitney, 2010 sixth round pick

MY TAKE: The Ducks pick up a smaller, more offensive-minded defender who adds some zip to their 20th-ranked power play. He's signed for three more years, so he'll be a key blueline component moving forward, especially with Scott Niedermayer likely to retire after this season.

The Oilers saved about $1.6 million in salary commitment for the next three years, but more importantly, they changed the look of their own blue line with the bigger, younger Whitney. Even though he was named as an injury replacement to the American Olympic team, things haven't gone well for him since being dealt to Anaheim from Pittsburgh last season. Might have been a confidence issue -- he looked very shaky in his limited exposure in Vancouver and was directly responsible for Canada's second goal in the gold medal match. A change of scenery, and a different coach's voice, might be what he needs to get his game back on track. READ THE NEWS STORY

Just told that Milan Jurcina has been sent back to Washington by Columbus. No word yet on the return...or why they'd take him back. There had to be a reason the Capitals were willing to part with him earlier this year. His game hasn't exactly improved since December. Jurcina was diagnosed with a sports hernia. The Caps, apparently, were aware of this and he's expected to miss four-to-six weeks.

Interesting injury news: TSN is reporting that Edmonton defender Sheldon Souray is out for the year with a serious hand infection, so he won't be dealt today.

SABRES get: LW Raffi Torres BLUE JACKETS get: D Nathan Paetsch, 2010 second-round pick

MY TAKE: Smart, smart move by Sabres GM Darcy Regier, who fills an obvious need for grit and secondary scoring. Torres has 19 goals this season despite playing just over 13 minutes a game. He's physical, quick, plays both ways and can fit in on the second or third line. It's not the sort of deal that makes Buffalo a contender, but they'll be a much more miserable opponent come playoff time.

For Columbus, this is all about adding a pick this summer. Word was they were pushing hard for a first-rounder, but despite widespread interest, other GMs (wisely) wouldn't bite at that price. The Jackets get a second (how many of those have switched hands already today?) and Paetsch, at 27, is pretty much settled into his career as a six/seven-type defender who can also move up to play a bit of wing on the fourth line. He'll give it all he's got...but he hasn't got that much to give. READ THE NEWS STORY

SABRES get: 2010 third- and fourth-round picks THRASHERS get: LW Clarke MacArthur READ THE NEWS STORY

FLAMES get: G Vesa Toskala DUCKS get: G Curtis McElhinney

MY TAKE: The Flames didn't trust McElhinney to back up the criminally overworked Miikka Kiprusoff. The Ducks needed about a week after picking Toskala up from Toronto to figure out that he was toxic. This is just one team's problem for another, but give the edge to the Ducks for dumping Toskala's $4 million salary and possibly setting themselves up for one more deal.

CAPITALS get: C Eric Belanger WILD get: 2010 second round pick

MY TAKE: Anyone else waiting for the other shoe to drop? Belanger is a nice player -- great speed, a diligent checker, better than average in the dots -- but adding him and Scott Walker to the mix makes for a very crowded group of forwards. At this point, a deal involving one of the team's youngsters (Tomas Fleischmann? Eric Fehr?) for a top-four defender seems almost inevitable. READ THE NEWS STORY

AVALANCHE get: C Peter Mueller and C Kevin Porter COYOTES get: LW Wojtek Wolski

MY TAKE: This may be the biggest deal we see all day. You have to love the aggressiveness of Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who improved his defensive depth earlier in the day with Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider, then took one of the best offensive players from a conference rival. The 24-year-old Wolski ranks second in assists (30), points (47) and shots (156), and was third in goals (17)...and that's after scoring just two in a prolonged 26-game slump. He has a tendency to try to stickhandle through problems when he should pass, and his consistency has been an issue, but when he focuses on keeping his game simple, he can be highly effective. If Dave Tippett can keep him on message, the Coyotes add a significant top-six presence.

The Avs are taking a risk on Mueller, but the big center has the highest upside of anyone in the deal. The eighth overall pick in 2006, Mueller is blessed with size (6-2, 212), tremendous speed and, as his 22-goal rookie season suggests, decent touch around the net. But as he's struggled this season, he has been dogged by questions about his confidence and, worse, his desire to continue in pro hockey. A change of scenery and the chance to grow under a player's coach like Joe Sacco might be all he needs to get his game turned around, but there's a real chance he could be a complete washout.

Porter is a former Hobey Baker-winner, an undersized winger who is still trying to find his place in the league. He'll never be a scorer in the NHL, but his ability to think the game quickly and concisely gives him a chance to mature into a useful defensive forward. READ THE NEWS STORY

Brad Lukowich just cleared waivers and will be sent to the minors. That clears his $1.6 million hit off Vancouver's books and gives GM Mike Gillis a smidge of wiggle room that might allow him to be a player before 3 PM deadline.

KINGS get: C Jeff Halpern LIGHTNING get: RW Teddy Purcell, 2010 third round pick

MY TAKE: Basically the same deal as Scott Walker-to-Washington. Halpern's offensive game is in the tank, but he brings veteran grit and leadership that really comes to the fore in the postseason. He'll fit in as the third- or fourth-line center, play on the penalty kill and give the Kings a right-handed option in the face-off circle. If nothing else, isn't it something to see the Kings as buyers rather than sellers at the deadline?

Purcell is the career scoring leader for the USHL and was the AHL Rookie of the Year in 2008. The Kings though were frustrated with his decision-making at the NHL level. He may hit his stride in Tampa, but there's a sense that he's locked in as the classic "tweener."

CAPITALS get: RW Scott Walker HURRICANES get: 2010 seventh round pick

MY TAKE: The price tag reflects the vet's diminished impact potential, but this looks like a smart pickup for the Caps. Walker is small, but as Donnie Shulzhoffer says, he plays with a big heart and big bag of knuckles in front of the net. He'll bring the kind of energy and grit that really exposes its value in the postseason. This is a great depth addition. READ THE NEWS STORY

DUCKS get: D Aaron Ward HURRICANES get: G Justin Pogge, conditional fourth-round pick (2010 or '11)

MY TAKE: Ah, Pogge. The guy the Bruins wanted from Toronto in the Andrew Raycroft deal, but the Leafs insisted on Tuukka Rask. What might have been... READ THE NEWS STORY

RED WINGS get: LW Jordan Owens RANGERS get: C Kris Newbury READ THE NEWS STORY

Atlanta may be in the hunt for Cory Stillman. He'd add some offensive punch to a team that's still in the playoff picture despite parting ways with Ilya Kovalchuk before the break. There's some talk about Tim Thomas being shopped, but short of a proven scorer coming back to Boston, I don't see this happening.

Quote from a league source regarding Toronto's deadline day roster teardown: "Boston can start dreaming now about [Adam] Larsson." Next year's draft may be lousy, but Larsson, a big Swedish defender, is said to be an upgrade over Victor Hedman. Boston owns Toronto's first-round pick in 2011 thanks to the Phil Kessel deal.

BRUINS get: D Dennis Seidenberg and D Matthew Bartkowski PANTHERS get: RW Byron Bitz, RW Craig Weller, second-round pick

MY TAKE: In Bitz, the Panthers get a massive (6-3, 230-pound) winger who'll bring a physical presence, but limited scoring touch. He's best suited as a third-liner, but can fill in on the second for short stretches. Weller is a career minor leaguer. I'm trying to confirm which second-rounder was exchanged -- the Bruins had several in the cupboard from previous deals. This is clearly the big carrot in the deal for Florida.

For the B's, they get a character defender who's more focused on his own zone than the departed Derek Morris -- last night's loss to Montreal demonstrated how much the team needs that quality. Bartkowski, a 2008 seventh-rounder, isn't seen as a likely NHL prospect. Currently playing for Ohio State, he has some size and a decent shot, but his skating is suspect. Someone in Boston's scouting department must like him, but I'm not sure why.

If the Kings are unwilling to offer a contract extension to a 37-year-old Ray Whitney, they might want to consider Cory Stillman as an option. His 35-year-old wheels aren't quick, but they've got a bit of tread left on them. Stillman has good hands, is more than willing to plant himself in the greasy areas and would bring invaluable playoff experience to the mix, including a couple of Cup rings. The one year left on his deal at $3.5 million shouldn't be a deal breaker, especially considering that he'd be much cheaper to acquire than Whitney.

And everyone I talk to says the Bruins will use the Derek Morris cap space to acquire a forward. I certainly understand the thinking -- Marc Savard can't live up to that new contract playing with fire hydrants -- but as last year's playoffs proved, the B's need to toughen up and deepen their blueline. Look for them to go for D.

COYOTES get: D Derek Morris BRUINS get: 2011 fourth-round pick

MY TAKE: The 2011 draft already is being called the weakest since 1999, so a fourth-rounder has little to no real value. For the B's, this is all about sweeping the remainder of Morris' $3.3 million hit off the books and opening up space for another deal (Dan Hamhuis, perhaps?). Phoenix gets back a veteran player who spent much of his career in the desert, and one whose offensive presence on the blueline (25 points this season) could juice up their 29th-ranked power play. READ NEWS STORY

Everyone expects the Panthers to be among the busiest sellers of the day, with Tomas Vokoun being their most coveted asset. Will he be moved? Even with a no-trade clause in his pocket, it's possible, but unlikely. There's a sense that three contending teams would benefit from bringing him on board: Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia. There's also a compelling reason why each is unlikely to make the deal. The Hawks continue to state they're willing to move forward with Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi. They've said it so often that I'm starting to believe them. The Flyers are very interested, but the Panthers would need a star in return. Simon Gagne or Danny Briere won't get it done -- they'll be looking for someone young like Jeff Carter. Doubt the Flyers will bite on that.

The Caps might be the best bet, both in terms of need and the talent they can send back to Florida (starting with a young goalie like Semyon Varlamov), but they'd also need to send salary back for any deal to fit under the cap and their depth is too suspect to move a significant cap hit. Anything could happen, but Vokoun is likely to stay put.

PENGUINS get: LW Alexei Ponikarovsky MAPLE LEAFS get: LW Luca Caputi, D Martin Skoula

MY TAKE: This is exactly the type of deal that was expected from Pittsburgh and Toronto, with immediate help going to the contending Penguins and a solid prospect heading to the Leafs. No surprise that Toronto wasn't interested in re-upping one of their most offensively talented forwards. It's not that Brian Burke doesn't like Euros as much as he doesn't like certain types of Euros, and Ponikarovsky just doesn't fit the image the GM has of this team moving forward.

So, what are the Pens getting? Ponikarovsky is huge (6-4, 230), and he'll take a hit to make a play, but he rarely initiates contact. He lacks a true physical element to his game in much the same way as former Leaf Nik Antropov, and that can be frustrating to watch. That said, he provides a clear upgrade to Pittsburgh's offensive depth. He's scored at least 20 goals in three of the last four seasons and is about to do it again with 19 this year. But he's wildly inconsistent. He has just one goal in his last 10 games and can disappear for long stretches. Getting the chance to play with someone like Evgeni Malkin may help even him out.

Ponikarovsky is unrestricted at the end of season, and he'll be looking for a significant bump on his current deal that pays him $2.5 million a year. With both Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin on expiring contracts, there could be room to keep him around. If he clicks, look for the Pens to woo him with flowers and chocolates, and maybe $4 million, to convnce him to stick around.

Caputi seems to better fit the Burke profile. A top-six power forward? Maybe. He's got that big 6-3, 195-pound frame. He's not afraid to bang the body and he comes to work agitated. He certainly knows where the net is. Caputi scored 51 goals during his final season of junior hockey and has 23 this year in the AHL. I'm sure there are Pens fans weeping in their corn flakes at the thought of losing him, but look out that window and you'll see thousands of guys who scored 50 in juniors who are doing your taxes or dry cleaning your shirts for a living. They didn't just deal Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov. Caputi has potential, but he's no sure thing. He's likely to get a look in Toronto this year, with a real chance to win a full-time job next fall with a team that'll have plenty of jobs available for anyone hungry enough to snatch one.

Skoula also came to Toronto in the deal in order to make the salaries work for the Pens. The Leafs immediately flipped the veteran depth defenseman to New Jersey, where he was reunited with Jacques Lemaire, for whom he played the best hockey of his career while they were with the Minnesota Wild. READ THE NEWS STORY

CANUCKS get C Yan Stastny BLUES get: F Pierre-Cedric Labrie READ THE NEWS STORY

DEVILS get: D Martin Skoula MAPLE LEAFS get: 2010 fifth-round pick READ THE NEWS STORY

BLUES get RW Matt D'Agostini CANADIENS get RW Aaron Palushaj READ THE NEWS STORY

SENATORS get: D Andy Sutton ISLANDERS get: 2010 second round pick READ THE NEWS STORY

BLACKHAWKS get: D Nick Boynton DUCKS get: future considerations READ THE NEWS STORY

DUCKS get: D Nathan Oystrick, conditional 2011 pick THRASHERS get: RW Evgeni Artyukhin READ THE NEWS STORY

PREDATORS get: D Dennis Grebeshkov OILERS get: 2010 second round pick READ THE NEWS STORY

PENGUINS get: D Jordan Leopold PANTHERS get: 2010 second round pick READ THE NEWS STORY

BLUES get: G Joe Fallon BLACKHAWKS get: G Hannu Toivonen, D Danny Richmond READ THE NEWS STORY

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