By Allan Muir
Most hockey trades can't, and shouldn't, be judged for years. They deserve time to play out, to tip the scales as the players make their marks during their tenure with their new teams.
NHL deadline trades, though, are different. They're unique because the expectations of the partners in the deal vary so widely.
One team takes the long view, hoping that a pile of magic beans eventually yields a top-six scorer, a sturdy defender or, at the very least, a low-dough roster-filler who can help it stay under the cap. For the other side, the payoff must be microwaved -- delivered hot and fast with an eye set on playoff success. It doesn't matter how the other side of the equation -- next season and beyond -- plays out. Executed properly, these deals pay off quickly and then it's on to the next thing.
Here are six players who switched sweaters at this year's deadline and are on the verge of paying those immediate dividends ... and three more who could be downgraded to junk status.
Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens: Vanek hasn't just turned the Canadiens' offensive fortunes around since coming over from the Islanders on deadline day. He's re-branded himself as a premier playmaker, someone who is as dangerous dishing the puck as when he's teeing it up. Skating alongside David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, he's dazzled with his on-ice awareness and ability to bring out the best in his linemates.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Minnesota Wild: He's toned down his quirky personality and cranked up his intensity, going 4-0-2 since joining the Wild in a trade from Edmonton. His timing couldn't have been better. With rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper starting to sag under the weight of the long season, Bryzgalov has brought stability between the pipes just when Minnesota's grip on a playoff berth was being challenged. He's had success playing in a similarly defensive-minded system in Phoenix, which sets him up to be a significant factor if the Wild can hold on to their spot.
Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning: I don't know if the Lightning has a front office PowerBall pool, but if they do they might want to ask GM Steve Yzerman to pitch in. The way his luck is going, they'll be cashing a winning ticket in no time. Consider the deal that he was forced to make under nearly impossible circumstances at the deadline: moving reigning Art Ross-winner Martin St. Louis. But he had good players in place -- March's NHL rookie of the month Ondrej Palat in particular -- who could elevate their games to pick up the offensive slack. Meanwhile Callahan, the player acquired in the swap with the New York Rangers, stepped in and filled a different niche. He's a top-six mucker, a player who does things the hard way -- the playoff way -- and a big reason why the Bolts have taken points from 12 of their past 14 games.
Stephane Robidas, Anaheim Ducks: Now that the rust he built up during his long convalescence has been scraped off, Robidas looks like a deadline steal. He's soaking up top-four minutes while playing with a variety of partners and doing the things he does best: moving the puck effectively while playing a smart, physical game in his own zone. His play has been key to the 4-0-1 tear that has allowed Anaheim to wrest control of the Pacific away from the Sharks.
Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: It's not just the nine points in his past 10 games or the chemistry he's slowly built with Anze Kopitar that proves Gaborik is working out for the Kings. It's that his presence has allowed coach Darryl Sutter to deploy the rest of his personnel in roles that give them a better chance to succeed, making Los Angeles a deeper, more dangerous club heading into the postseason.
Andrew MacDonald, Philadelphia Flyers: MacDonald's acquisition didn't generate a lot of joy in Philly, especially among the advanced stats cult who weren't swayed by his offensive production. What they didn't count on was how expertly he'd be utilized by coach Craig Berube, and how he'd thrive in a role that is vastly different from the one he performed on Long Island. MacDonald has seen his special teams time reduced, which keeps him fresher, and is matched against lesser competition on the third pairing alongside Luke Schenn. That's allowed him to be more effective during his heavy five-on-five rotation, and it's helped him bring out a more confident performance from Schenn. Together, they've provided a huge boost down the stretch.
Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers: Sure, he finally got his first goal in Ranger Blue after 15 games and maybe that's all he needs to get back in the groove. But it wasn't just the absence of red lights and sirens that was troubling during the veteran's first few weeks in New York. St. Louis has yet to really look comfortable on Broadway, vacillating between over-eager sloppiness and seeming disinterest while looking every minute of his age (38). Maybe the transition from Tampa Bay was harder than he expected. Maybe he's putting too much pressure on himself. Or maybe he's not the best fit for this system. We'll have a definitive answer soon enough ... but the early returns aren't promising.
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Jaroslav Halak, Washington Capitals: Unable to rebuild their blueline at the deadline or convince Alex Ovechkin that he is allowed to score while playing five-on-five, the Caps hoped that a veteran presence between the pipes might stabilize a team with the emotional resilience of an overtired toddler. Halak got off to a terrific start, going 4-2-1 with a .943 save percentage through his first seven appearances, but there's only so much he can be expected to do when he's seeing so many odd-man rushes and uncontested second chances. It's not his fault that he's been tagged with the loss in each of his past four starts, but anything short of Dryden-esque play was going to be deemed a failure on a team that's been unwilling to point fingers in the right direction for years.
Dustin Penner, Washington Capitals:
A frustrating top-six forward in Anaheim, Penner quickly was recast as a frustrating fourth liner in Washington. If there ever was an audition for a more significant role -- maybe as a net-front presence to complement Ovechkin -- it was brief and unremarkable, leaving Penner to settle for whatever scraps of ice time that coach Adam Oates is willing to dole out the rest of the way.