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NHL Trade Deadline Storylines
by Trevor Whenham - 2/28/2012

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Matt Kassian

This year’s trade deadline in the NHL wasn’t as action-packed or significant as it has been in past years, but there were still 15 deals done in the hours leading up to Monday’s deadline with none more going down in the week before the deadline. You can learn a lot about what teams are thinking and how they feel about their team based on what they do or don’t do on the day.

Four teams stand out for having particularly interesting days — some positive, and some I don’t like nearly as much:

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Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks were more active than many would have guessed with three deadline deals, and their moves tell us that they are worried that what happened last year could happen again. The team has the top record in the Western Conference, and nothing we have seen so far makes us think that they aren’t capable of making the Stanley Cup Finals again. What ultimately cost them the Cup — and forced their fans to burn their city down — was that they just weren’t tough enough. Boston repeatedly punched them in the face, and they didn’t rise up to the challenge.

The moves they made clearly address that issue. Sami Pahlsson is a defensive-minded forward. They know he can be effective in the playoffs because he has proven to be very effective against the Sedins in the playoffs in the past. Zack Kassian is young, talented, and tough, and will be a nice addition for years to come. They are certainly tougher and more defensively-disciplined, and you can’t complain about that.

I have two big concerns, though. First, I don’t like the message it sends when a team playing this well makes this many moves — and does it clearly in response to a particular team they faced last year. It helps the Canucks, but it also gives the rest of the elite teams a reason for added confidence. Second, though I like Kassian, the price they paid for him was too high. Cody Hodgson was the 10th pick in the 2008 draft. He’s only a rookie and he has yet to really find his stride, but he has massive offensive upside and teams that have been as good as Vancouver has recently rarely get young prospects of this caliber through the draft. Kassian is no slouch — the 13th overall pick in 2009 — but the trade doesn’t seem like one that could come back to haunt the Canucks.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets were in a very rough spot, but they didn’t make the most of it. In fact, it was a rough day. They were clearly sellers, and they gave away several of their best players. Jeff Carter was the only one they got good value for — if Jack Johnson can evolve into the defenseman he should be, that is. It was a fire sale, but not one that really left them well-positioned for a brighter future.

Worse than the moves they made, though, was the one they didn’t. Rick Nash was on the market for weeks and was clearly the most desirable player available, yet they didn’t manage to get a deal done. Not only that, but GM Scott Howson showed us how not to conduct a press conference after the deadline when he essentially blamed Nash — the face of the franchise for as long as it has existed — for asking to be traded.

Chemistry and morale are not going to be in huge supply the rest of the way, and a bad team will only be worse. Maybe Howson just wanted to make sure that his team finished dead last and had the best shot of winning the draft lottery. This team wouldn’t be competitive right now even if they won 10 lotteries in a row, though.

Buffalo Sabres

If I’m concerned that the Canucks paid too much for Kassian, then it only makes sense that I would like what the team that got Hodgson did. Buffalo maximized their asset, and got a player in Hodgson that better fills their organizational need — they need scoring more than toughness. That alone makes it a great day for the Sabres.

Their other deal, though, was nothing short of a miracle. Paul Gaustad is nothing more than a journeyman center. He’s 30 years old, he doesn’t provide a lot of upside, and he can make incredibly bone-headed mistakes. Hodgson is a much better center, so Gaustad was going to be marginalized. Somehow they managed to trade him to Nashville for a first round pick this year. No team overpaid more for a player than Nashville did for Gaustad, and the Sabres should be dancing in the streets over that move.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Steve Yzerman is a good GM, and by the time he is done he’s going to be a great one. I’m not in love with his deadline moves, though.

His team has offensive talent, but they have struggled defensively and in the nets. He failed to address the goalie problems, but he went overboard in adding defensive depth. He added four new defensemen, and gained three from what he had before. Only one — Keith Aulie — has a chance to be a nice long-term contributor in my eyes.

The problem is, though, that they paid a very high price for Aulie by giving Carter Ashton — a young prospect with mountains of upside — to the Leafs. He went for quantity instead of quality, and I’m not at all convinced that that makes the Lightning any better in the short-term.

A team that has grossly underachieved is on track to keep doing so down the stretch.

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