Top five trade deadline day winners

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After a trade deadline day filled with just 16 trades involving 35 players, many fans around the league came away feeling a bit let down. Considering last year’s deadline day saw 31 trades, it’s an understandable let down comparatively. The 16 deals is the lowest since the 2000 deadline that saw just 12 trades made.

Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be an impact felt by the deals that were made today and as always there are winners and losers upon first glance. Who do we think came out on top of things today? Our top five deadline day winners should give you a good idea of how we’re thinking. (Top five losers can be seen here.)

1. Los Angeles Kings acquiring Dustin Penner

The Kings have been hurting for offense most of the season. They’ve seen Jonathan Quick carry them to the fifth spot in the West at the moment on the back of spectacular goaltending and even the Kings defense is doing a solid job on their own right. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams have been shouldering the load of the offense this year and they desperately needed some kind of help scoring with their forwards.

Enter Dustin Penner into the mix and all of a sudden the Kings top two lines look more solid and dangerous. Whether Penner plays on a line with Kopitar or Jarret Stoll shouldn’t matter as the newest King broke out last year in Edmonton pouring in 32 goals and 31 assists. This season he’s got 21 goals and 18 assists. Those kind of goal numbers in L.A. would put him first on the team in goals ahead of the Kings quartet of guys with 20. Kopitar, Williams, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Smyth each have 20 and while coach Terry Murray has juggled his lines a lot this year, things should settle out evenly with Penner in town.

The package the Kings gave up to get him isn’t a back breaker either as Colten Teubert is a defensive prospect, something the Kings are teeming with. Giving up their first round pick this year doesn’t hurt so bad as this year’s draft class is supposed to be thinner than usual. Kings GM Dean Lombardi waited things out and didn’t have to give up top forward prospect Brayden Schenn to get Penner. It’s a win all around for Los Angeles and should Penner provide the goal scoring they’re looking for, the Kings became very dangerous the rest of the way.

2. Vancouver Canucks get deeper with Maxime Lapierre and Chris Higgins

The Canucks are the top team in the Western Conference so deadline day was a day for them to pick up any pieces necessary to get deeper and ready for the playoffs. About the only hole for the Canucks was their fourth line which has seen a host of players cycle in and out of the lineup to play alongside Tanner Glass.

Bringing in a new center in need of a kick in the pants in Maxime Lapierre from Anaheim and an experienced guy like Chris Higgins from Florida are tremendous upgrades on what Vancouver has been using on the fourth line. Lapierre is an agitator to the extreme and when properly motivated plays a fantastic role as a grinder. Higgins gives Vancouver a bit more talent and depth to use along the left wing on their third or fourth line. Higgins is not the goal scorer he was long touted to be, but his ability to play better defensively and not be completely offensively inept helps out in a big way. These two guys also provide them with more speed and energy on those last two lines. Just what a dangerous team needed, better players to become that much more dangerous.

3. Washington Capitals acquiring forward Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman

Caps GM George McPhee had a short list of things he had to do on deadline day to keep the fans at bay and show that the Caps were serious about being involved in this year’s playoffs. Yes, they’re a virtual lock to go and yes they have one of the greatest players on the planet in Alex Ovechkin, but glaring holes along the blue line and at center have been there all along. Failing to fill those holes at the deadline would’ve been major mistakes and McPhee made sure he didn’t fail this time around.

First he acquired offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman to help their power play and also allow the Caps to give Mike Green more time to recover from his head injuries suffered from getting hit with a puck and hit by New York’s Derek Stepan. Once Green does return, however, that gives the Capitals two guys to run their two power play units from the blue line. Wideman’s defensive shortcomings should be covered up in the Caps new defensive-friendly system.

Adding Jason Arnott to be the new second line center provides an immediate upgrade there as Marcus Johansson is still awfully young and Mathieu Perreault is just flat out not good enough. Arnott’s experience and abilities should play better with the likes of Alex Semin and Brooks Laich and gives Washington a more stable presence both on and off the ice. His playoff experience cannot be discounted either and when the Caps get to April and May, his help there should be noticeable. Now if only he can break his offensive funk that he’s been in the last couple months, the Caps should be all set.

4. Florida Panthers for not trading away Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun

All right the Panthers were obscenely busy making trades today as they sent Radek Dvorak to Atlanta, Bryan Allen to Carolina, Chris Higgins to Vancouver, and Dennis Wideman to Washington. They’d already done their part before deadline day in dealing Michal Frolik to Chicago and Cory Stillman to Carolina as well. While it’s apparent that GM Dale Tallon is cleaning house and starting over fresh in Sunrise, he didn’t give away the team’s best assets. Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun are all still there and they’re the type of guys you need to build a foundation around. While Vokoun is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, showing they’re dedicated to him by not dealing him makes it seem like the chances of extending his contract are better. We’ll see about that by summertime.

Tallon’s gone out of his way to acquire draft picks for all the other guys he’s traded away and in the 2011 draft he’s got a lot of choices to burn off. Apparently he’s not scared of how apparently weak the 2011 draft class is. Tallon’s gone through this rebuild thing before in Chicago and came away with guys like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook because of it. He got off to a good start in last year’s draft with Erik Gudbranson and having him and Dmitry Kulikov on the blue line to join Weiss and Booth along with whoever they add through the draft has the makings of a potentially bright future.

5. Columbus acquires Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto from Phoenix

Columbus needed a boost if they’re going to keep at it in the hunt for the playoffs in the West. Adding a great guy for the locker room and forward on the ice in Upshall and balanced defenseman Lepisto, the Blue Jackets did just that. With the news of Anton Stralman being out for the next 3-4 weeks, adding Lepisto and waiver acquisition Craig Rivet suddenly gives them a lot of depth on the blue line. It’s debatable how much Rivet can add, but Lepisto is solid and will be helpful to them on the power play as well, a key move with Stralman out.

Upshall can score a little and grind and check as well. Getting a winger with those talents in Columbus is a huge help and having Upshall ride along side Antoine Vermette gives them a versatile line that can both score and defend strong too. Giving up original Blue Jacket Rostislav Klesla is a bit of a downer and while he’s been a loyal soldier for the organization, he’s been part of a lot of bad teams, been injured too often and just now finally started falling into a good role in Columbus. Selling high is a smart move and GM Scott Howson did just that and came away with a steal.

Stanley Cup experience ‘doesn’t guarantee anything’ for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The dynasty that once appeared so certain is again in the offing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Four victories against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final would make Pittsburgh the first franchise to win back-to-back championships in nearly 20 years and the first in the parity-driven salary cap era. It would give stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin their third Cup, one more than their boss – owner Mario Lemieux – earned during his Hall of Fame career and check off whatever boxes remain unchecked for a duo that is becoming one of the most accomplished in NHL history.

Yet for all the resiliency the Penguins have shown during their injury-marred title defense, they are taking nothing for granted heading into Game 1 on Monday night.

Not their home-ice advantage. Not their massive edge in Stanley Cup Final experience (156 games vs. just five for the Predators, all by captain Mike Fisher while playing for Ottawa a decade ago). Not their ability under coach Mike Sullivan to thrive under the pressure that once seemed to crush them.

“I think the fact that a lot of guys went through it last year and they can draw from that experience is good,” Crosby said. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Certainly not against the swaggering and well-rested Predators.

One of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs is now the last one standing between the Penguins and another parade in downtown Pittsburgh. Just don’t call Nashville the underdog. The Predators have hardly played like one while beating Chicago in a lopsided four-game sweep then outrunning St. Louis and outlasting Anaheim to reach the Cup final for the first time.

“I know we were the eighth seed but we didn’t feel like a group that we were,” Fisher said.

Now the guys from the place that calls itself “Smashville” have a chance to become the first franchise to win the Cup in its first try since Carolina did 11 years ago. That team, like this one, is based in a place hardly considered hockey hotbed a generation ago. This team, like that one, was led by coach Peter Laviolette. This team, like that one, has nothing to lose.

“This year we were kind of mediocre in the standings and maybe that’s what we needed just to come into the playoffs not really caring about home ice or who we were playing but just knowing comfortably and confidently as a team we could be in this position,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.

Read more: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

A position the Penguins have become increasingly comfortable in under Sullivan.

The core that Crosby and Malkin led to the Cup in 2009 went through seven frustrating and fruitless springs before returning to the top in 2016. Now they’re here again, aware of the stakes but hardly caught up in the hype.

“I think that it’s a tough road no matter how you get here,” Crosby said.

“We found ways all season long and in the playoffs we’ve found ways. We’ve had that same mentality and that’s helped us. I think that’s kind of been our biggest strength.”

Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco leads Windsor Spitfires to Memorial Cup title

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Just over two months after signing his entry level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, 20-year-old forward Jeremy Bracco left his mark on the Memorial Cup championship game.

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bracco had a dominant finale on Sunday, with a goal and two assists as the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Erie Otters by a final score of 4-3.

To cap it off, Bracco assisted on the winning goal from Aaron Luchuk early in the third period.

That ends a great season for Bracco, who is listed at five-foot-nine-inches tall, but has produced impressive offensive numbers since coming to the Ontario Hockey League. He had 83 points in 57 games split between the Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers, the team he began this season with.

The Memorial Cup is always a great showcase for NHL prospects. Logan Brown, the towering center and 2016 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, also had a pair of assists.

A pair of draft eligible players also had a big day for Windsor.

Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 4-ranked North American skater heading into next month’s draft and a potential top-five pick, had a pair of assists. Michael DiPietro, the No. 4-ranked North American goalie in Central Scouting’s final rankings, made 32 saves. He also had some luck, courtesy his goal posts, which denied Blackhawks high-scoring prospect Alex DeBrincat, among others from Erie’s talented team.

The Spitfires were defeated in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, but made it to the Memorial Cup tournament as the host team.

Laviolette: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

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After a second-round playoff appearance and trading for P.K. Subban several weeks later last offseason, expectations for the Nashville Predators were perhaps the highest they’ve ever been entering a new season.

And then they went out and started with an underwhelming 2-5-1 record through October.

When you think of those players that have been so critical to Nashville’s success in this run to the Stanley Cup Final versus the Penguins, most of them struggled mightily in that first month.

From PHT on Oct. 31:

Ryan Johansen isn’t helping much either. The 24-year-old center had three assists in the Preds’ first game, but just one in the next seven. He has no goals and has yet to register a point at even strength. In fact, he hasn’t even been on the ice for a Nashville goal at five-on-five!

Filip Forsberg doesn’t have a goal either, and James Neal has but one.

Meanwhile, the top pairing of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are minus-7 and minus-6, respectively, with the possession stats to match.

And then there’s Pekka Rinne, who’s 1-4-1 with a .906 save percentage. Not helping.

Sounds bad.

But, looking back on that first month, head coach Peter Laviolette preached patience as the Predators worked to get out of that early hole.

“There was a lot of talk coming out of October about what was wrong and that we weren’t right,” said Laviolette on Sunday. “I kept saying internally, ‘That’s OK, it’s OK to struggle a little bit, to have to work to figure out who we are as a team, who we are as a group, who is driving the bus, where the seats are, and to have to figure a way out of something.’”

In November, the Predators turned around and went 9-3-2 that month.

“We were building something at that point,” said Laviolette.

“Even though December and some of January we were struggling a little bit, we were dealing with a lot of injuries. Not that that is an excuse, because every team has to deal with them. We were trying to move through that.”

For all their early problems, the Predators finished the season among the better puck possession teams in the league and qualified for a wild card spot in the West.

All of those aforementioned players that struggled in October eventually saw their fortunes turn around. Johansen had 61 points as their No. 1 center, Forsberg had another 30-plus goal season and Viktor Arvidsson (he wasn’t mentioned) emerged on that top line with his own 31-goal, 61-point season.

A pending restricted free agent, Arvidsson is surely in line for a substantial raise from the $650,000 average annual value attached to his current deal.

Oh, and the Predators’ defense, with Subban and Josi, has become arguably the best blue line group in the league. Rinne? He has a .941 save percentage in these playoffs, as Nashville rolled over the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks to get into the championship series.

From sitting 29th in the standings at the end of October, the Predators are now four wins away from a Stanley Cup. The challenge only gets more difficult, especially against a talented and deep Penguins team.

The Predators won’t have Ryan Johansen. But it looks like Mike Fisher could return for Game 1 on Monday. In the absence of both players last round against Anaheim, the Predators were lifted in part by the performance of Colton Sissons, who had a hat trick in the series clincher.

“I think when we got to the last third of the season, our guys had been through a lot,” said Laviolette. “Things had moved around a little bit. We became stronger as a team internally.

“More than anything, I think we were built in order to get to this point.”

Predators’ Fisher, Penguins’ Hornqvist could return for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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The Nashville Predators won’t have Ryan Johansen for the Stanley Cup Final, but it appears they will likely get another center back into their lineup for the beginning of this series.

Mike Fisher hasn’t played since Game 4 of the Western Conference Final because of an undisclosed injury.

But he did take part in Sunday’s practice ahead of Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, and provided an optimistic outlook for his status heading into Monday, telling reporters he was “ready to rock.”

The Predators could also get Craig Smith back, as well. He hasn’t played since May 7 because of a lower-body injury, but also practiced Sunday. All players currently on the trip will be available, said Predators coach Peter Laviolette.

Even with Fisher nearing a return, the Predators are still in tough at center without Johansen, especially given Pittsburgh’s talent up the middle, beginning of course with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“Certainly you’re talking about a couple good centermen that we have to face,” said Predators general manager David Poile. “We had a couple good centermen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) last round that we had to face.”

For the Penguins, who have dealt with a long list of injuries, particularly on defense, in this postseason, there was promising news about the status of forward Patric Hornqvist, who has missed the last six games.

Hornqvist, who on seven occasions has scored 20 or more goals in a single season, took the warm-up skate prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final versus Ottawa, but didn’t play.

“We obviously chose to hold him out for reasons that we’ll keep amongst ourselves,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

“But his status is he’s obviously been cleared for practice today. He practiced today. He’ll be a game-time decision. But based on the way that he practiced today, we’re certainly encouraged.”