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.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.