East up for grabs after ‘arms race’ at NHL trade deadline

Jon Cooper is keenly aware that Tampa Bay’s path to hoisting the Stanley Cup a third consecutive year got more difficult after a series of big trades in recent days.

“It’s just looks like the Atlantic’s like one big arms race,” Cooper said after practice Monday. “Everybody’s trying to get that extra edge — whatever they think that is.”

The path through the Eastern Conference is now an even more grueling ordeal than it appeared to be a week ago. Even in a sellers’ market, every playoff-bound team in the East made at least one trade and each got better in a different way.

“Good teams could get upset (in the) first round and you never know what’s going to happen after that,” Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Those eight teams are all good teams: I think on any given night, one could beat the other.”

While Colorado and Calgary have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the West, good luck designating a favorite in the East. After all the activity in the days leading up to the deadline, at least three teams could stake that claim.

Atop the list are the back-to-back defending champion Lightning, who after losing an entire forward line to salary cap attrition last summer somehow might now arguably be deeper than they were for their last two title runs. GM Julien BriseBois lived up to his wheeling-and-dealing reputation by trading a combined three roster players, two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder for forwards Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul and Riley Nash.

Tampa Bay’s trade for Hagel came in the aftermath of the rival Panthers going all in for the stout defenseman they’ve been seeking all season in Ben Chiarot. The hefty price of top prospect Ty Smilanic, a first-rounder in 2023 and another draft pick was no object for the NHL’s highest-scoring team to solve its biggest need.

Then, for good measure, they sent their 2024 first-round pick to Philadelphia for two-way forward and faceoff ace Claude Giroux and got depth defenseman Robert Hagg from Buffalo. If Sergei Bobrovsky can recapture the form from his two Vezina Trophy seasons, the Panthers now look like they can win in the playoffs without having to outscore their problems.

The Toronto Maple Leafs might need to do just that.

Even after trading for Mark Giordano in their biggest pre-deadline move, they failed to solve their goaltending woes. The Leafs couldn’t close a deal for Marc-Andre Fleury — who went from Chicago to Minnesota in the biggest trade of deadline day — and then lost Olympic gold medal-winning goaltender Harri Sateri to Arizona on waivers after attempting to sign him for the rest of the season.

Toronto did get stronger in their own end by acquiring Giordano, who was one of the best rental defensemen available.

Hampus Lindholm was another, and the Boston Bruins over the weekend traded a first-round pick, two second-round picks and young defenseman Urho Vaakanainen for him. They re-signed him for $52 million over eight years and would have made more moves if possible.

“The bottom line is the war of attrition starts from now until when the Cup is presented, and staying healthy’s a big part of that,” GM Don Sweeney said.

MacLellan acknowledged after acquiring depth forwards Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson for the Capitals that health will be a major factor in which team gets out of the East. It won’t be easy in the Metropolitan part of the bracket after the flurry of moves made by Carolina, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.

Carolina, with help from Florida to make the cap math work, acquired forward Max Domi from Columbus. The Hurricanes did not give up anyone from their roster and still added a talented player who can help them out of scoring slumps.

The Rangers did a little bit of everything to solidify a young, unproven team in front of elite goalie Igor Shesterkin. They acquired veteran defenseman Justin Braun from Philadelphia and added two more versatile forwards, getting Andrew Copp from Winnipeg and Tyler Motte from Vancouver.

Pittsburgh made an even bigger splash up front by trading two roster players, a goaltending prospect and a second-round pick this summer to Anaheim for winger Rickard Rakell.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t feel like we had to make a deal,” Pittsburgh GM Ron Hextall said. “Our secondary scoring has been a little bit of an issue. Rickard adds a lot to our group.”

None of the moves made around the East made any one team stand out above the rest. The Hurricanes may have been able to make a move like that, but his decades in this business tempered Waddell’s actions even in light of all the trades happening around him.

“You watch what’s going on around you but you can’t be reactive to what’s going on,” he said. “One team’s going to win. One team’s going to win the Stanley Cup.”

It just got harder to do it.

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.