How the Rangers’ playoff rivals did at the deadline

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 15: Justin Braun #61 of the Philadelphia Flyers moves Colin Blackwell #43 of the New York Rangers out of the crease during the second period at Madison Square Garden on March 15, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 15: Justin Braun #61 of the Philadelphia Flyers moves Colin Blackwell #43 of the New York Rangers out of the crease during the second period at Madison Square Garden on March 15, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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While the New York Rangers added more NHL players than any other NHL team at the trade deadline they were far from the only team to make big moves.  Every team in the Eastern Conference made trades to bolster them for the rest of the season and the playoffs. We are going to look at the Rangers’ top rivals, not grading the trades themselves, but how much they improved.  How did they do, starting with the Metropolitan Division.

Carolina Hurricanes

Arrivals:  Max Domi – LW (Columbus), Tyler Inamoto – D (Florida)
Departures:  Aidan Hreschuk – D, Egor Korshkov – F, 2022 6th round pick (from Toronto)

Analysis: This was a convoluted three-way deal that sent Domi initially to Florida who then traded him to Carolina.   The Hurricanes get Domi who has underachieved this season and last after a big 28-goal season for Montreal in 2018-19.  He’s a reclamation project for Carolina, but not a huge addition at the deadline.   They didn’t give up much, an NCAA defenseman and a forward playing in Russia.

Their other pickup, Tyler Inamoto, is a defenseman finishing up his fifth year at Wisconsin.

Verdict:  Max Domi may not even be able to crack a loaded lineup.  Considering the improvement of other teams in the Conference, the Hurricanes treaded water.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Arrivals:  Rickard Rakell – LW (Anaheim),  Nathan Beaulieu – D (Winnipeg)

Departures:  Zach Aston-Reese – LW,  Dominick Simon – C, Calle Clang – G, 2022 2nd round pick, 2022 conditional 7th round pick

Analysis:  The Penguins have the 13th best offense in the NHL and they just got better.  Rickard Rakell will play on the wing with Evgeni Malkin and will provide a lot of needed punch to their second line.   He is a proven goal scorer with size who has 16 goals and 28 points this season.

Nathan Beaulieu is a 29-year old left shot defenseman who wasn’t playing regularly for the Jets.  He will be a solid depth defenseman for the Penguins, but probably won’t crack their starting lineup.

None of the players the Penguins traded were big contributers this season.

Verdict:  Solid improvement for the Penguins make them a more dangerous team.

Washington Capitals

Arrivals:  Marcus Johansson – LW (Seattle), Johan Larsson – LW (Arizona)
Departures:  Daniel Sprong – RW,  2023 3rd round pick, 2022 4th round pick, 2023 6th round pick

Analysis: The Capitals brought back Marcus Johansson who had his best yeats when he played seven years in DC before bouncing from five teams in the last five years. He’s a depth addition for the Caps’ bottom six.  He could find himself in the top six to start with numerous injuries hurting Washington.

Same goes for Johan Larsson who has been a useful forward for nine NHL seasons, mostly with Buffalo.  He has been on Injured Reserve with a lower body injury and no word on when he will return.

Verdict:  Johansson and Larsson help the Capitals’ depth and protect against injuries, but these additions are not difference-makers.

Florida Panthers

Arrivals: Claude Giroux – C (Philadelphia),  Ben Chiarot – D (Montreal),  Robert Hagg – D (Buffalo),  Connor Bunnaman -F (Philadelphia), German Rubtsov – C (Philadelphia), Egor Korshkov – F (Carolina), 2022 4th round pick
Departures:  Owen Tippett – RW, Frank Vatrano – RW, Tyler Smilanic – F, Tyler Inamoto – D, 2023 and 2024 1st round picks, 2023 3rd round pick, 2022 4th round pick,  2022 6th round pick

Analysis:  The Panthers are the definition of going all in to win the Stanley Cup, trading for two of the top targets in Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. They paid a heavy price for the acquisitions, but made their team that much better.  Giroux slots onto the top line with Aleksandr Barkov while Chiarot makes the defense much better with Hagg providing depth for the long run.

Bunnaman and Rubtsov are destined for the AHL,helping organizational depth considering they gave up five picks in the next three drafts including two first rounders.  While losing Frank Vatrano is the Rangers’ gain, Giroux more than makes up for it.

Verdict:  A great team got better.  They are the class of the East and despite the moves made by the Lightning, they remain the team to beat and a favorite to make the Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Arrivals: Brandon Hagel – RW (Chicago),  Nick Paul (Ottawa), Riley Nash – C (Arizona), Alexei Melnichuk – G (San Jose), 2022 and 2024 4th round picks
Departures:  Taylor Raddysh- RW, Boris Katchouk – LW, Matheiu Joseph – RW,  Antoine Morand – C,  2023 and 2024 1st round picks, 2024 4th round pick

Analysis:  Tampa made a big splash early when they traded for Brandon Hagel and that was an excellent pick up.  Nick Paul is another strong bottom six forward as the Lightning look to recreate their vaunted third line from last season.  Riley Nash will be a depth forward.

They gave up a lot in terms of the draft and depth players, but it’s clear that Tampa is going for the three-peat. The Lightning play the salary cap game better than any other team in the NHL and the Hagel trade was a perfect example.

Verdict:  Tampa did what they always do at the deadline, they got better. Did they improve more than their archrivals in the Sunshine State?  Nope,  but with their Stanley Cup pedigree, they are among the best in the East.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Arrivals:  Mark Giordano – D (Seattle), Colin Blackwell – C (Seattle),   Ilya Lyubushkin -D (Arizona), 2022 3rd round pick
Departures:  Nick Ritchie – F,  Travis Dermott – D,  Alex Biega- D, 2022 and 2023 2nd round picks, 2024 3rd round pick, 2025 2nd round pick

Analysis:  Mark Giordano was a Rangers target, but losing him to Toronto became much less of a blow when they ere able to get Justin Braun.   They picked up defenseman Lyubushkin in February and he provides defensive depth.   Ranger fans know how important a player like Colin Blackwell can be and he will be a valuable asset for the Maple Leafs, slotting onto the fourth line.

The players they gave up (Ritchie, Biega and Dermott) weren’t impact players for Toronto

Verdict:  If the Maple Leafs can stay healthy, Giordano will be a key acquisition as they hope to end the longest Cup drought in NHL history.  Their Achilles’ Heel is in net and they did nothing to resolve that.   So, the Leafs got better, but not where they really needed to.  If they had been able to swing the deal for Marc-Andre Fleury, that would have been a big move.

Boston Bruins

Arrivals: Hampus Lindholm – D (Anaheim), Josh Brown -D (Ottawa),  2022 7th round pick
Departures:  Zach Senyshyn – RW, Urho Vaakanainen, – D, John Moore – D, 2022 1st round pick, 2023 and 2024 2nd round picks, 2022 5th round pick

Analysis:  Hampus Lindholm will help the Bruins blueline immensely and Josh Brown is a nice depth pickup.  The fact that they were able to extend Lindholm makes the trade a home run for Boston.   They gave up an awful lot of assets in the deal, mostly in draft picks.

Verdict:  The Bruins will always be a contending team and they have crept out of the wild card race and are tied with Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.  They still have issues once you get past their top six forwards and they did nothing to fix that.  Improved?  Yes, but not as much as their Atlantic Division rivals.

The overall verdict

When assessing the Eastern Conference, in terms of improvement, the Rangers rank near the top with Florida and Tampa.   That bodes well for the rest of the season, though integrating all of these new players will be an interesting challenge for the Panthers and Blueshirts.

There’s no doubt that Florida is the class of the East.  Adding Giroux and Chiarot made them even more dangerous, but they still have to overcome a history of not getting out  of the first round of the playoffs since 1996.

Tampa keeps finding ways to keep their Stanley Cup core together, then adding assets at the deadline.  They will be tough.

The teams that improved incrementally are Pittsburgh, Toronto and Boston. All three teams improved areas of weakness, but remain challenged in other areas.  All three teams have no playoff track record in the most important position, goaltending.

While Washington and Carolina made moves, they weren’t as dramatic or will have as much of an impact as the teams made by the other Eastern Conference teams.   Carolina is already one of the top contenders, so standing pat makes sense.  On the other hand, Washington’s acquisitions will keep them close to their rivals, but won’t lift them out of a wild card spot.

For the Rangers, the challenge will be integrating these new players and getting some key players back from injury.  They are much improved over the team that swept two of the top four Eastern Conference teams this weekend (okay, they barely beat the Hurricanes).   That has to be a positive in a year when they match up pretty well against every team they will face in the playoffs.

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