How the balance of power has shifted in the NHL after trade deadline

·6 min read

Well, now. Was that not what you were expecting?

With all the hand-wringing over the hurdles set in front of NHL teams looking to add to their rosters for the stretch run, we actually saw some major activity in the lead-up to Monday's trade deadline.

Let's take a look at how the balance of power has perhaps shifted in the NHL's four temporary divisions, both in the race to claim the top four seeds but also in terms of which teams will ultimately compete in the league's first re-seeded final four.

North Division

It's hard to argue for anything other than chasm widening between the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs and the remaining teams in the NHL's one-time-only all-Canadian division. Toronto was by far the most aggressive club, energetically pursuing upgrades to the best team the franchise has iced in a long, long time.

Adding Nick Foligno, David Rittich, Ben Hutton and Riley Nash to the equation, the Leafs addressed needs on the left side of their forward group as well as the uncertainty in goal, while also adding potential impact depth pieces at center and on defense. Kyle Dubas checked off every box on the team's wish list, while team capologist Brandon Pridham earned his annual salary in spades, keeping the team compliant despite the zealous shopping.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 10: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal with the bench against the Ottawa Senators during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on April 10, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
Reinforecements are on the way for the first-place Maple Leafs. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

On the flip side, the two teams chasing the Leafs took, well, perhaps not even quarter measures. Low-pairing defenders were all the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers could muster in the market, with trades for Jordie Benn and Dmitry Kulikov, respectively, being the extent of their dealings. The inactivity makes more sense for the Oilers, who might be wise to take a step back now to really address needs in the offseason, but the same can't be said for the Jets, who seemed to have a real opportunity here to pounce.

Finally, the Montreal Canadiens mostly stayed the course after what's been an extremely purposeful last few months, but did replace Victor Mete with Erik Gustafsson after Mete was lost on waivers to Ottawa. It's hard to imagine the move changes the club's postseason standing, while still on an island in fourth place.

East Division

All four teams in the East Division completed major moves ahead of the NHL's trade deadline, and it's certainly difficult to predict where it all will net out.

With the biggest, or at least most surprising, swing, the first-place Washington Capitals made a significant change to their top six, landing disgruntled scorer Anthony Mantha in exchange for Jakub Vrana plus two draft selections in a deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Under-utilized to this point in his NHL career, Mantha could wind up being a force for the Capitals, who have created the sort of environment where the winger could thrive.

Hot on Washington's tails, the New York Islanders didn't subtract anything in order to add two impact players, dealing futures for Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Barry Trotz's team is far deeper now with the two former New Jersey Devils in tow, and for that reason could be considered favorites to finish first in the division.

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Kyle Palmieri #21 and Travis Zajac #14 of the New York Islanders skates against the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on April 09, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Islanders are a better team after the deadline than they were before it. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins created the smallest ripple, but still acquired one of the bigger names that exchanged hands ahead of deadline day, taking on Jeff Carter from the Los Angeles Kings. It feels like a worthy roll of the dice given that the Kings are retaining half his salary, but it's hard to say with certainty that Carter drastically changes the expectations for Pittsburgh in the East, a team that is certainly in the mix.

Finally, it's unlikely that the Boston Bruins overthrow the three teams ahead of them in the standings with only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, but it's possible that they are now the team to beat following the acquisition of Taylor Hall. It might be safe to assume that this is no longer the player who won the league's MVP award just a few years ago, but a second-line role on an established team seems to fit Hall's skillset perfectly.

If anything, Hall helps further crunch the most competitive division in the NHL.

Central Division

In the three-team race for the division crown, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers pushed to improve, while the Carolina Hurricanes seemed to only make arrangements for the future.

There's no doubt the defending champion Lightning are in a better spot now, having shored up the right side of their blue line with David Savard. It's possible that Savard is the key to winning the division, but the No. 1 seed hardly seems to be a requirement for Tampa Bay given that Nikita Kucherov is expected back when the playoffs begin.

To its credit, meanwhile, Florida is showing fight, picking up pending restricted free agent and noted postseason performer Sam Bennett and an intriguing rental asset on defense in Brandon Montour. Is it enough to hang with the Bolts and Hurricanes in the end? Perhaps not. But this team has overshot expectations all season and had every reason to load up.

RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 06: Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) and Florida Panthers left wing Mason Marchment (19) celebrate a goal during the 2nd period of the Carolina Hurricanes vs Florida Panthers on April 6th, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Florida Panthers are going for it. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It should be noted that sitting on the sidelines hardly precludes Carolina from competing for the No. 1 seed and the opportunity to play outside of the division in the final four. This is still an elite team, which only underscores why it was strange to see no effort to supplement a roster that can certainly compete for a championship.

Elsewhere, the Nashville Predators' very delicate attempt to improve their postseason offering with the addition of Erik Gudbranson is less interesting than the decision not to sell off assets at the deadline. Fortunately for them, no other team took major strides toward unseating them in the No. 4 hole.

West Division

With the Colorado Avalanche looking like world beaters, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that there weren't too many majors swings taken by the postseason-bound teams in the NHL's West Division.

While it seemed there was potential for more, the Avs only made small additions, trading for depth forward Carl Soderberg and sliding a more experienced backup behind Philipp Grubauer with a trade for Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow, the cap-strapped Vegas Golden Knights managed to add, landing a useful bottom-six player in Mattias Janmark, but nothing that would change the opinion that Colorado is the front runner for the division and when the postseason rolls around.

Wisely, the Minnesota Wild stood pat, acknowledging that they are mostly spoilers despite how strong their season has been, while the St. Louis Blues didn't flinch as well, even when it seems like selling off a few parts might have been the correct recourse.

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