The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and now the stretch run to the playoffs begins. Some teams made big waves, while others chose not to tinker too much. Here are the NHL’s top 10 teams following the trade deadline, according to my model:
1. Florida Panthers: Claude Giroux was the best player available at the deadline, and the Panthers were reportedly the only team he was willing to go to. As a result, the Panthers are the winners of the trade deadline because no team increased its chances of winning a given game more than they did. Giroux is 34, but he put up 42 points in 54 games on a bad Flyers team because of his playmaking ability. The Panthers already attack the opposition relentlessly for long stretches, driven by their elite ability to pass the puck around as they rush into the offensive zone and toward the goal. Giroux will help the team keep up that pressure. The addition of defenseman Ben Chiarot is also a positive one, but he can’t replace Aaron Ekblad, who has been moved to long-term injured reserve. There are reports that Ekblad might not be ready to return until the start of the playoffs, which will leave them weak on that side, but I don’t think the Panthers will miss a beat.
2. Colorado Avalanche: In the week leading up to the deadline, the Avalanche added defenseman Josh Manson and forward Nico Sturm via trade. Then, on deadline day, they brought in forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano. Captain Gabriel Landeskog could be out for the rest of the regular season, but the team is confident he will be back for the playoffs. None of the players they added will move the needle by themselves, but collectively they make the Avalanche a deeper team. The Avs still have enough star power to stay afloat if Landeskog is out for the rest of the regular season, but their chances of winning a given game won’t improve until the captain is back.
3. Calgary Flames: The Flames made their biggest splash weeks ago when they acquired forward Tyler Toffoli from the Canadiens, and the 29-year-old has put up 15 points in 17 games with his new team. The Flames then made a deal to bring in another forward, Calle Jarnkrok, from Seattle. And on deadline day, they picked up a third forward, Ryan Carpenter, in a trade with the Blackhawks. Toffoli has moved the needle, probably a lot more than anybody thought, but Jarnkrok and Carpenter won’t have the same type of impact. Still, the Flames are deep and have a lot of talent up front. They might be the only team in the Western Conference with a realistic shot of knocking off the Avalanche in a playoff series.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning: Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow made up one of the Lightning’s best forward lines before being split up due to salary-cap constraints. As a result, Tampa Bay was left with a big hole in its lineup for the first time in years. The Lightning addressed the issue over the weekend, though, when they acquired forwards Brandon Hagel from the Blackhawks and Nick Paul from the Senators. Both players bring something unique to Tampa Bay. Hagel has shown he can put the puck in the net even though he’s only played 109 NHL games, while Paul is a strong forechecker with solid defensive awareness. The Lightning haven’t been playing up to their capabilities, but they should be better down the stretch, and I have no doubt they’ll raise their game come playoff time. The Lightning addressed their biggest need, and they should get full marks for that.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes didn’t do much on deadline day. They brought in forward Max Domi, which is a positive, but that doesn’t really improve their chances of winning a given game. Still, with Frederik Andersen playing great, the Hurricanes remain one of the top teams in the NHL. Their offensive struggles since the All-Star break are a concern, as they rank 23rd in goals per 60 minutes over their last 20 games, but they were a top-five offense before that. The Hurricanes’ position as a top-five team could change between now and the start of the playoffs, but they still have time to regain their level of play from before the All-Star break.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins brought in Rickard Rakell through a trade with the Ducks, which bolsters an already dangerous forward group. They also improved their depth on the blue line with the addition of Nathan Beaulieu. Rakell has put up 16 goals and 12 assists this season and has been solid defensively. He should fit in nicely anywhere on Pittsburgh’s top three lines, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started producing points at a higher rate. Tristan Jarry has saved the team about 10 goals above expected, according to Evolving Hockey, and if he can keep it up, Pittsburgh is a bona fide contender. Every team in the Eastern Conference should be scared of the Penguins, especially if they manage to stay healthy.
7. Boston Bruins: Hampus Lindholm signed an eight-year contract with the Bruins after being acquired from the Ducks. Lindholm is the left-shot defenseman the Bruins have longed for since Zdeno Chara broke down and lost his ability to play big minutes. Lindholm will be paired with Charlie McAvoy, which could be great for both players. McAvoy has been carrying far too much of the load in Boston, and Lindholm is more than capable of taking some of that burden. Contract aside, Lindholm is a great addition, and the Bruins are better off because of it. Still, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to keep up with the likes of the Panthers and Lightning in the playoffs. Not overpaying for one of the forwards on the market was probably a wise move for Boston, but with Florida and Tampa Bay both getting better, the gap between the teams hasn’t changed much.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Muzzin isn’t expected to be back from a concussion for a while, but when he does return he won’t need to shoulder as much of the load. The addition of defender Mark Giordano gives the Maple Leafs a lot of flexibility on the blue line, and when the team is back at full strength, they should be better than ever. Goaltending is the main thing stopping them from reaching their full potential, and it’s unclear where the Leafs are heading in that department. Rookie Erik Kallgren has been manning the crease for the last few games with Jack Campbell out with an injury, and Petr Mrazek looks cooked. The trade deadline has passed, so the Maple Leafs are stuck with what they have, but if Campbell can get back to where he was last season and in the early part of this one, the Maple Leafs might have a chance to go on a run.
9. Washington Capitals: It’s tough to pick teams for these final two spots because there’s a bunch I could make a case for, but the Capitals check off boxes that some others don’t. Washington grades out as a top-10 team on offense and defense according to my model, and Vitek Vanecek has been solid all season. The Capitals have had some bad injury luck, but that seems to be behind them. They’ve really picked up their offense of late, and if top stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom can stay healthy, the Capitals are contenders. Washington could end up in the final wild-card spot, which would result in a matchup with Florida in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers are better than the Capitals, but I don’t believe that series would be a walk in the park.
10. New York Rangers: Adding forwards Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte, as well as defender Justin Braun, makes the Rangers a deeper team. Braun, in many ways, is the poor man’s version of some of the defenders that fetched bigger hauls. While the Rangers might be deeper, they’re a team that’s only going to go as far as their goaltender takes them. Igor Shesterkin could win the Rangers a Stanley Cup, or he could crumble in the playoffs against a team that’s able to penetrate the Rangers’ weak defensive posture. Making it out of the Eastern Conference is going to be tough, but if I had to pick a team that I was most interested in watching down the stretch, it would be the Rangers. I want to have a good handle on them heading into the playoffs.