For all of the action, all of the excitement, all of the movement in the hockey world over the past few weeks, one important fact hangs over this NHL season: We still don’t have a Stanley Cup favourite.
You might like Anaheim’s rebuilt blueline with Simon Despres and James Wisniewski, or the way Braydon Coburn fits in with Tampa Bay, or a beefed-up Blackhawks roster that now features Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen.
Perhaps the Montreal Canadiens’ last-minute shopping spree — Jeff Petry, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn were all added before Monday’s deadline — will help push them over the top. The New York Rangers went all-in by landing Keith Yandle, Detroit added veterans Marek Zidlicky and Erik Cole and Minnesota gained experience with Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold.
And yet, despite all of that, would any team strike more fear in a playoff opponent this spring than the Los Angeles Kings?
The Kings had a quiet deadline day after acquiring defenceman Andrej Sekera last week and still have work to do just to qualify for the post-season.
This is the most wide-open competition I’ve seen in more than a decade of covering the NHL. That helps explain why such high prices were paid for players, with GMs desperate to strengthen their teams as much as possible, although the number of teams conducting complete fire sales helped things along.
Buffalo and Arizona, in particular, stripped their rosters down to the wood and are clearly hoping to secure the maximum number of lottery balls in the draw to land Connor McDavid. Those organizations are brimming with picks and prospects and can start dreaming of better days ahead.
The payoff should be more immediate for the contenders.
Looking at the Eastern Conference standings, it’s not a stretch to say any of the top seven teams could go on a run to the Stanley Cup final. The fact Boston is the one you’re unsure about speaks to how much times have changed.
A trade like the one the Islanders made to land backup goalie Michal Neuvirth could be the type of move that tilts the scales in their favour. It should provide stability and an insurance policy, not to mention an opportunity to rest Jaroslav Halak more down the stretch.
The West presents its typical share of challenges. Hockey’s big boy conference got even stronger at the top.
Nashville did its shopping early and will likely take home the Presidents’ Trophy, while Anaheim made significant changes despite sitting second. Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis all added depth and none will be easy outs come the playoffs.
The run-up to this deadline came with a few surprises and a lot of salary cap permutations, and it was difficult to sit back in the immediate aftermath and identify one team to declare a winner. Many appeared to improve; some no doubt mortgaged too much of the future to try and do it.
Monday was an exhausting day, one that lacked a signature trade, but the best reward for hockey fans is still to come: There are only 40 days remaining in the regular season before a thrilling Stanley Cup tournament that is unlike anything else in sports.
Bring it on.