The NHL's trade deadline has came and gone, as has the traditional chaos that comes along with it. Several teams made significant moves in order to gear up for a run at the Stanley Cup.
With teams having around 20 games to go before the playoffs begin, there's one simple question: has the NHL's postseason landscape changed?
The answer is a resounding yes. The following teams altered what the playoffs could look like later this spring and cemented themselves as contenders.
No team improved more than the Florida Panthers. Entering March, the Panthers already possessed a loaded roster that had spent the majority of the 2021-22 season at the top of the Atlantic Division and looked like a well-oiled machine. Still, Florida chose not to remain complacent and made multiple moves that have the potential to put them over the top.
The Panthers beefed up their blue line with the acquisitions of:
In Chiarot, Florida improved their top defensive pairing and it truly couldn't have come at a better time. In Friday's game against the Anaheim Ducks, top defenseman Aaron Ekblad suffered a lower-body injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. Until he's healthy, Chiarot's presence on the top pairing will be a huge feather in the Panthers' cap.
While the additions of Chiarot and Hagg vastly improved the Panthers' roster, the acquisition of Claude Giroux could help put the team over the top. Despite being 34, Giroux is still one of the sport's most-gifted playmakers and will slot in on Florida's top line alongside Aleksandar Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe. Giroux joins a Panthers team that already leads the league in goals (252) and goals-per-game (4.1) and could be an asset for a power-play unit that ranks 10th with a 23.7 percent success rate.
Considering how lethal of an offense the Panthers now possess, that also takes a great deal of the pressure off of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky has had a solid season in which he's put together a 30-6-3 record to go along with a 2.57 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Is Bobrovsky elite? Probably not, but he honestly doesn't have to be if the Panthers are scoring goals at the rate they have been throughout the season. Bobrovsky will also be aided by the addition of Chiarot and the eventual return of Ekblad.
The Eastern Conference could very well end up belonging to the Panthers, but the Pittsburgh Penguins made a huge move to add to a group that was already near the top of the conference. In the final minutes of Monday's trade deadline, the Penguins struck gold when they acquired forward Rickard Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a package of forward Zach Auston-Reese, forward Dominik Simon, goaltender Calle Clang, and a 2022 second round pick.
It was certainly a lofty price to pay for a player like Rakell, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer. However, Pittsburgh adding a player of Rakell's caliber was a very necessary move for a Stanley Cup-contending team.
The pickup of Rakell gives the Penguins a top-six forward that they definitely needed. Sure, the Penguins have star power in their forward group with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel, but the addition of Rakell gives them some tremendous depth.
In his first game with the Penguins, head coach Mike Sullivan had Rakell playing on the wing on the third line alongside Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen. Following Pittsburgh's 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, Sullivan revealed that he didn't want to "paralyze" Rakell right off the bat, so it's possible that Rakell could move up to the second line at some point.
Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Rakell had registered 29 points (16 goals and 12 assists) during his time in Anaheim. Rakell can be an absolute vulture around the net and really has a knack for scoring goals in those dirty areas. He made an impact right off the bat with the Penguins in Tuesday's game as he registered two shots and showcased his aggressiveness in the offensive zone.
The Penguins currently have the second-most points (87) in the Eastern Conference and have been extremely consistent since Malkin returned to the lineup. With the addition of Rakell, the Penguins may just be the second-best team in the Eastern Conferencw.
Leading up to the trade deadline, it was a foregone conclusion that Marc-Andre Fleury would be the top goaltender on the market. After a forgettable season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Fleury agreed to be traded to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional 2022 second round pick.
Cam Talbot had served as the team's starting netminder throughout the 2021-22 season, but consistency was an issue. In 39 games, Talbot has put together a 25-12-1 record while posting a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. In 15 of his starts, Talbot has surrendered at least four goals -- including on three occasions in this month alone.
The Wild are currently in the playoffs with 78 points and sit in third place in the Central Division. However, it's a tight Wild Card race in the Western Conference, so it wasn't a foregone conclusion that the Wild would qualify for the postseason. That's why it was absolutely paramount that Minnesota make a move for a goaltender.
If you're looking at Fleury's numbers this season, perhaps many may not think that it's a huge upgrade at the position. However, the Blackhawks have the third-fewest points (53) in the Western Conference. Therefore, Fleury didn't exactly have the best team playing in front of him. Fleury brings a stabilizing presence to the crease as a netminder that has had quite a career. In fact, only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy have more career wins than Fleury. Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and won the Vezina Trophy in 2021.
If Fleury can return to his 2021 form, this deal will be a home run for the Wild and could lead them on a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Last but certainly not least, the Boston Bruins also made quite an impact at the trade deadline. The Bruins have had an up-and-down season and currently sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division. As their roster was constructed prior to the trade deadline, this probably wasn't a team that was capable of making a deep postseason run.
However, Boston was able to change that with a trade that they were able to make and one that they didn't make. Boston acquired star defenseman Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2022 first round pick, a 2023 second round pick, a 2024 second round pick, defensemen Urho Vaakanainen and John Moore. It was quite the haul that the Bruins surrendered in order to acquire Lindholm, but it was very necessary.
Lindholm is a left-handed shot, which is something that the Bruins really needed next to right-handed shooting Charlie McAvoy on their blue line. Now the Bruins possess a well-rounded top defensive pairing that may be one of the top duos around the league.
Lindholm may not be on the Cale Makar level when it comes to offensive prowess, but he has a very dangerous shot that always seems to get through the defense. Speaking of a scoring punch, there were rumblings that the Bruins could move winger Jake DeBrusk at the trade deadline. After all, DeBrusk did ask for a trade earlier this season.
However, on Monday, the Bruins signed DeBrusk to a two-year contract extension and decided to hang onto him.
Retaining DeBrusk may have been one of the better moves at the trade deadline. The Bruins did help their defense, but losing DeBrusk would've been a mistake unless Boston received an impact forward in return. He has tremendous potential and is on pace for the second 20-goal season of his NHL career.
Come playoff time, the Bruins will be in a much better spot than they were a week ago after being aggressive at the deadline.