Trade moves could impact playoff race

NHL general managers were busier than usual in the weeks leading up to the league’s Feb. 28 trade deadline with most trying to land a player or two to improve their rosters for the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.

Trade deadline deals rarely ensure a Stanley Cup championship, but the recent deals could have an impact on the playoff race over the remainder of the season.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ addition of winger Kris Versteeg from the Toronto Maple Leafs provided the Eastern Conference leaders with a proven playoff performer as well as scoring depth.

Versteeg had only two points in his first seven games with the Flyers but once he fully adjusts to his new surroundings, he should become a welcome addition to an already deep Flyers offensive attack heading into the postseason.

The Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks’ pickups of Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins addressed not only their only glaring need — lack of an experienced fourth-line center — but also brought added depth on their wings.

Those moves by the Flyers and Canucks should solidify their positioning atop their respective conferences.

The Boston Bruins picked up the skilled offensive blueliner they’d been seeking all season in Tomas Kaberle from Toronto, who so far appeared to fit in seamlessly into the Bruins lineup.

Boston was already on top of the Northeast Division prior to acquiring Kaberle and with him on the roster, it’s unlikely their divisional rivals will be able to overtake them down the stretch.

Losing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to injury threatened to knock the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the top four in the Eastern Conference. That forced GM Ray Shero to acquire wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev to boost their offensive depth. They won’t replace Crosby and Malkin’s offensive wizardry, but it’s hoped they can provide enough scoring to prevent the Pens from sliding down the standings, as well as perhaps some skilled help for Crosby if he returns to action before the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals landed an experienced second line center in Jason Arnott and a puck-moving defenseman in Dennis Wideman via trade, as well as veteran winger Marco Sturm via waivers.

Currently sitting fifth in the Eastern standings, the Capitals have struggled offensively this season and the additions of Arnott and Sturm (if these oft-injured forwards can stay healthy) plus Wideman’s contribution from the blueline could provide a welcomed boost of experience and leadership to help this club get back on track.

Barring injuries, the aforementioned clubs aren’t likely to fall out of playoff contention, so their recent moves were merely to add depth both to secure higher positioning in the playoff standings and for a lengthy postseason run.

But it’s the teams jockeying for the final playoff berths in both conferences on which the recent spate of trade activity could have the most impact over the remainder of the season.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks entered deadline day clinging to one of the final berths in the Western Conference. Their addition of Michal Frolik from Florida in early February failed to provide any substantial offensive boost, and they’ll hope acquiring defenseman Chris Campoli from Ottawa will address their need for experienced blueline depth.

The Los Angeles Kings desperately needed a first line scoring winger if they’re going to nail down a playoff berth, so the acquisition of Dustin Penner from the Oilers couldn’t have come at a better time. The Kings were jostling with eight other clubs for one of the four final postseason spots in the West and if Penner can mesh well with first line center Anze Kopitar, it could be just what this club needs to move ahead of the pack.

The 12th-place Columbus Blue Jackets sat only five points behind the Kings and the additions on deadline day of winger Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto from the Coyotes could provide sufficient depth to perhaps leap-frog over teams like Minnesota and Nashville into a playoff spot.

Returning to the Eastern Conference, injuries ravaged the Montreal Canadiens’ defense corps this season, prompting management to add James Wisniewski in late December, then Paul Mara from Anaheim and Brent Sopel from Atlanta in February to fill the gaps. Unfortunately, those moves left little to deal with to address their lack of size at forward.

The New York Rangers sit seventh overall in the East but entered mid-week only one point ahead of the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes and three up on the ninth-overall Buffalo Sabres.

All three clubs made moves but those by the Rangers and Sabres could have the most impact.

The Rangers addressed their need for a hard-shooting defenseman to anchor their power play by acquiring Bryan McCabe from the Florida Panthers while the Sabres added winger Brad Boyes from St. Louis in hopes he can provide a much needed lift to their offensive attack.

If those moves should pan out, it could potentially squeeze the Hurricanes, who swapped veteran forward Sergei Samsonov for gritty defenseman Bryan Allen, out of the running.

Meanwhile, the faltering Atlanta Thrashers made several moves in the days leading up to the trade deadline as well as on the day itself, including a four-player swap with the Boston Bruins that secured them winger Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart but so far, those dealings did little to slow their slide in the standings.

Having dropped to 11th overall and six points out of eighth, it appears their recent moves may have come too late to save their season.

The major four-player deal on Feb. 20 in which the St. Louis Blues shipped former first overall pick Erik Johnson plus checking center Jay McClement to the Colorado Avalanche for scoring winger Chris Stewart and promising blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk won’t have any significant impact upon the playoff hopes of either team.

Both were already out of the running when they made that swap, which was made more for the future rather than getting back into the Western playoff chase.