Yesterday Brian Burke gave this warning to Toronto blood-chasing journalists, for their future reference: He's not typically active on the trade deadline. To paraphrase Burke, if you're looking for moves at the deadline (when prices are high), then you must have made a big mistake in the construction of your team. (He also took credit for rebuilding the Ducks in less than five years, which conveniently ignores the assets that were in place when he took over Anaheim, but whatever.)
But if you look at the Atlantic Division in the past few days, that's not the impression you get. The Atlantic's two best teams were the most active around the trade deadline, while the other three teams' lack of activity would, on the surface of Burke's theory, give you the impression that their teams were already quite well-constructed. And that just isn't so.
The reality, of course, is that there is no steadfast rule about deadline behavior. Befitting a league of 30 teams and (more or less) 30 different markets, it all depends on the context around a given team. So here's a review of what the Islanders' Atlantic brethren did around the deadline, and what it tells you about where those teams are.
Pittsburgh: Shero Strikes Again
Let it be said again that Ray Shero rocks. For the third year in a row, Shero has added a significant piece to help his lottery-loaded team's playoff run. For a team blessed with generational stars at center, the question has been who to (cheaply) ride on their wings. It says something that they rely on two pre-rebuild Snow-era Islanders free agents to relieve the pressure on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That worked out last year, but by god why push your luck? So acquiring Alexei Ponikarovsky for a prospect and a surplus defenseman was just what they needed.
Acquiring Jordan Leopold for a 2nd? A little more debatable, but Leopold should fit Dan Bylsma's system well.
New Jersey: Lou Supports His Jacques
You can't really capture the Devils' deadline strategy without including the early-strike move to get Ilya Kovalchuk. How that works out remains to be seen, and Loophole Lou certainly gave up some assets for this flashy rental. But what's clear is Lou sees the Eastern threat posed by Cup champs Pittsburgh and conference-leading Washington and is making a run to capture one more Cup before Martin Brodeur becomes an inflammatory junior coach like Patrick Roy -- or whatever it is legendary goalies do when their body gives out.
Yesterday, Lou acquired Martin Skoula (the same depth defenseman flipped to Toronto in the Ponikarovsky trade) for a 5th-rounder. This is simply a depth insurance move, and since coach Jacques Lemaire had Skoula and liked him -- Lemaire even made something defensive of Marc-Andre Bergeron at one time -- it works for them.
Philadelphia: No Credit? No Problem. No Goalie? No Problem. No Cap Space? Problem.
They waived Riley Cote, they put Ray Emery on IR, they were mentioned for goalie upgrades, and they made noise about Nashville's Dan Hamhuis, whose cap hit would've eaten up the space those two created. In the end, they had no cap and no assets to make a deal. Like, any deal. It wasn't for a lack of looking, it was for a lack of flexibility and forethought going into last season and this. This is what Daniel Briere at eight years of a $6.5 million annual cap hit gets you. (Meanwhile, gotta hope Chris Pronger's uninspiring Olympic pylon performance wasn't an omen.)
Now you enter the playoffs with an extremely well-compensated and loaded team backed by Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. Good luck with that.
Short Island Smurfs: If Only Glen Sather had a Big-Market Payroll
I'm still ashamed that I actually bought Glen Sather's contention back in the '90s when he complained about what he might do as Edmonton GM if he had a big purse to play with. A decade later, we've seen just what Sather can do, and it ain't pretty. It has us reconsidering just how much of the Oilers dynasty was the pure luck of having your owner buy The Great One and drafting Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and friends.
The Rangers acquired Anders Eriksson, who is 35 and joining his 8th NHL team. (No, I didn't realize he was still in the league either.) It must have killed Sather to not be able to do something big on deadline day, when he traditionally makes a splash. There were even hallucinogenic rumblings that he might grab Pavol Demitra to pair with Slovakian pal Marian Gaborik. But in the end, I guess Sather decided the Rangers are ready to compete as is. Or, he decided that he's stuck with less than $1 million in salary cap room, so he can't do squat.
Islanders: Sort of Remodeling over Here
Yeah, so the Islanders' only move was to cash in Andy Sutton -- who played a total of 135 games for the Isles during his 3-year contract -- for a 2nd-round pick. If you're doing that, obviously your season isn't really hopeful, or you're in the midst of something much bigger thanks to past mistakes or past regimes. Let's not talk about it.
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Being in the Atlantic Division: It has its advantages.
Today's game preview for Islanders-Thrashers will be up later in the day.