NHL arms race heats up as East contenders go all-in ahead of trade deadline

The New York Rangers kicked off their NHL arms race with the trade of Vladimir Tarasenko.  (Getty)
The New York Rangers kicked off a pre-door arms race in the NHL with the trade of Vladimir Tarasenko. (Getty)

Since the introduction of the salary cap in the 2005-06 season, parity has become one of the cornerstones of the modern NHL. The restriction was introduced in part to keep the big market teams from monopolizing the league through free rein and restoring a competitive balance.

And for sixteen years this principle largely worked as intended. The entire Eastern Conference force is going all-in this year – several teams fail in their bid to get Connor Bedard this summer – while the Western Conference sits idly by. The East is overwhelmed with a heated arms race, setting the stage for what could be a playoff bloodbath for the ages.

Before Monday’s games, the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers are in the NHL’s top six teams in scoring ( Vegas is ahead of New York in scoring percentage) and all six teams have either improved markedly or, in the case of the Carolinas, have the assets and ceiling space to make a major acquisition before Friday’s deadline.


Let’s start with the league-leading Bruins, who are threatening to break the all-time record. for points And winning percentage through 82 regular season games. People often like to discuss team identities, but the reality is that hockey is subject to so much random variation that these concepts are often just ideas. Boston is different.

Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo both told me earlier this month that the Bruins are proud to have mobile defenders who are encouraged to join the attack while creating wide opportunities for their hitters. Lindholm is having the best season of his career with Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy is firmly among the best defensemen in the league. And now, the Bruins have just acquired another mobile defenseman with cup experience in Dmitri Orlov, who averaged just under 23 minutes per game against the Capitals.

It cost the Bruins almost nothing. Boston acquired Orlov and depth forward Garnet Hathaway in exchange for Craig Smith, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick, and a 2024 third-round pick. Boston understands a simple concept – not all first round picks are the same! If the Bruins are confident they can win the Stanley Cup, which they should be, then the supposed 32nd pick next summer, plus a few by-picks and Smith, who never fit in with the Bruins, explains next to nothing. .

The best team in the league has become noticeably better, but the path to the final will not be easy.

Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is having a pivotal season in his tenure. Despite building teams that thrived in the regular season, six consecutive first-round losses in the postseason unfortunately defined this iteration of the roster. It’s all about going through the first round and beyond, so Dubas dug into his wallet and acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2023 first and third round pick and a 2024 second round pick. , Mikhail Abramov and Adam Gaudette. Toronto also got prospect Josh Pillar in exchange for a 2025 fourth-round pick sent to Minnesota to broker the deal, withholding 25 percent of O’Reilly’s salary.

We’ll delve into how O’Reilly handled the Maple Leafs this week, but it’s already paying immediate dividends. Playing his first four games with John Tavares and Mitch Marner, O’Reilly scored a hat-trick against the Sabers last Tuesday, and Toronto’s second line could confuse opponents with three forwards who can score and create galore with two elite throw-in players.

Marner was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, as well as a leading playmaker. On Sunday, O’Reilly was paired with Tavares and Nylander against the Kraken, and in the process, the Maple Leafs produced one of the best offensive teams in the NHL. Accari has stabilized the fourth spot, he hasn’t had a bad game with the Maple Leafs yet, and Toronto’s six have benefited from a domino effect.

One of the common themes so far is that the Eastern elite were reluctant to turn down real players, preferring instead to trade spades and prospects. Dubas said he wants to reward this year’s group, and we’re guessing many of his peers feel the same way.

On Monday, the team also added some quality elements of depth with the acquisition of defenseman Jake McCabe and forward Sam Lafferty from the Blackhawks.


New Jersey was always going to be the most interesting team at the deadline, showing up like a real contender ahead of schedule, led by dynamic Jack Hughes and playing at an accelerated pace. Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald had plenty of options even though the team only had $2 million in tight space. In addition, he had the largest pool of prospects in the NHL and could take any route they wanted.

Fitzgerald pulled off a heist for Timo Meier, considered by many to be the best player available before Friday’s deadline, by acquiring a big, talented winger (50 percent of his salary stays with the Sharks) along with an prospect. Timur Ibragimov, defensemen Scott Harrington and Santeri Hatakka, goaltender Zachary Emond and a 2024 fifth-round pick in exchange for a conditional 2023 first-round pick, a 2024 conditional second-round pick, a 2024 seventh-round pick, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Nikita Okhotyuk, Andreas Jonsson and Fabian Zetterlund.

It was reported that the Devils would not sign Meyer immediately for an extension, but who cares? There’s plenty of time for both sides to get to know each other, while Meyer’s $10 million qualifying offer looms in the distance this summer. New Jersey has received a player who is second in individual expected goals in a 5-on-5 game through Trick with natural characteristicsfirst in individual scoring chances and third in rushing, new teammates Miles Wood and Jack Hughes are fourth and fifth respectively.

Meyer is the prototype of the modern power forward, joining the Devils’ explosive offense that will provide him with excellent linemates, and at 26, he fits the team’s chronology of young, rising stars. It’s likely that the Devils will sign Meyer at the end of the season – a win makes everything easy – but even if they don’t, the opportunity cost was worth it. New Jersey didn’t need to trade Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, Alexander Holtz or Dawson Mercer to get Meyer. He retained all of his best future holdings while improving his short-term outlook. It’s a home run for Fitzgerald, but also a necessary move to keep up with the East.


Eventually, New York began an arms race. After weeks of speculation, the Rangers traded Vladimir Tarasenko, acquiring the 31-year-old winger and Niko Mikkola in exchange for a conditional 2023 first-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick, Sammy Blais and Hunter Skinner. Tarasenko may not be the player he used to be, but he was named an All-Star and certainly worthy of six minutes in the top 6. If you put Tarasenko up against bottom-six opponents, he will fire them up, and given that the Rangers tend to experiment with their lines, you’ll have plenty of time to figure out where he fits best.

Source: sports.yahoo.com

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