For once, the San Jose Sharks were basically inactive at the NHL trade deadline. Only trading minor-league forward John Livingston to the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings for a conditional seventh-round draft pick made the complete list of the season's final moves Wed., March 5.
We learned that the Vancouver Canucks were surprising sellers at the deadline, essentially dropping one team from the competition for the final wild card berth in the Western Conference. We know that Matt Moulson and Marian Gaborik joined the conference for a very low price.
We know that the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings at least addressed but probably did not completely resolve their biggest needs. We know that the Anaheim Ducks tweaked their roster and the Chicago Blackhawks actually shed a couple depth forwards.
All of this shifts the balance of power in the Western Conference. Some of San Jose's top competition at the top of the NHL made moves. The fact that the Sharks did nothing actually speaks to their depth.
The blue line could use a little more scoring but is deep enough to deal with its injuries. The return of Logan Couture and arrival of Raffi Torres gives this team two dangerous scoring lines and the best checking lines in the NHL.
Once Tomas Hertl returns and one of two capable goalies takes command in net, this team has what it takes to win the 2014 Stanley Cup...at least on paper. One can and should question their intensity and ability to win games in the Western Conference finals. If trades could change that, the many times general manager Doug Wilson has pulled the trigger in the past would have panned out.
For better or worse, these are the horses San Jose runs with—not only in pursuit of the 2014 Stanley Cup but for a couple seasons beyond. The fact that Dan Boyle has not gotten an extension is significant, but so is the fact that he was not the topic of trade talk he was last season.
Whether the Sharks needed a move or not, seeing teams around them upgrade will make their task tougher. The Kings are almost certainly a first-round foe because a second-place finish in the Pacific Division seems likely. A team that defends and goal-tends as well as the 2012 Stanley Cup champions adding one more scorer is big—they had a bigger net gain than the Jack Johnson-for-Jeff Carter trade that vaulted them to a title in the last full NHL season.
An Anaheim team giving a couple of its players one last run at a title and bolstered its blue line with Stephane Robidas—presuming he comes fully back with injury—probably awaits in the second round. On the other hand, it could be a Minnesota team that boosted its ranks as much as anyone in the NHL over the last couple days of trading.
In the Western Conference finals, the likely foe is the Blues—already the strongest team in the Central Division before upgrading a little over the final days of trading. They should have a better matchup in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs that the second- and third-place teams that will be tough on each other. If they are indeed waiting in the Western Conference finals, that could be three teams that improved at the trade deadline before the Sharks can even win the Campbell Trophy.
If they get through that, it is almost certain that they will play either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals. Both teams improved at the trade deadline.
That is why making the moves is so tempting. San Jose is a very good team that did not need improvement, but saw its chances of winning each round go down as the competition added assets.
At the same time, those moves often do not work. Pittsburgh would certainly rather have kept the picks given up last year for Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray since it did not earn them a single win after the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now the Sharks have to go out and reward Wilson's faith in them.
They will gain ground but not catch the Ducks, who have as easy a schedule as anyone the rest of the way. That and the time needed to gel with Ryan Miller will keep the Blues from earning the top seed, but not from beating out the Blackhawks for the Central Division. The Avalanche finish in third and be a couple games worse than the Sharks in the final standings, but the Wild are too far back to catch up. The final spot goes to the Dallas Stars.