The Blue Jackets are all in, while the Senators chose to invest in the future.
The Hurricanes also aim to contend, and the Penguins and the Canadiens don’t want to be counted out.
While the Lightning committed to its roster and allowed the trade deadline to pass without a transaction, other teams made moves of various degrees, some of which could impact Tampa Bay down the stretch.
Let’s look at the moves by the Lightning’s most likely first-round partners: Carolina, Columbus, Montreal and Pittsburgh are all within two points of each other.
If the season ended Tuesday afternoon, the Lightning would play the Hurricanes to open the playoffs.
Carolina didn’t make any true deadline moves (except to shore up its AHL depth), but did add Nino Niederreiter on Jan. 17. At that point, the Hurricanes were flirting with also-ran status. Niederreiter added an immediate scoring boost with seven goals in 15 games. As team, Carolina has 56 goals with him in the lineup.
The Hurricanes elected to hold on to Micheal Ferland, a pending unrestricted free agent to whom the Lightning was connected early. Once Carolina started moving up the standings, it seemed likely it would hold on to its power forward and make its own push.
The Lightning played the Blue Jackets four games ago, but Columbus is now almost an entirely different team. No one in the league made the kind of moves the Blue Jackets did.
The Jackets sit third in the Metropolitan, but are only one point ahead of Carolina and Pittsburgh. General manager Jarmo Kekäläinen went all in with five trades in the five days before the deadline.
Columbus not only kept Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, pending UFAs who haven’t given any indication of re-signing, but also picked up two more pending UFAs in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa. That could work out as an investment in the future (though Columbus isn’t left with much in the way of 2019 draft picks), but is definitely an investment in the right now.
Additionally, the Blue Jackets added depth with defenseman Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid in goal.
With 20 games left in the season, there’s plenty of time for change. Right now, though, it looks like the Lightning has a lock on first in the Atlantic (and the Presidents’ Trophy), while Boston and Toronto will be two and three (in whichever order). That leaves the Canadiens fighting for a wild card spot.
The Canadiens were relatively quiet as the deadline approached. Montreal made a few smaller moves, adding a couple of fourth liners in Jordan Weal and Nate Thompson.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said the asks were too high for Duchene, according to TSN’s John Lu. Ottawa reportedly wanted one of its biggest prospects in Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Ryan Poehling.
So, the Canadiens improved in a small way to make the playoffs while preserving their future for a later, deeper run.
The Penguins are tied with Carolina in points, but would not make the playoffs if the season ended today because of a tiebreaker. Pittsburgh is six points ahead of Buffalo in the wild card chase.
The Penguins may be one of those teams to get worse by the nature of what those around them did.
Pittsburgh stayed relatively quiet, just adding defensemen Erik Gudbranson (from Vancouver) and Chris Wideman (from Florida). Neither is considered a significant add. It also added Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann from the Panthers on Feb. 1.
Gudbranson and Wideman help the Penguins’ needed blue line dept. Both Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin were injured during Saturday’s Stadium Series game, though early reports indicate short-term absences.
The Penguins need an uptick in the last 20 games to make a run in the playoffs.
The Lightning is one of four teams to do nothing in the month leading up to the trade deadline. Tampa Bay is almost a lock for the President’s Trophy, but that’s not the goal in mind.
Julien BriseBois said he didn’t see a move that gave the team a better chance than it has now. He feels good about the way the Lightning has naturally addressed its own holes.
Did the Lightning get worse relative to the teams in the conference and the moves they made? Difficult to say, but Boston (Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle), Washington (Carl Hagelin, Nick Jensen) made moves, and Toronto acquired defenseman Jake Muzzin weeks ago. The Islanders stayed put, but play a frustrating style.
Still, the Lightning hold a 15-point lead on Calgary in the league standings and a 19-point lead on Boston, it’s closest conference rival.
Looking at possible Cup contenders in the Western Conference, Nashville, San Jose, Vegas and Winnipeg all made moves. The Predators have been sinking lately, but look for a boost from Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds. The Sharks added forward depth and a third scorer in Gustav Nyquist. Mark Stone rounds out an already good first line for Vegas. The Jets added the second-line center it needed in Kevin Hayes.
Teams make gambles in February, but may have to wait until June to see the payoff.