The 2011 National Hockey League trade deadline appears to have arrived earlier than scheduled. The deadline is slated for February 28, 2011; however, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs finally pulled the trigger on the deal that had been in the making for two years.
As everyone is aware, Toronto shipped defenseman Tomas Kaberle to Boston and received Boston's first-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, a conditional selection in the same draft, and minor league forward, Joe Colborne, who was Boston's first-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli pulled off another trade later that day with the Atlanta Thrashers. Moving forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart to the Thrashers in exchange for forward Rich Peverley and minor league defenseman Boris Valabik.
Those deals came three days after Chiarelli sent the club's 2011 second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for forward Chris Kelly. Chiarelli is very familiar with Kelly's career from when he was an assistant general manager in Ottawa.
All three trades have been examined and re-examined as to which teams won the deals and which teams gave up too much in each trade. Other pundits are speculating on whether the Bruins are positioned better in the run to the Stanley Cup.
Time will provide the answers to those questions. Making immediate arguments in trying to answer such questions are really moot, aren't they? We all must wait and see how it all plays out for the remainder of the season and in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
What needs to be looked at is how do the deals affect the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference overall and does the road to the Stanley Cup go through Boston?
In making the deal with Toronto for Kaberle, Chiarelli was able to take a struggling team's best defenseman. The Maple Leafs will need to find another defenseman who can step up and provide the skills Kaberle possesses. Do the Leafs have someone who is ready to take over where Kaberle left off?
Captain Dion Phaneuf is a veteran and the leader of Toronto. He is a big, physical defenseman, who is an average puck mover. Luke Schenn seems to be the player who may be able to move into a more prominent role. He is in his third season in the NHL and has the potential to become one of the premier rearguards in the NHL, but the 21-year-old needs a couple more seasons before that can come to fruition.
In all, Chiarelli made a shrewd move. His Bruins hold Toronto's first-round selection in this summer's draft. Toronto is entrenched in the bottom five teams in the Eastern Conference. Chiarelli has all but ensured another top five pick in the upcoming draft for Boston and at the same time made it apparent the Leafs will not be challenging his club for the top of the Northeast Division for the foreseeable future.
In obtaining Chris Kelly from Ottawa, Chiarelli took advantage of the major overhaul the Senators are undergoing. The Bruins GM saw a need for a hard-working, focused, veteran forward who knows what it takes to play for the Stanley Cup.
Kelly was a member of the 2007 Senators squad that faced Anaheim in the Stanley Cup finals. As we know, Ottawa did not win the Cup, but it gave Kelly the hunger to return to the Finals and the knowledge of what it takes to get there. He joins Mark Recchi and forward Shawn Thornton as the only Bruins who have made it to the Stanley Cup's championship round. Recchi, of course, has two Stanley Cup rings while Thornton earned one as a member of that Anaheim team that defeated Kelly's Senators.
With Ottawa acting as sellers in this trading season, Chiarelli was able to take advantage of the Senators commitment to rebuilding. Surely, Boston will not be challenged for Northeast Division supremacy from the Sens for a season or two, if not longer.
Boston's boss went outside of the division with the Peverley deal. From Atlanta's point of view, this deal made sense because head coach Craig Ramsey is very familiar with Wheeler and Stuart, after having coached them in Boston as the Bruins' assistant coach before taking over the Thrasher's reigns at the beginning of this season. Boston's Chiarelli made the transaction in order to clear salary cap space and in doing so was able to acquire a relatively unknown (to Boston fans) forward in Peverley and replace Stuart with a young, huge (6'7", 250 lbs), highly aggressive defenseman in Boris Valabik.
Of the three deals, Peverley may become the key to Boston's future success. He is known around the NHL as a shifty winger who goes into the "dirty areas" in front of the opponent's net and can pounce on rebounds to score timely goals. He comes to Boston with 56 goals in 253 career games. However, 15 of those goals have been scored on the power play, four have come while shorthanded and 16 have accounted for his team's victories.
Peverley has the talent and ability to score big goals. He also brings 88 career assists for a total of 144 points. Peverley has not had the opportunity to play for a team that can score goals in bunches, after having spent his career in Atlanta and Nashville. He joins a Boston team that is second in the Eastern Conference in goals scored. No doubt Rich Peverley will provide the offense necessary to keep the Bruins at or near the top in that category.
The Bruins are now positioned to be atop the Northeast Division, not only this season, but for several seasons to come. The goal for all teams is to finish in the top four of the conference to obtain home-ice advantage for part of, or all of, the playoffs. Boston is now capable of doing this.
Other Northeast Division teams may be feeling the heat and may pull the trigger on a deal or two with the expectation of catching up to the Bruins. Montreal is one team that may be forced to do such a thing. The Canadiens are built on speed, but they are a small team and that may not provide success should the two archrivals meet after the regular season ends.
Prior to going to market, the Bruins were constantly looking in the rearview mirror to see what Montreal was doing night in and night out, with hopes that the Canadiens would not catch them in the standings. In bringing in Kaberle, Kelly and Peverley, the boys in black and gold may not need to worry about the bleu, blanc et rouge any longer.
All has been quiet on the western New York front. The Buffalo Sabres have not been involved in any trades yet. The Sabres are not rumored to be making any deals, but as the deadline approaches they may also begin to look to get bigger and faster with the hopes of catching up to Boston next season.
Buffalo currently resides in third place in the Northeast Division. They are 13 points in arrears of the Bruins. Those 13 points have the Sabres in ninth place in the conference trailing Carolina by just four points. Buffalo management may look to swing a home-run deal that could propel them into the playoffs this season.
The Bruins can now focus their attention to catching the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers, with the intent of entering the playoffs as kings of the East. Tampa Bay and Philadelphia may try to make a minor deal or two. They each seem satisfied with their rosters and why not? They have been at, or near, the top of the Eastern Conference throughout the 2010-2011 season. Both clubs appear primed to go deep into the playoffs.
Washington seems to be content to go into the playoffs with the squad it has. The Capitals could use goaltending help, but puckstoppers will come at a premium price and it is doubtful Caps management would be willing to shake up its club to acquire a premier netminder. The Bruins, as mentioned, has the offensive firepower to compete with the Washington Capitals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the wild card in the conference. Captain Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely with a concussion and fellow superstar forward Evgeni Malkin has been lost for the season and the playoffs with a knee injury. Look for the Pens to be active at the deadline. This club is not as dominant as it was before the injuries to its two stars, and without a healthy Crosby, the Penguins may not be much of a threat to the new-look Bruins.
The Bruins organization will let everyone debate who were the winners of the trades, the only winning that matters to them, and their fans, is winning the Stanley Cup. In making the three deals, Peter Chiarelli has taken the Boston Bruins from being a team that could possibly win a playoff round or two and turned them into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
This could be the year that the road to the Stanley Cup does indeed go through Boston.