Wednesday, March 4, 2009

NHL Trade Deadline 2009

As trades roll in throughout the day the CSJ will provide updated commentary in live blog format, so check back in for continuing analysis--or sarcasm and ridicule, depending on the nature of the deals.

But before I get started dissecting all of the trade deadline movement, I wanted to address the current landscape of the league. Most of the hype surrounding the NHL season has focused on three teams who have compiled incredible records: Boston, San Jose and Detroit and rightfully so. Those teams have been atop the standings all year long and have each had lengthy streaks of near-perfect hockey and have positioned themselves as the overwhelming favorites heading into the playoffs.

The Bruins went 39-8-6 through February 5th and could end up with as many as seven 20 goal scorers up front and another two defencemen with 15 or more goals. The Sharks played 21 home games before they finally lost in regulation on January 15th and were an astonishing 36-6-5 through their first 47 games. They are blessed with two of the top 10 scorers in the game, an All-Star goalie, and a big, mean, talented supporting cast that leaves no holes in their line-up.

However both squads may have peaked too soon. Boston has won only 3 of their last 11 games while San Jose lost 6 of 7 in early February and neither is a sure bet to regain their form with only a fifth of the season remaining.

The defending champion Red Wings have finished with at least 108 points every year since 1998-99 and are well on their way to topping that total again this season, but Chris Osgood has been brutal in net and although the Wings have proven they don't necessarily need elite goaltending to win the Cup, asking Ty Conklin to front the load may be too much. Also working against the Wings is the fact that no NHL team has been able to repeat as champions in more than a decade.

In my opinion, that leaves the New Jersey Devils as the team to beat. Zach Parise is playing superstar level hockey, carrying his team at times while consistently putting up numbers and scoring crucial, game-changing goals. Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac are having career years, and Patrik Elias is on track to top 30 goals and a point-per-game for the first time in five years. Brian Gionta has rebounded following two disappointing campaigns, Brian Rolston is a known quantity, and Brendan Shanahan provides depth scoring and Stanley Cup experience. And their glue guys, the Maddens, Pandolfos and Holiks are close to the best in the business.

As a whole the defence doesn't have a lot of sizzle because there aren't those big-name players they've had in the past: no Stevens, Niedermayer or Rafalski, but the entire unit is confident, dependable and comfortable with their roles. Colin White (in his 9th season with the Devils) and Paul Martin (his fifth) set the tone and both have developed into solid players who rarely give an inconsistent effort. Johnny Oduya, the 27 year-old Swede who arrived two years ago, is another beautiful find for the NHL's best GM Lou Lamoriello, while Andy Green, Mike Mottau, and the newly acquired Niclas Havelid round out a group that shouldn't be taken lightly.

And then there is a certain star goalie who is about to become the all-time winningest netminder in NHL history and just surpassed 100 career shutouts. After missing four months with a shoulder injury Martin Brodeur will be fresh heading into the playoffs for the first time in...well, ever. With three Stanley Cup wins already to his credit, that is positively terrifying news to the rest of the league.

When you add in the superior coaching of the unheralded (or ignored?) Brent Sutter, who should be a final candidate for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team, and the upward trajectory the Devils find themselves on, New Jersey now finds themselves in the pole position.

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