3 deadline pickups making the biggest immediate difference for their new teams

by Mar 20, 7:57 PM

Every now and then a big trade at the NHL deadline can catalyze a team on the path to a Stanley Cup, or at least a berth in the finals. 

The '94 Vancouver Canucks would've never donned Cinderella's slipper without the puck-moving excellence of deadline acquisition Jeff Brown. The '06 Oilers don't even sniff the finals that year had they not acquired goaltender Dwayne Roloson before the deadline. Perhaps most memorably, the Los Angeles Kings acquired Jeff Carter before the 2012 deadline and powered to a Stanley Cup victory in dominant fashion that very season.

Looking over the early returns from some of 2014's deadline deals, are there any examples of teams that look to have struck gold like Kings general manager Dean Lombardi did in 2012? The short answer is very probably not, but let's look over the three deadline acquisitions that have had the biggest immediate impact...

#3 Ales Hemsky, Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators forward Ales Hemsky has been a point per game player since he was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for a couple of mid-round picks at the deadline. In seven games, Hemsky has seven points and has found instant chemistry with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek on a quality secondary scoring line. 

Some of that offensive output is likely to prove ephemeral, however, as that line has converted on roughly 13 percent of even-strength shots. But the early returns from Hemsky's acquisition go beyond the stat sheet.

Consider that Senators captain Jason Spezza's shot attempt differential has been noticeably improved since he began to play with Hemsky on his wing. The Senators captain was controlling 50.9 percent of on-ice shot attempts going into the deadline, and is up at 52.2 percent since. 

But the bigger impact might be to draw attention away from Ottawa's best line of Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur. Turris, Ryan and MacArthur's attempt differential has exploded since the deadline, as the top Senators line has gone from controlling roughly 51 percent of shot attempts at evens before the deadline to north of 55 percent in the six games since.

Six games is a minuscule sample, of course, but the early returns for the Senators have been auspicious. Unfortunately, Ottawa is quickly running out of road to make a late push for a playoff spot, but based on the chemistry that Hemsky and Spezza have found and the impact of a potent second-line on the success of Ottawa's primary forward group - general manager Bryan Murray would be wise to re-sign Hemsky this summer.

#2 Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings

Has Dean Lombardi done it again? Obviously it's too soon to know for sure, but the early returns would suggest that Los Angeles has done more to augment their side ahead of the postseason than any other credible contender in the National Hockey League. That's a scary thought for the other teams in the Western Conference.

Though they play a restrained, conservative style that quite probably suppresses on-ice shooting percentage, Los Angeles is the NHL's foremost puck possession juggernaut. They were before the Gaborik trade, and they've remained so in the two-and-a-half weeks since. 

But the Kings have become even more potent from a puck possession standpoint since acquiring Gaborik. Gaborik has skated primarily with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, and his impact on Kopitar's underlying numbers seems particularly significant. Kopitar was controlling north of 60 percent of shot attempts prior to the deadline, but he's been closer to 65 percent in the two weeks since. 

There may be something else going on here, as Gaborik and Williams are lagging behind Kopitar's stellar performance. But the top-end of the Kings roster - including both of Los Angeles' top defensive pairings, and Kopitar - has seen their numbers spike appreciably since the Gaborik acquisition. 

The Kings as a team have seen their shot attempt differential improve from 56.5 percent to 59.7 percent since the deadline. That big of an improvement might not be sustainable, but it certainly looks like Gaborik has given the Kings an extra gear to work with.

#1 Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

Repatriated Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo has been impenetrable since his return to South Beach the day before the 2014 NHL trade deadline. 

Oddly enough Luongo's hot streak has been largely missed by the hockey world at large. Perhaps it's because Sunrise, Florida isn't exactly a rabid hockey market, or maybe it has more to do with the Florida Panthers being well out of the playoff picture - but the relative anonymity must be a relief for a player who seemed to be constantly in the midst of something controversial during his Vancouver tenure.

Regardless of whether or not Luongo's lights out performance over the past couple of weeks has been given sufficient attention, he's made easily the biggest immediate impact of any player who changed hands at the deadline. 

Consider that Florida was 29th in the NHL in even-strength save percentage on the day they acquired Luongo from Vancouver, and were 30th in the NHL in even-strength save percentage with the score close. Luongo has pretty much instant stabilized the Panthers net, however, and is stopping .942 percent of total shots at even-strength and .946 percent of even-strength shots with the score close so far on his second tour of duty with the Panthers.

How big of an improvement are those figures for the team from Broward County? Well, for the season Panthers' goaltenders were stopping .911 percent of total even-sterngth shots and just .905 percent of even-strength shots with the score close. 

Against the San Jose Sharks last week Luongo stopped 52 of 54 shots leading the Panthers to a surprising victory over the Western Conference juggernaut. Mid-way through the third period, Luongo made a big save on Logan Couture and continued battling on the rebound even though he'd lost his mask. 

It's probably worth noting that Luongo is the only thing to defeat the Sharks in regulation in the month of March. It's also worth noting that this is the type of performance that no Panthers goalie was capable of as recently as January.

If Luongo can just provide the Panthers with modestly above average goaltending next season - and he's a solid bet to do it - Florida should challenge for a playoff spot in the Flortheast next season.

Stats in this piece sourced from timeonice.com and NHL.com

Feature photo courtesy of Robert Mayer / USA TODAY Sports

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