The weekend ended up being more than a warmup for the NHL trade deadline, with the Penguins getting things revved Friday night and that momentum carrying over the next couple of days, and throughout the Eastern Conference especially.
Although the defending champs probably snatched the deadline’s top prize in former Senators center Derick Brassard, the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets made their presences felt on the market by the time Sunday came to a close.
First, Boston general manager Don Sweeney pulled off the addition of 33-year-old winger Rick Nash, sending quite the package to the rebuilding Rangers: center Ryan Spooner, winger Matt Beleskey and defenseman Ryan Lindgren, plus the Bruins’ first- and seventh-round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Nash is a pending free agent this summer, so that’s quite the give from the Bruins, who are probably at least a year ahead of schedule with their rise to Eastern Conference prominence. Nash had just 18 goals and 28 points in 60 games this season for New York.
Toronto is actually a point ahead of Boston in the Atlantic Division standings, with the second-place Leafs having won nine of 10. Their pickup of Tomáš Plekanec could be interpreted as a victory, too, even though the 35-year-old pivot isn’t what he used to be.
Toronto relayed forward Kerby Rychel, defenseman Rinat Valiev and a second-round 2018 pick to the Canadiens to get Plekanec, whose point production has fallen steadily over the past two seasons. He has 24 points (six goals) in 60 games this season. However, the Czech pivot remains a solid two-way player with respectable on-ice shot ratios.
Finally, the Jackets started to bolster their roster for what they hope will be a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, acquiring center Mark Letestu as part of a three-way trade with the Oilers and the Predators. This will be the second Columbus stint for the 33-year-old Letestu, who played for the Jackets from 2011-15.
The right-handed center — who started his NHL career with the Penguins — had eight goals and 19 points in 60 games for struggling Edmonton, but holds some value on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circles, where he’s won 54 percent of his draws this season. Columbus has a two-point lead over the Islanders for the East’s second and final wild-card spot.
To get Letestu, the Jackets passed a fourth-round 2018 draft pick to Nashville, who in turn flipped 24-year-old Swedish winger Pontus Åberg to the Oilers, Åberg has appeared in 52 NHL regular-season games over the past two seasons, contributing three goals and 10 total points. He put up five points (two goals) in 16 playoff games for the Predators last spring.
With three of their competitors in the East adding players this weekend, how will the Penguins and Jim Rutherford handle Monday’s deadline?
Pittsburgh Hockey Now will have comprehensive coverage of the developments leading up to 3 p.m. Eastern time Monday, with Shelly Anderson reporting from Penguins practice while Dan Kingerski and myself will be holding a Facebook Live deadline show from 11 a.m. to approximately 3:30 p.m. from Leon’s Billiards in Wexford!