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'It's a deep sigh of relief': With the trade deadline past, it's back to business for the Capitals

'It's a deep sigh of relief': With the trade deadline past, it's back to business for the Capitals

ARLINGTON, Va. -- After taking a 3-0 lead on Tuesday, the Capitals watched as the Winnipeg Jets came storming back to tie the game at 3-3. Suffering from a prolonged slump since the end of December, the game was unfolding into another ugly loss for a team that, despite its talent, just could not seem to find its way. This time, however, the collapse was halted. The Caps did not lay down and managed to battle to a 4-3 shootout win.

While blowing a 3-0 lead is nothing to celebrate, the team showed more resiliency than they have shown for two months and forward Garnet Hathaway knew why.

“It's after the trade deadline,” he said. “The guys in this room are the guys that we're going to win with. So that's the mentality right now, we've got to stick to our guns and play to our identity.”

The trade deadline is a time of uncertainty for many players around the league, many of whom don’t know when they wake up on Monday morning if they will still be playing for the same team by 3 p.m. or suddenly have to uproot themselves and their families.

That uncertainty is not just limited to each individual, it can affect an entire team.

“I think with everybody in here, I would say there's definitely a lot of guys probably have a good feeling, 'OK I'm not going to get traded or I am getting traded,'” center Nic Dowd said. “But I'd say the underlying issue is, I hope they don't bring anybody in that's like myself. That's probably what everyone's kind of looking like. As soon as they see 'Washington Capitals trade for' you're like, 'oh, who is it?' and 'is he my position?'”

“I think that players will very rarely discuss the fact that it's bothering them or they're thinking about it, but they're only human as well,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “I think it's a deep sigh of relief for players and now we're ready to move forward knowing this is our group and this is what we're going with.”

Washington is a team with its sights set on a Stanley Cup. That meant they were a team looking to add. But even with the majority of players knowing they would not be moved, the deadline still brings with it uncertainty; uncertainty over where you stand in the lineup, uncertainty over which teammates will still be around after the deadline, uncertainty over what the team will ultimately look like at 3:01 p.m.

Once the deadline passes, however, that distraction is gone and suddenly a team can regain its focus knowing now is the time to focus on the task at hand.

“Now we know that there isn't anymore moving parts,” Reirden said. “Sure, we're going to have to deal with injuries or any other issues, suspensions or different things that go on. That's hockey. But, for the most part, this is our group that we believe in and we think has a really good chance. It's a different vibe after. I can tell you that for sure.”

“The trade deadline pretty much is just kind of a distraction a little bit for everyone,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “So once that's kind of out of the way, there's a sense like it's back to focusing on this final stretch before playoffs. Every team, they're set for the rest of the season. Every team's trying to make their push for the playoffs so there's kind of that sense like, here we go. This is it.”

That certainty also brings with it a sense of unity.

Nothing can replace the bonding that happens between teammates over the course of a full 82-game season, but after the trade deadline has passed comes the realization that this is the team. Whatever happens from here to the postseason and beyond is going to happen with the players who are now on the roster.

There are no more reinforcements coming.

“This is our team, this is who we're going with,” Jensen said. “It's time to bear down and put yourself in as best position as possible to compete in the playoffs.”

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Who won the NHL trade deadline in the Metropolitan Division?

Who won the NHL trade deadline in the Metropolitan Division?

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone and the Metropolitan Division was very busy. How did they all do? It's report card time.

Here's a look at how each team in the Metropolitan Division did and how things stack up with the deadline now in the rearview mirror.

NOTE: I am defining "deadline deals" as any trade in the month of February and I am also only including trades with a significant impact on the NHL roster.

Carolina Hurricanes

Trades

  • Acquired prospect Joey Keane from the New York Rangers in exchange for forward Julien Gauthier
  • Acquired forward Vincent Trocheck from the Florida Panthers in exchange for forwards Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark and prospects Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie
  • Acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for prospects Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson and a fourth-round pick
  • Acquired defenseman Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers in exchange for a first-round pick

Thoughts: Caroline robbed Florida. They gave up two players on expiring contracts and two mid-level prospects for a really good Trocheck who the Panthers soured on for some reason. That was one of the best trades of the deadline, but I am really low on what Carolina did overall because the big need for this team was goaltending and that was even before both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer got injured. The news Monday is that both goalies are out with "longer term" injuries and Carolina did nothing to address it, other than add two defensemen. When you look at what it took to pry Robin Lehner away from Chicago, it sure seems like that's a deal the Hurricanes could have gotten done if they had used the assets they gave up to acquire Skjei and Vatanen. Maybe when you win a game with a Zamboni driver in net, you begin to think defense is more important than goaltending.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Trades

  • Acquired a seventh-round draft pick from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Markus Hannikainen

Thoughts: The injury to Seth Jones is a backbreaker. This team could not afford to throw assets around just to make the playoffs when there is no real hope of any deep run and it didn't really make sense to sell either considering what the team has battled through just to stay in contention. They were smart to stand pat.

New Jersey Devils

Trades

  • Acquired prospect David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick from the New York Islanders in exchange for defenseman Andy Greene
  • Acquired prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round draft pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Blake Coleman
  • Acquired a conditional fifth-round pick from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward Wayne Simmonds
  • Acquired prospects Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson and a fourth-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Sami Vatanen

Thoughts: The Devils got a pretty decent haul for what they were willing to part with. They are in a weird position where they are a few years into the rebuild meaning this is not exactly a strip it down scenario. New Jersey now could potentially have three first-round draft picks in 2020 and they still kept Kyle Palmieri.

New York Islanders

Trades

  • Acquired defenseman Andy Greene form the New Jersey Devils in exchange for prospect David Quenneville and a second-round pick.
  • Acquired forward J-G Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional first, second and conditional third-round pick.

Thoughts: A fading Islanders team desperately needed to add some offense. Pageau is a really good player, but general manager Lou Lamoriello paid a king's ransom for him. Sure, they extended him, but that is still a high-price. Also, while Greene fills a need for defense in the wake of the injury to Adam Pelech, it sure seems like the Islanders could have used more of a puck-mover.

New York Rangers

Trades

  • Acquired forward Julien Gauthier from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Joey Keane
  • Acquired a first-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Brady Skjei

Thoughts: The Rangers had one goal at the deadline and that was to dump salary. They will have $7.5 million worth of dead space on the cap next season so saying, hey this team is close to a playoff spot, we can let it ride! was not really an option. Moving Skjei was a surprise as he is only 25 years old, but they had to do something after deciding to re-sign Chris Kreider.

Philadelphia Flyers

Trades

  • Acquired forward Nate Thompson from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick
  • Acquired forward Derek Grant from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for AHL forward Kyle Criscuolo

Thoughts: The Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL so perhaps they made the right call by not making any major moves, but I don't think the additions of Grant or Thompson really make them that much better. If you think they were already better than Pittsburgh and Washington OK, then they made the right move with only minor tweaks. To me, I still see them as being a step behind both teams atop the division. The Flyers are red-hot right now, but in a seven-game series, I still give the edge to their Metro rivals.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Trades

  • Acquired forward Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Calen Addison and a first-round draft pick
  • Acquired forward Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks for a third-round draft pick
  • Acquired forwards Evan Rodrigues and Connor Sheary from the Buffalo Sabres for forward Dominik Kahun

Thoughts: The trade for Zucker was a great, great move. He is a top-line player and the fact that he is signed for another three years after this season takes the sting out of having to give up a first-round pick and a top prospect. But it is possible to tinker too much with a roster and that's what I think the Penguins did here. For a team that has dealt with so many injuries, they may not care about adding too many bodies, but the Penguins added four forwards in less than a month. What are the odds all four are able to fit seamlessly into the lineup?

Washington Capitals

Trades

  • Acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a second and a third-round draft pick
  • Acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a third-round draft pick

Thoughts: The team needed scoring depth which Kovalchuk should theoretically provide, though his role in Washington will be much closer to what it was in Los Angeles than in Montreal. Dillon is a good, physical defenseman who makes the defense better, but the biggest hole on the roster was right defense and the Caps did not address that. If the team enters the playoffs with Nick Jensen or Radko Gudas playing a top-four role, what was the point?

And the winner is....

Pittsburgh

The Zucker deal makes them the team to beat from the division heading into the playoffs. They did more than they needed to on Monday and some of those deals will turn out to be busts. But overall, they bolstered their top line and look just as dangerous offensively even with the loss of Jake Guentzel. If they go on to win the Cup, the trade for Zucker will prove to be one of the pivotal moves of the entire season.

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That time new Caps player Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a power play and pointed at Sidney Crosby in the penalty box

That time new Caps player Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a power play and pointed at Sidney Crosby in the penalty box

The Washington Capitals traded for forward Ilya Kovalchuk on Sunday to help add some offensive depth.

There's lots to be said about what Kovalchuk could potentially provide the Caps, but in the wake of Washington's 5-3 win over the rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday perhaps the best introduction for Caps fans to the newest forward is a memory from back in 2006.

You may find this hard to believe, but Sidney Crosby used to rub some of his opponents the wrong way. In a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Thrashers on Jan. 6, 2006 -- Crosby's rookie season -- Crosby was called for his second penalty of the game as he slashed Kovalchuk. Then on the resulting power play, this happened:

“He takes those stupid penalties all the time,” said Kovalchuk. “He’s an 18-year-old kid, and he can’t play like this. He starts yapping about his teammates in the newspapers … I don’t know, he should play really hard on the ice and keep it at that.”

Yeah, Kovalchuk should fit in just fine in Washington.

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