Trades juice up arms race in deep Metropolitan Division

Trades juice up arms race in deep Metropolitan Division
Montreal Canadiens' Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates after scoring during overtime period NHL hockey game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Metropolitan Division was already the deepest and most competitive in the NHL.

Now the race to the finish is getting juiced up.

Nearly every Metro contender made a move ahead of Monday’s trade deadline to gear up for the playoff push. The first-place Washington Capitals got it started by acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk, the Pittsburgh Penguins answered by getting fellow veteran winger Patrick Marleau from San Jose and the New York Islanders got a major reinforcement in the form of center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

And they weren’t alone. The Carolina Hurricanes got immediate help by trading for Vincent Trocheck, and the Philadelphia Flyers made two depth forward moves by getting Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. Even the New York Rangers, whose recent hot streak put them within striking distance of a playoff position, kept forward Chris Kreider in the fold with a seven-year extension rather than dealing him away.

Only the Columbus Blue Jackets hadn’t — yet — gotten in on the action.

With seven teams in contention for four or five playoff spots, the arms race is on.

The Islanders traded conditional first- and third-round picks and a second to Ottawa for Pageau, who could be an ideal fit by adding offense. The Islanders rank 22nd in the league in goals per game, which probably won’t cut it when trying to compete with the high-scoring Capitals, Penguins and Flyers.

Washington and Pittsburgh each spent only a third-round pick to get a veteran looking to win the Stanley Cup for the first time. Kovalchuk joins a potent attack led by fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marleau will be a sentimental favorite with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

“Patrick is a player who can play anywhere in our lineup,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He’s a good two-way player, provides leadership and will be a good fit with our team.”

Carolina paid the price of two roster players and two prospects for Trocheck, who has two more years left on his contract. Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said the former Florida Panthers forward “brings elements of skill and competitiveness that fit the mold of the style we want to play.”

Forwards Derek Grant and Nate Thompson are perfect for the Flyers’ mold as big, tough competitors who provide some needed depth. With Pageau’s price tag set so high, Philadelphia gave up only two fifth-round picks and a prospect to solve their need for centers and add size.

“They have always been a team that has had that confidence in the teams that they are hard to play against,” Thompson. “Over the last few years, they have added speed and skill, but even their skilled guys are hard to play against and play with that snarl and I think that is something that you always think about when you play against the Flyers.”