When St. Louis Blues players said their goodbyes to Oskar Sundqvist before boarding the plane for their next game, it marked the latest departure of many from the group that won the Stanley Cup in 2019.
Only 10 guys remain who played in that Stanley Cup Final. The Washington Capitals have nine players left from their 2018 championship team. Just five remain from the Penguins team that won Pittsburgh’s second consecutive title in 2017.
While the back-to-back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning loaded up at the trade deadline looking for a three-peat, St. Louis, Washington and Pittsburgh all made moves in hopes of recapturing some old magic to go on another deep playoff run.
For the Blues, it meant shipping out Sundqvist to upgrade on defense with Nick Leddy. The Capitals brought back Marcus Johansson, whom they traded away the summer before winning the Cup, while the Penguins shuffled out two roster players to add winger Rickard Rakell.
Pittsburgh, in fact, has changed its entire front office since the back-to-back titles, Washington is on its second coach since its Cup win and yet it’s St. Louis that might offer the biggest contrast. The Blues have just two players back from their championship defense and over the past three years have transitioned from a big, heavy team that got through the playoffs by physically wearing down opponents to one that can win with skill, speed and offense.
“I just think the balance of the team is different,” coach Craig Berube said. “From the Cup year, we move the puck better, I think, in the neutral zone. We move the puck through the neutral zone better, and in the offensive zone we score a lot of goals.”
Rakell has twice scored more than 30 goals in a season and gives the Penguins a significant offensive upgrade from Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese, who went to Anaheim with a draft pick and a prospect.
“We know we have a good team,” Pittsburgh GM Ron Hextall told reporters. “We just wanted to add a piece — but it had to fit.”
That’s how Washington GM Brian MacLellan felt about Johansson, who played his first seven seasons with the Capitals and still has eight teammates from that time around. Johansson even started his second tenure with the Capitals on the first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“He knows where he’s going, he knows how to get around and he knows everybody in the room, and that’s a completely different feel from walking into a locker room where you don’t know anything, you don’t know anybody and you don’t know how to get to the rink,” coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of familiarity with that. Sometimes that’s like walking in some old slippers: You know what you’re doing. You’re comfortable.”
When Barry Trotz coached for Washington, he liked to say the team was comfortable being uncomfortable. That fits for the Blues, too, especially after adding a veteran with previous (if different) Cup-winning experience in Leddy.
GM Doug Armstrong cited Leddy’s long runs in 2013 when Chicago won it all, 2014 when the Blackhawks reached the Western Conference final and the past two years when the New York Islanders made the East final as an added benefit for St. Louis come playoff time.
“Experience is everything,” Leddy said after his first morning skate with his new team. “The more experienced guys are, I think the more comfortable you feel in those situations.”
GOALS OFF BROADWAY
Two NHL teams have a pair of players ranked in the top 10 in goals this season: the Edmonton Oilers with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid — and a couple of Nashville Predators forwards.
Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene rank seventh and eighth in the league, trying to top each other seemingly every game, sometimes every period. The two, playing on the same line as Ryan Johansen, each scored two goals Monday night in a 6-3 win at Anaheim.
“We’re both having the best years of our career right now, and it doesn’t matter that part of it,” said Duchene, who at 34 goals is one back of Forsberg. “The competition is great.”
They have plenty of help carrying the scoring load this season. Captain Roman Josi, the 2020 Norris Trophy winner, leads all defensemen with 75 points during the best offensive season of his career.
“Jose pushes us too,” Duchene said. “Jose has been packing up the points, and I think we’re all competitive with each other but in the right way where we push each other to be better and elevate.”
Josi is on pace to become the NHL’s sixth different defenseman with a 100-point season. He would be the first since Brian Leetch’s 102 in 1991-92.
The combination has helped the Predators win seven of their past 10.
The 33 trades made on deadline day were an NHL record. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was traded on deadline day for the first time, with Marc-Andre Fleury going from Chicago to Minnesota. He was one of 54 players traded, with a record 28 draft picks changing hands.
ALL-FEMALE ‘NHL TONIGHT’
The NHL Network on Tuesday aired the first all-woman edition of “NHL Tonight” — its flagship studio show — with co-hosts Jamie Hersch and Jackie Redmond and analyst Kendall Coyne Schofield. The network has done an all-woman edition of “NHL Now” in each of the past four seasons.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Predators visit the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday in a game between teams fighting for spots in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.
Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 46; Assists: Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), 65; Points: McDavid, 93; Ice time (active players): Brent Burns (San Jose), 26:20; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 32; Goals-against average: Frederik Andersen (Carolina), 2.06; Save percentage: Igor Shesterkin (N.Y. Rangers), .936.
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker and Will Graves contributed to this report.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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