Deadline Day in the National Hockey League was oddly quiet and pretty much a bust until the final hour. Then everything erupted and Cory Conacher will now get a trip back to his college home sooner than he expected.
The biggest movers and shakers were the Columbus Blue Jackets, who acquired struggling New York Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik in a multi-player deal aimed at pushing them into the playoffs for just the second time in their history. The most interesting deal in these parts, however, came when the Tampa Bay Lightning surprisingly agreed to part with Conacher, the former Canisius College star, in exchange for Ottawa Senators goalie Ben Bishop.
Conacher, who is second in the NHL in rookie scoring, instantly becomes Ottawa’s leader in goals (9) and points (24). And he makes his debut with his new team here Friday night in First Niagara Center against the Buffalo Sabres.
Just before leaving Tampa Wednesday night to fly to Boston to join the Senators, Conacher told The Team 1200 AM in Ottawa he was thrilled to learn his first game with the Sens would be here.
“I was counting down the days when I was with Tampa,” Conacher said. “The Tampa team plays Buffalo in about a week [April 14] and now I get to play them sooner. So it’s going to be a lot of fun to go to Buffalo to see some old friends from school, and my old coach [Dave Smith] as well. It’s going to be a fun little trip there, a fun start to my Ottawa career and hopefully we get a win there.”
“He’s a little dynamite,” said Sens GM Bryan Murray. “Fast, quick, good playmaker, offensive guy. All I heard from Binghamton [the AHL affiliate] the last couple of years was this guy tearing it up and making it diffcult on them.”
Conacher admitted he was surprised to get dealt but understood the Lightning had a surplus of prospects. And Tampa needed help in goal too, something the 6-foot-7 Bishop provides. Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman laid out the scenarios for Conacher when informing him of the deal.
“I understood where he was coming from and what he had to do,” Conacher said. “It seemed like Ottawa wanted me and obviously Tampa Bay wanted Ben Bishop. Straight-up trade. It happens in this league. You accept it and look at the positives from it.”
Conacher is expected to play left wing on a line with a pair of Swedes, Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg. He picked up 12 points and eight spots in the standings with the trade, as Tampa is mired in 14th place in the East and Ottawa entered Wednesday firmly entrenched in sixth.
“He adds speed and creativity form the left side,” said Murray. “He’s not afraid to get his nose dirty around the net. He’ll take a check to make a play. We like his attitude. We like the way he’s played.”
“It’s so exciting,” Conacher said. “Ottawa is a team I’ve watched so many times when I was a young kid. I was a big fan of [Daniel] Alfredsson and [Jason] Spezza. It’s going to be neat to meet those guys and the rest of the team.”
In Columbus, the Blue Jackets made it clear they’re going for the postseason with the Gaborik deal. They sent right wing Derek Dorsett, center Derick Brassard, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 to the Rangers. So they’ve essentially almost traded Rick Nash for Gaborik in a few months. Imagine the chuckles in hockey circles if Columbus makes the playoffs and New York doesn’t.
Gaborik was a 41-goal scorer last year but has just nine this year, scoring in only six of the Rangers’ 35 games and often incurring the wrath of coach John Tortorella.
“Throughout this process our focus was to add a player who could provide a boost to our offense, improve our goal scoring and power play and we identified Marian Gaborik as the player we wanted,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He has been an elite goal scorer in this league for many years and we are very excited to have him.”
“I was surprised. I heard rumors here and there, but didn’t try to focus on them,” Gaborik said on TSN. “This is a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Blue Jackets also acquired winger Blake Comeau from the Calgary Flames for a fifth-round pick and sent goaltender Steve Mason to Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round pick and goaltender Michael Leighton.
Among Northeast Division teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs landed defenseman Ryan O’Byrne from Colorado for a draft pick and Boston picked up veteran blue liner Wade Redden from St. Louis for a pick. Former Sabre Raffi Torres went from Phoenix to San Jose for a pick.
Veteran goalies Mikka Kiprusoff and Roberto Luongo, both tied to Toronto via rumors, were not dealt. Kiprusoff indicated he’s going to retire after this season rather than leave Calgary. Luongo, meanwhile, was pulled off the ice near the end of practice in Vancouver and told he wasn’t going to Toronto or anywhere else.
So he’ll remain as Cory Schneider’s backup, with nine years left on a virtually untradeable deal that has a $5.33 million cap hit
“My contract sucks — that’s what’s the problem. I’d scrap it if I could now,” Luongo said in a stark admission to reporters.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody, no doubt. We’re obviously trying to make the best out of it and making sure that what’s best for both sides is done. Obviously, the time isn’t now, and we’ll have to wait.”