With a wild trade deadline in the books and playoffs on the horizon, now begins the season of hope for many NHL teams. Deadline buyers hope they’ve strengthened themselves enough for the final push. Teams that stood pat believe they already have the right mix to finish strong. And teams on the bubble are already playing desperate hockey, hoping one last hard charge is all it takes to get in.
It’s been done before, and it can happen again. Here are the best post-trade deadline surges of the last four seasons.
1. 2009-10 Detroit Red Wings (19 GP, 15-2-2, 32 points)
This isn’t the first year people thought Detroit might finally miss the playoffs. In 2009-10, the Red Wings were in 8th spot and one point away from falling out of the playoffs at the deadline. They were coming off consecutive runs to the Stanley Cup final, and the thinking was their aging squad didn’t have enough gas to keep up. To make things worse, general manager Ken Holland’s only move was to deal Ville Leino to Philadelphia for prospects instead of young players who could play right away. But the Wings were saving their best for last. Detroit went on a 15-2-2 tear to end the season and cruised into the playoffs in 5th spot in the West.
2. 2010-11 Washington Capitals (19 GP, 15-3-1, 31 points)
This was the year Washington went for broke at the deadline, loading up with Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm on forward and Dennis Wideman and Scott Hannan on the back end. It worked, because the Caps jumped from 5th at the deadline to 1st in the East after a 15-3-1 stretch run through 19 games. Still, it wasn’t enough to get the Capitals past the second round of the playoffs.
3. 2011-12 Pittsburgh Penguins (20 GP, 15-4-1, 31 points)
The 2011-12 edition of the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. They didn’t need to. The Pens were in the middle of an 11-game winning streak propelled by Evgeni Malkin’s second straight Art Ross Trophy season. The 4th place Penguins earned 31 points in the home stretch but never could unseat the division-leading New York Rangers. Sidney Crosby returned from his concussion woes in April, only to see his Penguins lose to the hated Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.
4. 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres (21 GP, 14-4-3, 31 points)
Call them the poster boys of the late-season push, because the 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres had one of the best post-deadline runs of anyone. The Sabres went 14-4-3 after acquiring Brad Boyes at the deadline and clambered over Carolina and the Rangers to go from 9th to 7th in the East. Boyes scored 5 goals and 19 points through 21 games with the Sabres to help them make the playoffs. That was the last time Buffalo made the post-season, and the way things are going there these days, it’ll be a before they get back.
5. 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks (19 GP, 15-4-0, 30 points)
The Canucks seemed to have a date with destiny in 2010-11. A scary Vancouver team got even scarier when GM Mike Gillis acquired Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins at the deadline, and the Canucks won 15 of their last 19 games heading into the playoffs. With the Cory Schneider-Roberto Luongo controversy only just getting awkward and a Game 7 Stanley Cup final loss still a few months away, this run may stand as the high water mark for many Canucks fans for years to come.
6. 2012-13 Washington Capitals (12 GP, 10-1-1, 21 points)
Is there a better team down the stretch than the Washington Capitals? Alex Ovechkin and and company always seem to turn on the jets right when they need to. Last year, they went an incredible 10-1-1 to finish the season and had knocked the hapless Winnipeg Jets off the top of the Southeast Division by season’s end. The Caps also benefited from some terrible divisional opponents, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes won only three games each after the deadline.
7. 2012-13 St. Louis Blues (14 GP, 11-3-0, 22 points)
Remember that time Jay Bouwmeester actually made the playoffs? For the first time in his career, ‘JBo’ helped a bubble team make the post-season when St. Louis acquired him on Apr. 1. The Blues were 9th at the trade deadline and went on an 11-3-0 run that vaulted them into the 4th playoff seed by season’s end. Bouwmeester stabilized the Blues’ back end and gave up-and-comer Alex Pietrangelo a steady defense partner to lean on.
8. 2009-10 Washington Capitals (19 GP, 12-2-5, 29 points)
This should have been Washington’s year. The Caps were the top team all season and they only got better down the stretch, racking up a 12-2-5 record after the deadline to earn them 121 points and the President’s Trophy to boot. Ovechkin’s Caps were white-hot when they hit the playoffs. Then they hit a brick wall named Jaroslav Halak in the first round and were unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens.
9. 2008-09 St. Louis Blues (19 GP, 13-4-2, 28 points)
The St. Louis Blues didn’t do a whole lot at the 2009 trade deadline. They’d done their work in November when they landed Carlo Coliacovo and Alexander Steen from Toronto for Lee Stempniak. The two ex-Leafs fit in perfectly with a young, rebuilding Blues team and, led by Chris Mason in net, the upstart Blues got better as the season went on. St. Louis was in 12th spot at the deadline and won 13 games down the stretch to grab the 6th seed in the West and their first playoff appearance since the 2004-05 lockout.
10. 2010-11 Anaheim Ducks (19 GP, 14-5-0, 28 points)
Things weren’t working in Anaheim at the 2011 trade deadline. The Ducks were in 11th place, one point out of a playoff spot but with three teams just ahead of them. Ducks GM Bob Murray did a lot of wheeling and dealing in February, acquiring pests Maxim Lapierre and Jarkko Ruutu, repatriating ex-Duck Francois Beauchemin and picking up Dan Ellis for goaltending insurance. It was mostly tinkering, but it worked. Anaheim picked up 28 points in its last 19 games and snagged 4th seed in the West.