Philadelphia, PA – Of all teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets provided this season's most surprising trade moment.
In the days leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline, it was a couple of marquee NHL franchises like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins making the most noise, but the low-profile Blue Jackets managed to steal the thunder in the end with their trade for sniper Marian Gaborik.
While big-market teams usually dominate the headlines on the final day of trading, for a change Columbus grabbed the spotlight for one of the little guys.
The Blue Jackets managed to pick up Gaborik from the New York Rangers for forward Derek Dorsett, center Derick Brassard, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round pick. That's a low price to pay for a proven goal scorer, although Gaborik is in the midst of his worst season since he was a rookie with Minnesota back in 2000-01.
Even if Gaborik is a shadow of the player who reached the 40-goal mark three times during his career, this move makes so much sense for Columbus, a club shooting for just its second playoff appearance since it joined the league during Gaborik's rookie season.
More than a decade since that expansion season, Columbus is still trying to prove itself as a viable NHL franchise, and adding a name like Gaborik for a stretch run at least works as a solid public relations move, a gesture that shows the club is serious about its future.
At best, Gaborik, who scored 41 goals in 82 games last season before posting just nine markers in his first 35 games of 2013, is more than capable of putting together a few strong weeks to get the Blue Jackets back to the postseason. The 31-year-old Slovakian did have to waive his no-trade clause to join Columbus, so it seems like he's ready to roll up the sleeves and do some of the heavy lifting on offense for the Blue Jackets.
The Rangers, meanwhile, shed themselves of Gaborik's $7.5 million salary cap hit, which lasts through next season before the winger is eligible to hit free agency again. The trade doesn't help New York's struggling offense, but neither was the highly paid Gaborik, so it's a situation where the Rangers decided to cut their losses. New York's addition of Ryane Clowe from San Jose on Tuesday also may have hastened Gaborik's departure from the Big Apple.
This is the second major trade between the two franchises in less than a year. Last time, it was the Blue Jackets selling off its high-priced asset -- forward Rick Nash -- for a handful of serviceable, but unspectacular pieces. While that trade from last July stood as one of the final major moves made by previous general manager Scott Howson, the deal for Gaborik is the first impact deal made by new GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who took over the role for Howson in February.
"Our team is excited," said Kekalainen of landing Gaborik. "We're adding a piece that we needed ... a player that's scored 40 goals. He's a great athlete."
Also, a sign of hope for the future, the Blue Jackets finally parted ways with goaltender Steve Mason on Wednesday, sending the 24-year-old former Calder Memorial Trophy winner to Philadelphia for fellow netminder Michael Leighton and a third-round draft pick in 2015.
Mason was the main reason Columbus qualified for its one playoff appearance in 2008-09, turning in a stellar rookie season for the Jackets. However, Columbus was held back by Mason in recent years while it waited for him to produce an encore to that first season. Of course, the repeat performance never came and Mason finally became expendable with the emergence of Sergei Bobrovsky, a former Flyer, in net this season.
Columbus' deal for Gaborik didn't make the club overnight Stanley Cup contenders, but for a franchise that has barely registered on the NHL radar since its inception, it's about a significant, and unlikely, a deadline move as we could've expected.
TOP DEADLINE WINNERS:
It's pretty simple to name this year's trade deadline winners thanks to Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero, who was the NHL's busiest man over the past week.
Shero turned a Penguins team that was already a strong Stanley Cup contender into a potential juggernaut by adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen to a team that already (when healthy, anyway) featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
Meanwhile, after losing out to Penguins in trade bids for both Iginla and Morrow, the Bruins finally managed to land an impact forward in Tuesday's deal for ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr.
The Bruins acquired the 41-year-old winger for a pair of forward prospects and a conditional second-round pick at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and Jagr could wind up meaning more to Boston's Stanley Cup chances than either Iginla or Morrow mean to Pittsburgh's. After all, the Pens already were a prolific scoring team with a potent power-play attack before making those recent trades, but Boston, a defense-first team if there ever was one, was in need of a top-six forward.
The flurry of deals made by Pittsburgh should keep the Pens as the obvious team to beat in the East, but Boston's deal for Jagr could be the fix for the Bruins' only major flaw.
In the West, the Blackhawks made a solid move for depth by acquiring veteran centerman Michal Handzus from San Jose on Tuesday, but Minnesota made an even stronger addition on Wednesday by luring forward Jason Pominville away from Buffalo. With the offseason moves for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter proving their value this season, the Wild saw an opportunity to challenge the Blackhawks for West dominance this spring and Pominville gives them a better chance at doing that than most of the conference's other teams.
The Canucks -- Minnesota's main competition for the Northwest Division title -- traded for centerman Derek Roy in a move that could help Vancouver make another serious run at the franchise's first Stanley Cup title. Also, deciding not to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo could pay off even bigger for the Canucks this spring.