Though this year’s NHL trade deadline was somewhat unremarkable compared to previous years, several teams are reaping the benefits of the acquisitions they made. Olli Jokinen has been a scoring machine since arriving in Calgary. Erik Cole has been nothing short of spectacular in Carolina, and his brilliant play has ignited linemate Eric Staal, helping the Hurricanes get back into the playoff race. Sean Avery has reminded his critics just what a great hockey player he can be when he focuses his energy solely on the sport, and he has contributed on the score sheet all the while proving he is still the best in the league at getting opponents off their game. But perhaps the best acquisition of any team leading up to the trade deadline was one the Penguins got by trading away defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks and getting gritty scoring winger Chris Kunitz in return.
Kunitz has been a force all over the ice since he arrived in Pittsburgh at the end of February, and his willingness to go to the tough areas to put the puck in the net has been exactly the shot in the arm the anemic Pittsburgh Penguins needed to get their game in order. Kunitz’s arrival has also brought Crosby’s game to life, as he finally has a winger he can work with in the offensive zone, something that he has sorely missed since the loss of Marian Hossa to free agency this past summer. Kunitz, for his part, has 12 points in 9 games since joining the Penguins, and has been an integral part of helping the Pens make the jump from a non-playoff team to one currently sitting in 5th in the Eastern Conference. With the way they’ve been playing lately the Pens are once again entering into the conversation when it comes to possible Stanley Cup contenders.
When the dust finally settles on the 2008-09 NHL season I have a feeling that this largely unheralded trade will be regarded as the best deal of the season, and if Kunitz and Crosby continue to have the chemistry they’ve shown early on, this deal could continue to pay huge dividends far into the future.