Florida Panthers right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (10) skates on the...

Florida Panthers right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (10) skates on the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

Florida got Vladimir Tarasenko, so the New York Rangers traded for Alexander Wennberg and Jack Roslovic and Carolina went out and got Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Colorado reshaped its roster with Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Duhaime and Sean Walker, so defending champion Vegas answered with one move bigger than the last: first Anthony Mantha, then Noah Hanifin and finally the stunner that beat the NHL trade deadline buzzer: landing All-Star forward Tomas Hertl.

After the dust settled, nearly every Stanley Cup contender made a significant addition before Friday's trade deadline and the league is no closer to having a clear-cut favorite than before the frenzy began. All the activity sets up what should be a wide-open chase for the title once the playoffs begin in six weeks.

“There isn’t a Boston of last year that had an ungodly amount of points and (then) the rest of the league,” St. Louis president and general manager Doug Armstrong said. “So, if you were in that market and you were competing, you would have to think you have a chance to win a Cup and you maybe put a few more chips in.”

The Golden Knights, as they've done for years as hockey's most prominent high-stakes gamblers, put all their chips in to try to go back to back. The defending NHL champions sent top prospect David Edstrom and their 2025 first-round pick to San Jose for Hertl, a two-time All-Star signed for six more seasons after this one.

Word of that move vaulted Vegas into a tie with the Panthers and Edmonton for the best odds — 7-1 — of winning it all, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Avalanche, Hurricanes, Dallas, Boston and the Rangers are not far behind but none of them higher than 11-1 to hoist the Cup.

“If you’re a team that’s contending for the Cup, the players want your manager, your management team to be aggressive, assertive and get as many good players in as you can," Washington GM Brian MacLellan said after trading Kuznetsov, Mantha and defenseman Joel Edmundson. "It’s a long haul, and teams load up for the playoffs.”

Members of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrate after they defeated...

Members of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrate after they defeated the Florida Panthers 9-3 to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. The photo was honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors as best sports feature photo of 2023 at their annual winter meeting. Credit: AP/Abbie Parr

Armstrong, whose Blues won the Cup in 2019 a year after MacLellan's Capitals, also pointed out his colleagues take risks giving up multiple draft picks and prospects in hopes of celebrating a championship in June.

“You can't predict how the playoff matchups are going to go,” Armstrong said. “The teams in the Pacific and the teams in the Central loaded up and two of them are (going) to play each other in the first round. That’s just the way it is. And so there’s going to be somebody just as unhappy as teams that didn’t make the playoffs.”

But the swing is still worth it, especially for teams that did not give up a first-round pick. Only five were traded this week (including one that could only be No. 31 or 32) and seven total this season.

“It didn’t seem like the market was there for first-rounders,” MacLellan said. “A lot of the contending teams were the same teams last year, too, that spent a lot of draft capital and prospects.”

Retired NHL defenseman Darren Helm is joined by his wife...

Retired NHL defenseman Darren Helm is joined by his wife and daughters in dropping a ceremonial puck during a ceremony to honor Helm's career before the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Denver. Detroit Red Wings left wing J.T. Compher, far left, and Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, far right, took part in the face off. Helm played most of his career with the Red Wings before winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Avalanche in 2022. Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

Tampa Bay's Julien BriseBois agreed, particularly that a lot of the top teams in the East spent big at the 2023 deadline. The Golden Knights, the only team to trade two first-rounders and an elite prospect, made moves as much to stem the tide of losses that have dropped them into a wild card spot as to set up another long run.

Vegas will have plenty of competition just to get through the West — not only from Colorado, Dallas and Edmonton but also Winnipeg, a dark horse that quietly got better by acquiring winger Tyler Toffoli and defenseman Colin Miller from New Jersey to go along with center Sean Monahan, who has been with the Jets since early February.

“You look at all the teams, it feels like everybody’s trying to stack up and do whatever they can to win, so it’s not going to be easy,” Toffoli said. “It’s always tough, and anything can happen in the playoffs." ___

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow, AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds and AP freelance reporters Denis Gorman and Mark Didtler contributed.


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