Defending Cup champs Golden Knights acquire Hertl. Hurricanes, Panthers dominate deals in the East

FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel prepares for a faceoff during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Pittsburgh, Jan. 26, 2024. The Carolina Hurricanes made the biggest splash in the league on the eve of the NHL trade deadline. Carolina acquired two-time 40-goal-scoring winger Guentzel in a blockbuster deal finalized Thursday night, March 7, with the Penguins. Guentzel was considered the top player available at the deadline. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE – Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel prepares for a faceoff during the second period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Pittsburgh, Jan. 26, 2024. The Carolina Hurricanes made the biggest splash in the league on the eve of the NHL trade deadline. Carolina acquired two-time 40-goal-scoring winger Guentzel in a blockbuster deal finalized Thursday night, March 7, with the Penguins. Guentzel was considered the top player available at the deadline. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Leave it to the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights to pull off what could be the biggest deal at the NHL’s trade deadline Friday.

After the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers slugged it out adding talent, the Golden Knights sneaked in under the deadline to land Tomas Hertl from San Jose.

In doing so, general manager Kelly McCrimmon capped a string of moves to shore up his slumping team’s roster — Vegas has lost four straight and is 2-8-1 in its past 11 — after acquiring defenseman Noah Hanifin from Calgary and forward Anthony Mantha from Washington earlier in the week.

Now it’s a matter of waiting for Hertl, a five-time 20-goal-scorer, to complete his recovery after undergoing left knee surgery last month.

“Size, power, net-front presence, he’s elite in those areas,” McCrimmon said, noting he expects Hertl to return before the playoffs. “As I told him, ‘Tomas, if you play as good with us as you did against us, we’ll all be happy.’”

Vegas also received third-rounders in ’25 and ’27 with Hertl, who is signed for six seasons beyond this one. San Jose acquired top prospect David Edstrom and a 2025 first-round pick and is retaining 17% of Hertl’s $8.14 million annual salary.

Hertl’s acquisition overshadowed a busy close to the trading period in which 23 trades were completed Friday involving 33 players and 22 draft picks. That compares with 21 trades involving 34 players and 14 draft picks moving on deadline day last year.

Two busier teams were Florida and Carolina, who met in the Eastern Conference final last year in a series the Panthers swept the Hurricanes.

After acquiring scoring winger Jake Guentzel from Pittsburg h late Thursday, Carolina kicked off the action Friday by adding center Evgeny Kuznetsov in a trade with Washington. The over-riding objective for Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell was adding more offense to a team that combined to score just six goals against the Panthers in the playoffs last year.

“Guentzel was obviously the premier goal-scorer on the market in our opinion, and the price was right,” Waddell said in a deal that included Carolina giving up a conditional first-round pick.

Guentzel has topped 20 goals in each of his past seven seasons and scored 40 twice.

Kuznetsov gets a chance for a fresh start after enduring off and on-ice struggles the past five years in Washington. The 31-year-old most recently spent a month receiving care from the player assistance program. He has since cleared waivers and demoted to the minors, with Capitals GM Brian MacLellan saying he would attempt to trade the player who led Washington in scoring during its run to win the 2018 Stanley Cup.

The Panthers followed suit. Two days after landing scoring winger Vladimir Tarasenko from Ottawa, Florida added depth and leadership in landing Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo. Buffalo acquired minor-league defenseman Calle Sjalin in a deal that provides the 35-year-old Sabres captain a chance to compete in the playoffs in what could be his final NHL season.

“I think they know it at this point that we are going to do everything we can to help them do their thing,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said of helping a team that entered Friday leading the NHL with 43 wins and 90 points, and last year lost the Cup Final to Vegas in five games.

“It’s their team. It’s their success,” he added. “But to the extent that we can help, I think the guys appreciate it. And they know that we’re all in it with them.”

The Boston Bruins became the last of the top contenders in the East to add, getting three-time Cup champion Patrick Maroon from Minnesota for young forward Luke Toporowski and a conditional 2026 sixth-round pick.

The Metropolitan Division-leading New York Rangers added blue-line depth by acquiring Chad Ruhwedel from a Penguins team that is suddenly entering a rebuilding mode. They also got center Jack Roslovic from Columbus.

In other moves:

— Winnipeg completed separate trades with New Jersey, acquiring forward Tyler Toffoli and defenseman Colin Miller.

— Nashville, which holds one of the West’s two wild-card spots, attempted to shore up its playoff position by getting forward Jason Zucker from Arizona for a sixth-rounder this year.

— Philadelphia shored up its depleted defense by acquiring veteran Erik Johnson for a fourth-round draft pick in a deal with Buffalo.

— Tampa Bay added hard-hitting defenseman Matt Dumba in a trade with Arizona.

— The Devils swapped goalies, acquiring Kaapo Kahkonen from San Jose for Vitek Vanecek. New Jersey also acquired goalie Jake Allen from Montreal for a conditional third-round pick.

Guentzel is eager to join the Hurricanes and get back on the ice, with the trade coming as he is on the verge of returning to play after missing nearly a month with an upper body injury.

“You know what the team’s done in the past and how close they’ve been,” Guentzel said. “This is a special team. They’ve got a lot of high-end players, and they’re really well-coached.”

The Los Angeles Kings were the only team among the top 12 Stanley Cup favorites not to make a significant addition over the past several weeks.

Meantime, its the Capitals and Penguins who find themselves in the unusual position of being sellers at the trade deadline after nearly two decades of dominance that began with the arrivals of Alex Ovechkin in Washington in 2004 and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh a year later. Two teams that have combined to win four Stanley Cups since are focusing on the future with both in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

“It’s a tough situation, we understand. Just enjoy playing the game and play hockey. It’s a great group here, great people around, great organization. I still believe in myself,” Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin said Friday.

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AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Tim Reynolds in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Tim Booth, in Seattle, and AP freelance writer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.

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