Stanley Cup-contending Rangers, Panthers, Avalanche and Oilers make pre-deadline day trades

Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt (37) celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt (37) celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Stanley Cup contenders aren’t waiting until the NHL trade deadline day to shore up depth for what they hope is a long playoff run.

The league-leading Florida Panthers got deeper on the wing on Wednesday by acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko from Ottawa, Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers added a pair of centers in Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick from Anaheim, the New York Rangers traded with Seattle for a player they coveted in Alexander Wennberg and the Colorado Avalanche loaded up by getting defenseman Sean Walker from Philadelphia and center Casey Mittelstadt from Buffalo in separate deals.

Colorado traded a top-10 protected 2025 first-round pick and center Ryan Johansen to Philadelphia for Walker and a fifth-rounder in 2026 and got Mittelstadt in a one-for-one trade that sent defenseman Bowen Byram to the Sabres.

The Panthers sent a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to Ottawa for Tarasenko, and the fourth-rounder would upgrade to a 2026 third-rounder if Florida wins the Stanley Cup this season. Ottawa also is getting a third-round pick from Florida in 2025, while the Senators are retaining half of Tarasenko’s salary.

“Vladimir is a highly skilled and experienced scoring winger who provides our club with another dynamic offensive option as we embark on the remainder of our season,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “We are excited for him to join our team, and to compete for the Stanley Cup once again.”

The Rangers sent a 2024 second- and a 2025 fourth-round pick to the Kraken for Wennberg, considered one of the top pending free agent centers available. Seattle is retaining half of Wennberg’s salary.

Henrique was another top free agent, and Edmonton’s deal for the center was far more complicated, sending their first-rounder this year and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2025 to Anaheim and a 2026 fourth-rounder to Tampa Bay for retaining a quarter of his salary. The ’25 pick becomes a fourth if the Oilers win the Cup, which stands better odds now after getting Henrique and Carrick.

“Both are quality individuals and character players that spent more than seven years with us, and they will serve the Oilers well,” Ducks GM Pat Verbeek said. “For us, this was a situation driven by contract status, and it was our desire to add another high draft pick to our core going forward.”

After word of the trades emerged, Florida became the Cup favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook, followed by Edmonton and Carolina.

The moves came less than 24 hours after the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights got the ball rolling by trading with Washington for 20-goal scorer Anthony Mantha. More moves are expected before 3 p.m. EST Friday deadline.

After taking on Johansen’s contract, which has $4 million annually left on it through next season, the Flyers immediately put him on waivers. GM Danny Briere, whose team is in third place in the Metropolitan Division and an unexpected playoff contender, said “everything’s on the table” for Philadelphia at the trade deadline as he looks to build for the future.

One of those things is a new contract for Walker’s former defense partner, Nick Seeler, a favorite of coach John Tortorella who went on injured reserve Wednesday after taking a puck off his left foot during a game earlier in the week. The Flyers and Seeler agreed to terms on a four-year deal that begins next season and is worth $10.8 million, according to a person familiar with the deal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it had not been announced.

Extension talks were not happening between the Senators and Tarasenko, who had a full no-trade clause as part of his $5 million, one-year contract that allowed him to choose his preferred destination. Another pending free agent who signed just for this season, Washington’s Max Pacioretty, is in the same boat.

Tarasenko, 32, has 17 goals and 24 assists in 57 games with Ottawa this season.

And selling him on Florida likely was easy. Tarasenko owns a home in South Florida, has a relationship with Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and now joins a team good enough to win a title.

He has tons of playoff experience — 97 games in 10 years — and helped St. Louis win the Stanley Cup in 2019 with 11 goals in 26 games.

“Florida is probably a little bit different echelon than us right now,” Detroit Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said when asked about the Panthers’ trade for Tarasenko. “Florida is a really good team. What they’ve been doing of late is nothing short of extremely impressive.”

The Avalanche have been up and down lately, and getting Walker and Mittelstadt may just be the start of the excitement in Denver. The Avs are soon expected to get versatile winger Valeri Nichushkin back from the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, and there’s even a chance captain Gabriel Landeskog returns for the playoffs after missing a second consecutive season following knee surgery.

“The best trade deadline asset we can add is Val Nichushkin,” Mikko Rantanen said before the trades were made. “He’s looking good, I think, and he’s feeling well, so just a matter of time when he can get back to playing.”

Mittelstadt, 25, is on the verge of having a career year. He was the Sabres’ leading scorer with 47 points, including 14 goals — one short of matching his career high set last season.

Walker, a right-handed shot, gives Colorado more stability on the blue line as it tries to win the Cup for the second time in three years. Him coming off the board could lead teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs to circle back on other defensive options, such as Joel Edmundson of the Capitals.

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AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, and AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Sunrise, Florida, and Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

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