Month: March 2017

Review: German Football Museum

On Wednesday, March 8th, I attended the Borussia Dortmund-SL Benfica Champions League match contested at the Westfallenstadion in Dortmund. You can read about my experience here if you haven’t already. In this follow-up post, I aim to review my visit to the German Football Museum, which occurred in the following morning.

On Thursday, with a few hours to spare, the grey weather persisting and the harbinger of a few showers, I mulled over two options: take the metro to the Westfallenpark, check the scenery and visit the Borusseum, Borussia’s museum, or, in alternative, clamp down in the brand-new building located just a few steps away, which catches the eye as soon as you leave Dortmund’s Hbf. You can guess where this is going.

The facade of the German Football Museum

Since 2015, after beating thirteen other German cities for the honour, Dortmund has the privilege of being the home site of the Deutsches Fußballmuseum (German Football Museum), established by the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (German Football Federation, DFB) with the profits of the 2006 World Cup.

While I hold no close ties or special esteem for any German club or Die Mannschaft, I’m still an irredeemable football nerd, therefore I relished the chance to visit the museum of the world’s largest single-sport federation, comprising more than 25,000 clubs and 6.8 million members. Even so, I certainly flinched at the 17€ entrance toll. The museum had a lot to live up to in order to justify the price of admission, but I definitely didn’t exit dissatisfied some three hours later.

Visitors are welcomed to the venue by a rising illustration along the escalators of German football fans from all creeds and provenances, including an exulting Angela Merkel, and you quickly reach the first floor, entirely dedicated to the national teams and the Federation’s history.

The starting point is a section dedicated to the 1954 World Cup winning team, who authored the “Miracle of Bern” to defeat the mighty Hungarians, but you soon get acquainted with a timeline describing the 117 years of the German Federation.

I was looking forward to see how they would deal with the Nazi years and came pleasantly surprised. No bleach was used and you learn in detail, with documentation and news reports, how the societal and political developments affected the structure of the sport in Germany. You can read not only about the restrictions imposed by the Nazi regime, but also about the persecutions to Jewish players, from which Julius Hirsch, a German international who would perish in Auschwitz, is the banner name.

The Tribute to the “Kaiser”

Moving on, the most memorable moments in Germany’s national team history take center stage. The 1974 World Cup title conquered on home soil against Johan Cruijff’s Netherlands. The clash with Maradona’s Argentina at Italy 90, where Franz Beckenbauer became the first man to win the World Cup both as a player and coach. The “Kaiser” merited his own tribute, shaped in the form of his iconic Number 5, but not only the greatest triumphs are celebrated in this space.

There’s an area dedicated to the “Game of the Century”, the 1970 semi-final clash in Mexico where Italy defeat West Germany by 4-3, and an amusing board remembering the polemic goal by Geoff Hurst which propelled England to victory at the 1966 World Cup Final. A forensic investigation was launched to comprehend whether the ball fell past the goal line or not, and visitors are invited to share their opinion. I voted YES, yet the NO’s advantage isn’t as big as you might think (something like 60 to 40). I suppose Dortmund gets more foreign visitors than I thought…

Investigating Geoff Hurst’s goal at Wembley in 1966

I was happy to notice women’s football gets a fair recognition in the museum, including an exhibit of the trophies won by the National team, some historical jerseys and remarks about the evolution of the female game and the success achieved by German clubs internationally.

The ladies have their due share of the spotlight

The history of East Germany’s football, its clubs and the confronts between the East and West representations, is also part of the museum and, as we move into the XXI century, the tremendous investment made by the DFB on youth academies and talent development in the early 2000’s jumps to the forefront, disembarking on an area dominated by the 2014 World Cup triumph (Remember Paul, the Octopus?).

The monumental 7-1 thumping of Brazil doesn’t get as much buzz as I would like, but I understand they have to prioritize the events on the Final against Argentina. You get a detailed breakdown of the action during the 120 minutes and Mario Götze’s tournament-winning volley, before guests are invited to a 3D video presentation.

Every aspect of the 2014 World Cup Final is dissected to the limit

This is where the heroes of 2014 run the show. The hologram of Bastian Schweinsteiger, draped in the German flag, is the first to appear, and he is soon joined by Captain Philip Lahm to reminisce on the journey in Brazil, from the first days in the seaside training camp resort in Salvador to the final at Maracanã Stadium. Mats Hümmels and Thomas Müller keep the ball rolling, with an exchange probably filmed before they became club buddies, and later Manuel Neuer, recapping his sensational sweeper performance against Algeria, and the inevitable Götze also make glossy cameos.

By this time, the former German World Cup teams have been immortalized, and the movie ends with the band chirping a cheery Christoph Kramer, who you may remember as the guy who lost his memory and had to be subbed out in the Final. I watched the German-speaking version (couldn’t wait for the English subtitles) but was still able to pick up on the banter thrown around, which resonated well with the locals.

The World Cup trophy up close

After the presentation, you’re ushered onto the ground floor to get introduced to the Jules Rimet Trophy and the Henri Delaunay Cup. Or, for the initiated, the World Cup and European Championships trophies won by the men’s national team. From then on, the focus shifts to all other facets of the beautiful game, duly enriched by tons of interactive panels and videos.

You can learn, for example, about the coaches that shaped German football and their tactical advancements, the legendary German broadcasters, the history of club football in the country, from the first competitions to the formation and emancipation of the Bundesliga, the football fans and its myriad traditions and idiosyncrasies, or the evolution of German stadiums. Before leaving, you’re allowed to explore and seat on a replica of the bus used by the reigning World Champions, and exercise on the small multiple purpose arena and adjoined play zone.

Memorabilia abounds at the museum

In short, the German Football museum is a comprehensive football experience that is sure to please travelling enthusiasts with a desire to explore, learn about or study the game. If you meet the requirements, take the plunge and I believe you’ll depart after a few hours well spent.

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Field Report: A pilgrimage to Dortmund

The list of mythical football stadiums is a short one: Wembley, La Bombonera, the Santiago Bernabéu, Camp Nou, San Siro, Maracanã, Estadio Azteca, Old Trafford. These are the ones most fans would rattle off from the top of their head and, even if you can make a case for a few more, they all have something in common. The glittering location in some of the World’s biggest metropolis, where millions of visitors can appreciate their grandiosity, indulge in their splendorous history and, eventually, find a way inside to experience a match.

That definitely isn’t the case in Dortmund, a city of 600,000 people placated on the densely populated Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, where 11M people live in an area of just over 7000 km2, smaller than Cyprus, the 162th biggest country in the world. For long, this part of Germany has been known for its heavy industry and therefore it’s a far cry from most touristic routes, with Dortmund further outshone by the likes of Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia’s state capital and a major business and financial centre, and Cologne (Köln), the fourth largest city in Germany and the main cultural hub in the province.

Nevertheless, despite lacking the charm and allure of other destinations, Dortmund is a place wholly familiar for football fans around the globe, and its Westfallenstadion an emblematic location for an outstanding, enduring sporting experience wrapped in black and yellow, the colours of the local deity, German football giants Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund or, simply, Borussia Dortmund.

With a sizeable season ticket waiting list and sell-out crowds in every match, securing an ingress by official channels to a Borussia Dortmund match is tremendously difficult for an outsider, so you might as well just pray your favourite team faces them off. As the whims of the 2016-17 Champions League draw pitted Borussia and my beloved SL Benfica in the last 16, I quickly set out to make the best of an exceptional opportunity to scratch an item off my bucket list.

This post relays my experience in the city of Dortmund and the all-around feeling of being inside one of football’s most renowned cathedrals.

Getting to Dortmund

Situated in the middle of Western Europe and not far from Germany’s borders with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, you can say that it’s more difficult to decide how to reach Dortmund than to get there. Departing from my native Lisbon, the closest options included flying directly to Düsseldorf International Airport, some 60km away, or Cologne-Bonn Airport (100km), whereas Dortmund Airport, a minor infrastructure situated 10km east of the city, is connected a few times per week with Porto. However, forecasting muddy prospects of guaranteeing a ticket in timely fashion and backed off by a relative shortage of travel options, I opted to plan for the worst and try a different approach.

Europe’s dense railway network is a major asset for travellers and that means Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam are, daily, just a few hours away from Dortmund without the need for multiple stopovers. As I had some unfinished history in Amsterdam to take care off, the dilemma sorted itself out and on the 6th of March, after two months of anticipation, I finally hopped on a plane towards the Dutch capital. An untimely strike by France’s aerial controllers delayed my departure for a few hours but, taking into account that more than a handful of flights were cancelled in the next 48 hours derailing the plans of many of my fellow Benfiquistas, I can’t really complain. Tuesday, the 7th, was spent threading the streets of Amsterdam, but the big day would soon arrive and I had to decide how to commute to my destination.

Amsterdam is linked to Dortmund by a daily bus connection (taking around 4 hours) operated by German company Flixbus, yet you should book your place in advance, online, for a reasonably price (as low as 15€) or pay significantly more as a walk-in, provided seats are still available. For this exact route, it’s definitely the most cost effective option, but the flexibility and magnetism of train travel swooped in and I foolishly (in purely economic terms) decided to take the ICE (Inter-City Express) train at around 10:30am. The convoy departing from Amsterdam Centraal Station heads to Frankfurt with multiple sojourns before and after the border, and consequently I had to make a rapid switch for another ICE at Duisburg, finally arriving at Dortmund Hauptbahnhof just short of three and a half hours after taking off from North Holland.

Pre-match ambiance and Dortmund City Center

Welcoming me and fellow Benfica fans to Dortmund was a somber day, with light rain dropping almost incessantly for most of the next 24h, the time span of my presence in town. After dropping the baggage at the accommodation, situated just a few hundred meters from the central train station, we headed to the city center via Brückstrasse, a nightlife thoroughfare occupied primarily by fast food restaurants and bars, and soon reached the main cluster of places of interest, if we can call it that.

I don’t want to slam too hard on Dortmund, especially because my stay was short, but it looked entirely insipid and dull. You’ll find the odd, bland-looking church or classical building but downtown is mostly a slab of office buildings, galleries, large banks and shopping malls, with modern, uninspiring constructions taking over premium estate. This can be partially explained by the severe bombings suffered by Dortmund during World War II, specifically in 1945, when, reportedly, 98% of the buildings in the inner city got destroyed.

Dortmund

The Markt, the most lacklustre central plaza I’ve seen, contains an official Borussia Dortmund store to cater to the desires of football fans and is also the essential point around which are located most of the establishments that were invaded by the visiting fans. With beer flowing freely, a lively atmosphere was brimming around here as the afternoon advanced but, as soon as you strolled around, it quickly dissipated into the gloomy spectre that mirrored the weather. Truth be told, we didn’t stagger more than a few avenues in the inner city, and the eighth largest urban center in Germany certainly has much more to see, but, unless you’re looking for a shopping spree or have a lot of time in your hands, the city probably won’t justify the visit. I guess there’s a reason Dortmund is home to such football fandom: there’s not a lot else to focus on.

Anyway, when the cacophony of Portuguese increased as match time drew closer and civilians left their work, Dortmund fans joined in on the fun and I was pleased to notice the friendly coexistence amongst the sides, with no locus of tension as far as I could see. This wasn’t exactly a surprise though, since Dortmund is a town used to greet football fans, happy to showcase tremendous hospitality, and respectful of people keen to celebrate the game and their passion. Hooligans notwithstanding, obviously. It would be great if international football could be always like this.

Benfica and Dortmund fans mingling at the Markt

Taking in the city vibe on Champions League day was something I was looking forward to, but with some 2:30h to go until kick off, it was time to head to the Stadium. A crucial task was awaiting me there, so I took the metro at Stadgarten towards the Westafallenstadion, planted 3.5 km south of downtown Dortmund

On game day, you can ride the subway by free possessing a match ticket and in 10-15 min the U45 line takes you to the “Stadion” station. When that isn’t the case, an adult ticket costs 2.70€ and the closest stop is at the Westfallenpark.

The Westfallenstadion

If there’s something I wish I could change about the trip was the match’s starting time. I would have liked to be able to distinguish the surroundings of the stadium, particularly the neighbouring Westfallenpark, but it was already pitch dark when I arrived. Nevertheless, just as you leave the station, you immediately notice a Biergarten and the locals enjoying their pre-game drink before traversing the short walk to the glitzy venue in sight, where the letters forming “Signal Iduna Park” beam on the night. By the way, I’ll keep ignoring the official designation here, since I don’t get payed to make publicity and grew up with the traditional WestfallenStadion moniker.

The intimidating venue lit up on the night

The yellow is omnipresent on the way to the stadium as the passageways are riffed with stalls serving bratwursts, pretzels and beer or selling merchandising, but my mind was somewhere else by this time. After ditching my backpack in the proper cabin (0.5€), I glimpsed the entrance for visiting fans just in time to see Benfica’s bus arrive to the rousing applause of their mantle of supporters. Once again, without as much as a cringe from the locals.

Less than two hours were left until the opening whistle, so I proceeded to frantically pace up and down the street trying to luck out. A whisper. A fortunate encounter. Some back and forth. I was finally clutching my magical paper.  Time to approach the gates, get patted down, scan the ticket at the turnstiles. Three months of uncertainty ending right there. What a marvellous feeling to hike the stairs of the biggest stadium in Germany and one of the most iconic in World football.

Opened in 1974 right beside Dortmund’s former home, the Stadion Rote Erde (which still stands under the watchful eye of its successor), the Westfallenstadiom is far from worn down, having suffered renovations on multiple occasions over the last 30 years, yet doesn’t possess the same comforts of the stadiums purposely built for the 2006 World Cup. The cement of the stands isn’t disguised, there are no glossy details, the concourses, especially on the second level, are a bit cramped due to the supporting pillars, and the food lanes difficult circulation.

The concourses. Plus a famous Benfica fan on the background.

However, there’s no shortage of toilets or food stalls, with the latter dispatching customers fast because they don’t handle cash. That’s right. You’ll have to approach the ladies carrying a banner to obtain the stadium card, which will be loaded with the amount you want and swiped when you order something. At the end of the game, you can keep it as a souvenir and/or head to the corresponding huts, located outside of the stadium, looking to be reimbursed of the remaining funds. Simple and efficient.

Six euros lighter and carrying a drink and a pretzel (Bretzel in German), I meandered for a bit before searching for my seat in sector 54 of the Osttribüne (East Stand), on the far right, top-level section of one of the central stands. The view from the sector’s entrance looked promising but I still had to hurdle up the stairs… all the way to the last row of the steep stand. From there, the design of the roof obstructs a panorama of the whole stadium, with the top of the farthest stands out of sight, yet I was still delighted. Just a dozen of seats separated my spot from the mesh enclosing more than 3,000 Benfica fans. I couldn’t have wished for better at the day’s beginning.

Benfica warms up

The stadium slowly filled up in the following minutes and the raucous visiting section dominated the noise battle until the eternal “You’ll Never Walk Alone” started blasting from the speakers and the throats of the locals. Scarfs stretched atop, teams on the ground, the spine-tingling Champions League anthem, a splendid tifo elevated from the vaunted  SüdTribüne remembering the outcome of the tie contested 53 years ago, and 65,849 fans – sold out but short of the 81,000 allowed for domestic matches – oozing the fervent enthusiasm before a decisive match in the most beautiful football competition ever. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The 90 minutes and the epic 12 in the middle

Guess I can’t just skip this part, right?

Benfica held a 1-0 advantage heading into the second leg, courtesy of Kostas Mitroglou goal in Lisbon, but the Portuguese Champions were severely outplayed at home and it wasn’t difficult to anticipate Dortmund would put the pedal down at the start to erase the deficit as quickly as possible.

To counter that, Benfica’s coach added muscle to his midfield in André Almeida, hoping that his three-man inverted midfield could close down on Dortmund’s build-up from the back three, while Thomas Tuchel opted for the aggressive 3-4-3 that controlled the proceedings in Portugal, with irreverent youngsters Ousmane Dembélé and Christian Pulišić roaming behind prolific striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

First Half

Surprise, surprise, the hosts came out roaring and it took a whole three minutes to get on the board. After Benfica’s captain, Luisão, panicked on Dortmund’s first approach and conceded a corner kick, Pulišić’s deflection on the first post encountered Aubameyang unmarked on the far side, with the Gabonese nodding the ball past the outstretched Ederson. It was a terrible start yet, as my mind wandered to a similar beginning at the QF of last year’s Champions League against Bayern Munich, Dortmund kept creating havoc in Benfica’s area, threatening a second and galvanizing the home fans.

Fortunately, the visitors didn’t fold and after the 20-minute mark finally settled down, with Nélson Semedo’s bold escapades up the right flank persuading his teammates forward. Benfica’s newfound ability to retain possession calmed down Dortmund’s electric pace and the game gradually fell into a standstill, despite a couple of openings that allowed the Portuguese to target Roman Bürki’s net and the omnipresent danger of Aubameyang and Dembélé’s darting runs on the other half.

The atmosphere and a sensational halftime

During the first 45 min, I kept glancing at the other stands to appreciate the spectacle and there’s no doubt the Yellow Wall at the SüdTribune is a sight to behold, even with the mass of people curtailed by UEFA’s stance against standing-only terraces. They may fall short of the usual 25,000 fanatical voices, but still made a whole lot of noise after ramping up efforts following kick-off. However, for all the vibrancy inside a venue whose architecture enhances sound retention, I couldn’t help to feel a tinge of disappointment regarding the support coming out from the rest of Dortmund’s faithful.

The Yellow Wall

It may not be discernible on television, but the vast majority was simply following the match as most football fans do everywhere: wheezing, gasping, heckling and, eventually, bursting when Dortmund scored. They followed the SüdTribüne’s lead on a couple of “BVB! BVB!” chants, and came to life for a few minutes after the third goal, when the home crowd exhaled, leaped from the seats and jumped in unison, shaking the building’s foundations, but not much more. Nonetheless, if you still believe in amphitheatres where 80,000 raging spectators impel their team forward over 90 minutes in a maniacal frenzy, you’re in for a letdown.

As for Benfica fans, modesty aside, we were more than up for the task, rebounding quickly from the early sucker-punch and the two quick knockout blows that would later follow, and keeping the faith until the very end. In normal circumstances, I would have already been proud of our top-notch performance during the 90 minutes of playing time (except for an unfortunate incident in the second half that was quickly dissipated), yet we far exceeded whatever expectations I could have had while the world of football looked away at the interval.

Words cannot describe what happened in those twelve minutes at halftime, with the players out of sight, television cameras shut down, few journalists on duty and many German fans away from their seats. It wasn’t a simple serenade, it wasn’t exhibitionism, it wasn’t a show of strength directed at the opposing ultras. It will go down as an utterly spontaneous, vocal love letter by 3500 devotees on a cold night in Dortmund.

I’ll forever be grateful for having been at that sacred temple in those minutes, able to assimilate every second of it. Able to experience whatever coursed through my body while I closed my eyes and belted out “Benfica, O Amor da Minha Vida” (Benfica, the love of my life) in loop until my voice started trailing off, undone by raw passion. Those twelve epic, magical minutes will live forever in the hearts of all of us, and, pardon the exaggeration, inhabit that place for a long time, attached to the cement and steel of the Westfallenstadion.

However, that riveting display couldn’t have been possible without the solemn deference by our opponents on the night and its fans. There wasn’t any intention to halt the show in those minutes where we took their house from them. No deafening tune drowning our chants. No booing. No recriminations of any sort. Just a bunch of smiling faces in awe, capturing the moment, admiring a truly special rendition and, finally, applauding the foreigners as their heroes came back into the pitch for the play to resume. Those thousands on the stands certainly headed home with vivid memoirs and increased appreciation for Sport Lisboa e Benfica.

Benfica fans put on a show during 90…105 minutes

Second half and post-match

At the break, the tie was up for grabs and the Portuguese appeared to come back from the room more determined to collect a crucial away goal that would alter the complexion of the matchup. On the 48th minute, a failed clear off a cross awarded Franco Cervi a golden chance to do just that, but his shot couldn’t puncture the yellow wall of Dortmund players that dived in desperation for a goal-saving block. Up in the stands, with a scream still stuck in my larynx, I wondered whether our ticket to the quarter-finals had just flown out of the stadium and, regrettably, time would prove I was right.

A series of corners and free kicks kept the ball around Dortmund’s box for the next five minutes as our confidence was soaring, yet it all vanished in a hurry. The hosts regained composure, encircled Benfica’s area, forged two point-blank chances where Aubameyang (in offside position) was brilliantly rebuffed by Ederson, and then dropped the hammer just before the hour mark. With the defence still reeling from another period of incessant pressure, Łukasz Piszczek solicited Christian Pulišić with a superb through ball that caught centre-back Victor Lindelöf napping, and the American teenager niftily chipped the ball over the onrushing Brazilian goalkeeper.

The visitors now needed to score to keep their hopes alive, yet Dortmund fans were barely back on their seats when the hill got even steeper. A brilliant diagonal ball by Julian Weigl met left back Marcel Schmelzer on the edge of the box, and he drilled it perfectly towards Aubameyang, who only had to tuck the ball in to secure a brace on the night.

Aubameyang was at his best on the night of Dortmund ((Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Just like that, in a couple of minutes, the sky had come crashing down on us, but 30 minutes were left on the clock and we could only escalate the vocal support to try to inspire an improbable revival. However, Dortmund soon smothered any semblance of response from the visitors, who proved incapable of knifing past the suffocating German pressure and engineer a clear-cut chance for the rest of the match.

When Aubameyang completed his hat trick five minutes from time, after a Benfica turnover in the midfield turned into a textbook counter-attack, the gap in play between the teams over the two games was expressed in the final 4-1 scoreline. The best team over the majority of the 180 minutes was, undoubtedly, Borussia Dortmund and when that happens you accept the outcome, congratulate the other side and pick up the pieces wishing to return stronger the next time around.

In the end, after the German players executed a customary routine of celebration with the Yellow Wall, both sets of fans cheered their own and applauded the performance of their opponents, both on the field and in the stands, with the utmost respect that ruled the encounter extending until the very end.

I delayed my exit from the stadium for a few minutes to avoid the masses, take it all in a bit more, check the highlights of the mindboggling happenings in the Barcelona-PSG match, and wait for the release of the rest of the Benfica faithful. Due to the swift and competent work by the German police, that didn’t take long – contrary to what happens so many times in other countries – and soon the away fans were allowed to leave the premises, free to chase a way to drown their sorrows.

With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to the Westfallenstadion and strutted, alongside my people, in the direction of the metro station and, eventually, the city centre. A change of scenery loomed the following day as my journey continued, but I still wanted to take advantage of the morning in Dortmund, so I bunked up in short order with a bittersweet pot of memories flashing ceaselessly.

This post is already way…way…way too long, but if you wish to read about my whereabouts in Dortmund the following morning, click here.

If not, I can tell you that soon after exiting the museum (spoiler alert!), I left Dortmund towards Cologne, which ended up as an inspired decision, and would later return to Amsterdam – after a 24 hour detour in Utrecht – to fly home. Unfortunately, no further sport adventures were on the cards as scheduling issues derailed my prospects of attending an ice hockey match at Cologne’s Lanxess Arena, and the Amsterdam Arena sold out for Ajax’s weekend appointment.

And that’s it for this field report. Cross your fingers for another one, hopefully sooner rather than later. Thanks for reading and making it this far!

2017 NHL Trade deadline recap: Winners and losers

The busiest period of off-ice action in the NHL regular season came and went and, all in all, it proved a major dud (dud-line?). Trade deadline day featured the fewest trades since 2000 and the number of NHL players that changed hands was also the minimum in this century, and not even the fair number of transactions that took place in the previous 72 hours could stir many emotions despite erasing popular names off the board.

The amount of teams still on the playoff bubble and/or bouncing against the cap ceiling once again curtailed the proceedings but, this time, with the expansion draft looming, general managers had another ready-made excuse to stand pat and avoid pulling the trigger on moves that could backfire and put their jobs in jeopardy. Therefore the usual parade of fringe, replacement-level players hit the headlines while teams tweaked at the margins and sell off expiring deals in return for minor assets, which probably won’t move the needle on the future direction of their franchises.

Nevertheless, at one of the major periods where executives justify their income, some did better than others setting their rosters for what lies ahead, and it’s worth analysing the performance of the major actors in the final moments of the 2017 trade season.  We’ll do winners and losers of the NHL trade deadline period, focusing on teams instead of specific players or executives, and later sweep through the rest of the league.

Winners

Washington Capitals

Calmly motoring to a second consecutive Presidents´ Trophy, the Washington Capitals had every reason to sit on the dugout while their summer moves keep paying off, with the team cruising in the top-three both in goals scored (3rd) and goals conceded (1st) and placing inside the top six in both special teams (5th on the PP and 6th on the PK). However, with a few important contributors bound for free agency in a few months (Karl Alzner, TJ Oshie and Justin Williams are the major names), GM Brian MacLellan knows he won ‘t be able to keep the band together for another year, and Alex Ovechkin may not enjoy as good an opportunity to lift a Cup on his career.

The Caps had to swing for the fences, and that’s how they landed the biggest fish in the pound, bundling a few drafts picks to secure St. Louis Blues rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk without having to surrender a roster player.

Smooth-skating defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk traded the blue(s) of St. Louis for the red of the Washington Capitals

Smooth-skating defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk traded the blue(s) of St. Louis for the red of the Washington Capitals

The best rental defenseman in the market will give the Capitals an unenviable trio of right-handed, offensive minded defenseman alongside John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, which means they will ice an elite puck moving blueliner at every occasion and can matchup if their rivals stretch the offensive weapons over multiple lines. The Caps struggled to contain the depth and speed of the Penguins during last year’s playoffs but that shouldn’t be a problem this time, whether they face the defending Champions, the NY Rangers or the Columbus Blue Jackets, who also roll out three (or four) talented forward lines. Moreover, the addition of Shattenkirk also provides a boost to one of the NHL’s most lethal power play units over the last decade, unseating Carlson to fill in perfectly for the departed Mike Green.

The 28-year-old’s time as a Capital should be short lived and he’s probably just the cherry on top for the NHL’s strongest roster, but you can’t back off when the Stanley Cup is within striking distance and no one stands closer to the target than Washington.

Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning’s time in Vancouver has been stocked full of baffling trades (Brandon Sutter and Erik Gudbransson come to mind) and a remarkable inability to identify the direction to follow (tip: it’s down, to the bottom of the ocean, if need be), but a beam of light finally reached the coast of British Columbia this year to clear the head of management, which smartly decided to not pursue the team’s outside changes of reaching the playoffs and instead took the first decisive steps towards a full-fledged rebuild.

Hence, Alexander Burrows’ spell in Blue and Green came to an end as the soon-to-be 36-year-old UFA was shipped to Ottawa and Benning was able to pry away talented Swedish winger Jonathan Dahlen. The 19-year-old has racked up points in Sweden’s second tier at a rate similar to current Nashville Predators stud Filip Forsberg and, despite knocks on his skating ability, possesses a skill set that ranks him amongst Vancouver’s top-five prospects, undoubtedly a good return for a pesky winger on the twilight of his NHL career.

Alex Burrows' 11-year stint in Vancouver came to an end on trade deadline day.

Alex Burrows’ 11-year stint in Vancouver came to an end on trade deadline day.

Later, another highly-touted young forward was added to the Canucks bare cupboard when they decided to part with Jannik Hansen, traded to the San Jose Sharks. The Danish winger had a year remaining on his deal, but his ability to shuffle up and down the lineup was bound to appeal to several playoff contenders and the Canucks took advantage, snagging a conditional fourth rounder (that converts into a first if the Sharks win the Cup) and Russian Nikolay Goldobin, who immediately becomes the team’s top forward prospect and should be contributing in the NHL before long.

Had the Canucks managed to offload Ryan Miller or another veteran, their deadline performance would have been even better, but they still received a surprisingly great bounty, especially in light of recent history.

Minnesota Wild

Not a lot of pundits expected the Minnesota Wild to reach March comfortably atop the standings in the West but Bruce Boudreau has worked his (regular-season) magic, and, in a wide-open Conference, GM Chuck Fletcher quickly noticed his team has as good a chance as any other. In the State of Hockey, opportunities like these are few and far between, so the Wild beefed up for a playoff run by acquiring the most impactful rental forward in the market, Martin Hanzal, and, almost as important, impeded any of their rivals of doing so.

Martin Hanzal's imposing frame will now be at the service of Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild

Martin Hanzal’s imposing frame will now be at the service of Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild

A first-round and two second-round picks are a heavy tally for a player with a career-high of 41 points, but Martin Hanzal brings a specific set of characteristics that can make the difference in high-stakes matches, and the Wild were able to close the deal without surrendering any of their blue-chip prospects.

A massive, burly centerman used to shutdown responsibilities that can also run a scoring line, the Czech pivot fortifies the Wild’s depth down the middle to levels unmatched by any of their opponents. Minnesota now boasts four Centers over 6 ft 2 (Hanzal, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Tyler Graovac) and Boudreau can slide Charlie Coyle back to the wing without missing a beat, completing an imposing top nine that is backboned by a solid, battle-tested defensive unit and the NHL’s best goaltender in 2016-17.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Valtteri Filppula was a salary cap casuality for the Tampa Bay Lightning, representing now the Philadephia Flyers

Valtteri Filppula was a salary cap casuality for the Tampa Bay Lightning, suiting up now for the Philadephia Flyers

On several occasions, Steve Yzerman has validated his status as one of the NHL’s shrewdest GMs and after being blindsided by an awful season and cornered by the circumstances, he once again pulled through. In a goalie market saturated, he was able to flip UFA Ben Bishop to the LA Kings, recouping a second-round pick, a consistent backup to attack the final stretch and a B-level defensive prospect while the Penguins and the Canucks had to sit out.

Meanwhile, with three key players (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin) in need of substantial raises in the summer, he dumped Valtteri Filppula’s 5M cap hit and NMC on the Philadelphia Flyers for what amounted to a swap of 4th rounders plus a 7th round pick, clearing much needed breathing room and opening a crucial protection spot ahead of the expansion draft.

You can make the case that Yzerman made his bed when he offered lofty extensions to the likes of Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Jason Garrison or Braydon Coburn, but it takes competence to get out of a jam and Yzerman certainly did that, at least for now. With his team still hunting for a playoff spot, he also pawned third-line center Brian Boyle to the Leafs for a conditional 2nd round-pick, which the market would vindicate as another win for the Lightning.

Losers

Montreal Canadiens

Mark Bergevin was the busiest man in the NHL in the trade deadline period, swinging deals left and right, but he was far from successful in his quest to improve his team’s chances of making some noise in the playoffs. The Canadiens finished February without a single regulation win because of a stuttering attack and everyone believed they were looking to jolt their middle-of-the-pack offense, relieving pressure off Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk, but instead they set out to add size, toughness and grit to their fourth line and try to win by annoying opponents.

The Habs were reportedly in hot pursuit of Arizona’s Martin Hanzal but ultimately weren’t willing to surrender a similar package to Minnesota’s, yet they could have added some skill in other ways, anting up for Radim Vrbata, Thomas Vanek or even P.A. Parenteau, the last two former Canadiens. Instead, they landed Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen and the washed out Steve Ott  for a couple of picks in a sequence of trades that seemed much more in line with the beliefs of former head coach Michel Therrien than recently-appointed Claude Julien.

No Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal or Thomas Vanek. But, at least, Marc Bergevin got two-time Stanley Cup winner Dwight King to spur the Canadiens’ offense!

Bergevin did a much better job tinkering his defence, guaranteeing the services of Dallas’ Jordie Benn for a fourth round pick, and securing the undervalued Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for undersized pivot David Desharnais, whose carrer in Montreal was sealed after Therrien’s exit, but his team’s ultimate net value didn’t increase. Carey Price may be able to carry this squad to the Conference Final but more than that is highly unlikely.

Detroit Red Wings

Bound to end a 25-year playoff run in 2017, Ken Holland’s job in Detroit at this time of the year was one he’s not used to and you can’t say he excelled.

Forced to sell his spare parts, the long-time executive failed to collect high-level assets even if he bagged plenty of mid-level picks to restock the farm. Former up-and-coming blueliner Brendan Smith, a pending UFA, couldn’t agree to an extension but still went on to net two valuable picks (2nd round +3rd round pick), while the Chicago Blackhawks were kind enough to take a punt on Tomas Jurco, shelling out a third round pick, and the Montreal Canadiens thought Steve Ott was worth pinning a sixth rounder for.

The Detroit Red Wings were able to parlay Thomas Vanek strong season into a third round choice on the 2017 NHL Draft

The Detroit Red Wings were able to parlay Thomas Vanek strong season into a third round choice on the 2017 NHL Draft

Those were all decent transactions for the Red Wings, but the same cannot be said of the underwhelming return for Thomas Vanek, whose rebound season appeared to drum up interest around the league before Holland settled for a third round pick and a throw-away prospect (Dyaln McIlrath) from the Florida Panthers.

The Austrian was arguably the best forward still available on deadline day, but Holland botched the pitch to playoff contenders, and also missed the chance to facilitate the journey to the bottom by auctioning some of the underperforming forwards on his roster. A list that may include Gustav Nyquist, the goalless Riley Sheahan and soon-to-be RFA Tomas Tatar, but also 30-year-old’s Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, who have contracts that run for too long, pay too much and, somehow, include No trade clauses. The Red Wings next era is an inexorable work in progress but it is still up in air whether Holland is the man to lead the transition onwards.

Ottawa Senators

Rookie GM Pierre Dorion endured first NHL trade deadline as the main decision-maker in Ottawa and it wasn’t exactly pretty. With the Atlantic Division seemingly up for grabs, the mandate from above was to add to lock up the revenues of a few playoff games, but the Senators lacked guile to swoop in true reinforcements.

Dorion was fleeced by Jim Benning – of all people – on the Alex Burrows deal, giving up a valuable prospect (Jonathan Dahlen) for a decadent 35-year-old agitator that drags more than assists, and proceeded to buy his age-37 and age-38 seasons for a premium (5M over two years) in one of the most puzzling moves of the last week.

Burrows certainly won’t be a difference-maker for a team that is clinging to a playoff spot despite a negative goal differential, and you can make the case that Viktor Stålberg, acquired for a third round pick, is more useful in an energy-type, penalty-killer role. Furthermore, Dorion finally allowed former 1st round pick Curtis Lazar to move on, wringing depth defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka and a second-round pick from the Flames, a reasonable return for a 22-year-old that hasn’t been able to score at the NHL level but short of the reported asking price of a 1st round pick.

Curtis Lazar was put out of his misery by the Senators when he got traded to the Calgary Flames

Curtis Lazar was put out of his misery by the Senators when he got traded to the Calgary Flames

Dorion balked at Colorado’s demands for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, opting to keep his most prized prospects (D Tomas Chabot and C Colin White and Logan Brown), but Ottawa needed to do more to signal its captain that they’re serious about winning. The Senators have three more playoff opportunities until Erik Karlsson’s contract expires in 2019, and they won’t cut it with this kind of push.

Colorado Avalanche

Joe Sakic’s team has been historically bad this season, collecting just 17 wins in 61 games, and a complete fire sale was expected at the trade deadline, with every half-decent player available to the highest bidder.

Thus, the Avalanche were supposed to hoard draft picks as happened to fellow bottom feeders Arizona Coyotes, but they could only peddle veteran Jarome Iginla to the LA Kings for a conditional 4th round pick that disappears if he doesn’t re-sign or LA misses the playoffs. Their decision to hang on to Duchene and Landeskog is understandable, since the price was not met and more suitors could potentially be available at the end of the season, but what about the rest of the teams UFA’s?

Jarome Iginla left Denver to join the Los Angeles Kings on trade deadline day

Jarome Iginla left Denver to join the Los Angeles Kings on trade deadline day

The Avalanche braintrust couldn’t convince a team in need of a veteran presence on the backend to rent Fedor Tyutin or bolster their depth with Patrick Wiercioch? Former 12th overall pick Mikhail Grigorenko is a bust but, at age 22, can’t they find a taker willing to bet on his potential? 32-year-old John Mitchell fits the mould of the reliable centerman teams crave on deadline day, but he stayed put too.

Sakic flipped Andreas Martinsen for Sven Andrighetto, taking advantage of Montreal’s misguided search for toughness to acquire a young bottom six forward, but that’s it in terms of positive transactions, which is astonishing for a team in Colorado’s position.

After detailing the major winners and losers of the trade deadline period, let’s end this piece with a quick rundown, division by division, of the work done by the remaining NHL teams.

Metropolitan Division

The Washington Capitals’ acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk blocked the path to two of their main rivals, who also wanted to improve the blueline and were consequently left to pick up the remains.

Bereft of half of their defence due to injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins dished out a second-round pick to obtain veteran Ron Hainsey last week, and then saw Jim Rutherford miraculously wring two more pieces on deadline day despite being capped out. Frank Corrado arrived from Toronto as the team dumped Eric Fehr’s salary in order to open room for 39-year-old Mark Streit, whose puck moving abilities and versatility should strengthen the unit even when the medical row vacates.

Mark Streit changed sides on the Battle of Pennsylvania after a Lightning-quick detour

Mark Streit changed sides on the Battle of Pennsylvania after a Lightning-quick detour

Shatternkirk will probably join the NY Rangers in the summer, but for now they will have to do with Brendan Smith, their only addition before another playoff run backstopped by a 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist. Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the unusual role of buyers, brought in help at minimal costs, with Kyle Quincey strengthening the blueline and Lauri Korpikoski added up front.

Lower on the standings, the NY Islanders kept idle despite sniffing around the Colorado guys, while the Philadelphia Flyers were happy to take on C Valtteri Filppula, who immediately becomes their leading 5-on-5 Points/60 player, but less thrilled to find themselves paying a (small) percentage of Mark Streit’s salary to play for their heart rivals.

Strictly on the sellers’ business, the Carolina Hurricanes dealt Ron Hainsey and Viktor Stalberg, two players not on their future plans, for a couple of picks, and the New Jersey Devils swapped Quincey for fellow rearguard Dalton Prout before squeezing a disappointing sixth-round pick from the Nashville Predators for PA Parenteau.

Atlantic Division

Drudging on the trail of the Canadiens and Senators and embattled for a wild card position, the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Panthers opted for small tweaks to their rosters.

Boston waved a conditional sixth-round pick in front of the Winnipeg Jets and came away with Drew Stafford, a top-nine reinforcement, while the Florida Panthers snatched Thomas Vanek for a mid-round pick, hoping to pop their offense after the top two units and aid a 25th-ranked powerplay.

The young Maple Leafs received a minor present in the form of seasoned centre Brian Boyle, who can provide valuable playoff insight should they arrive there, whereas Buffalo determined that the time to relinquish assets to grasp a playoff appearance is yet to come as Tim Murray couldn’t find takers for UFA’s Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson and Brian Gionta.

Central Division

Beyond the Wild, only the Chicago Blackhawks have a postseason spot nailed down in the Central, yet Stan Bowman had to exert caution in this trade deadline after being so active in previous seasons. He didn’t have much wiggle room cap-wise and therefore only agreed to bring back Johnny Oduya, who will increase the options on the backend.

Defenseman Johnny Oduya is back wearing the Indian-head crest

Defenseman Johnny Oduya is back wearing the Indian-head crest

The surging Nashville Predators avoided a major splash that could upset their chemistry, with David Poile dishing out a late round pick to supplement a touch of offensive skill in PA Parenteau, while the inconsistent St. Louis Blues will have to make a playoff push without their best offensive defenseman, since they couldn’t afford to lose Kevin Shatternkirk for nothing like happened with David Backes and Troy Brouwer last year.

The Winnipeg Jets, with a playoff berth more unlikely by the day, merely let Drew Stafford go, which is a far cry from the Dallas Stars’ behaviour. With Patrick Sharp battered and off the table, Jim Nill did a good job shipping out Johnny Oduya and Lauri Korpikoski, leveraged the wide interest in Patrick Eaves into an excellent second-round pick that can turn into a first, but also traded away Jordie Benn for a fourth rounder, a head-scratching decision (expansion draft?) that, nevertheless, won’t exactly set back the franchise.

Pacific Division

With visions of returning to the Stanley Cup final, the San Jose Sharks went aggressively after Canucks winger Jannik Hansen and his speedy game should fit perfectly over the next two playoff runs. Doug Wilson payed a steep price in the talented Nikolay Goldobin and a potential first-round pick, but this is a team that has to go for it, no questions asked.

The Edmonton Oilers were quiet as they prepare a return to the postseason one decade later, but Peter Chiarelli still found a solution (not necessarily a good solution..) for the middle of his third line, where David Desharnais should slot to allow Leon Draisatl to move full-time to Connor McDavid’s wing. The cost was Brandon Davidson, a player they liked but wouldn’t be able to protect on the expansion draft.

Patrick Eaves swapped Texas for California, joining the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second round pick

Patrick Eaves swapped Texas for California, joining the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second-round pick

Also in Alberta, the Calgary Flames won the Curtis Lazar sweepstakes (okay, not really) giving up a second-round pick, a similar gamble to the two selections (3rd + conditional 5th) they tossed out for defenseman Michael Stone a few days earlier.

Back in California, the Anaheim Ducks beat the competition for Patrick Eaves, paying a premium for a player they believe can fill a key role on their lineup, but didn’t solve their expansion riddle on defence, while the LA Kings, the sixth-worst offense in the NHL, found the idea of shoring up their net with a second No.1 goalie, Ben Bishop, much more enticing than obtaining real help up front. Because (essentially) exchanging Dwight King for a 39-year-old Jarome Iginla isn’t going to work miracles, no matter how much time he spends flanking Anze Kopitar.

Lastly, John Chayka and the Arizona Coyotes did what they had to: accumulate draft picks for Martin Hanzal and Michael Stone, including a couple guaranteed to fall in the first two rounds. Radim Vrbata stayed against all prognoses, but outside of Arizona he was only good for a single season, in Vancouver, so he might as well just renew his contract. As for Shane Doan, the list of six teams he was willing to waive his NMC for was just too short to make it work.