Western chase just got more intriguing

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

It wasn't quite the elite-player stockpiling that we're used to seeing at the trading deadline, but even so, there was enough activity yesterday that it makes the post-season an even more exciting prospect -- especially in the west.

Sitting aloof at the top and tight against the salary cap, the Detroit Red Wings made no significant moves. But the teams behind them showed no such reticence and, in the process, appear to have closed the gap.

The Nashville Predators strengthened themselves a bit with the acquisition of defenceman Brendan Witt, and the Colorado Avalanche may or may not have heightened its prospects when it picked up goalie Jose Theodore.

It's a risky move because Peter Budaj can be inconsistent, and Theodore is out for another month or so. That makes him available for the last week of the season and then the playoffs -- if the Avs make the playoffs.

Going into last night's action, they were effectively in eighth place -- if the teams below them win their games in hand.

Meanwhile, two other teams in that incredibly competitive Northwest Division strengthened themselves considerably.

The Edmonton Oilers gave up Marty Reasoner, a streak player who never really returned to form after suffering a shattered ankle trying to prevent an icing call two years ago, but acquired Sergei Samsonov.

They also may have solved their goaltending problems with the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson.

Samsonov has had a lot of health woes this year and appeared to be out of shape. But he had encountered migraine problems and, as a result of the treatment, had gained weight. Now, at this stage of the season, he is finally in good shape and, if he plays the way he can, the Oilers picked up a powerful weapon.

Both he and Ales Hemsky are elusive, darting players. In this era of tight officiating -- which will continue through the playoffs -- they will be extremely difficult to contain legally. And if teams use illegal methods, they'll have to face those same players on the power play, an even less enticing prospect.

But the team that improved itself the most was the Vancouver Canucks.

They gave goaltender Alex Auld a backup in the form of Mika Noronen, a highly regarded young talent who has the potential to blossom and assume the first-string duties himself.

When Dan Cloutier got hurt in November, general manager Dave Nonis' first intention was to get a replacement. But by late January, Nonis had awarded the starting job to Auld and turned his attention to propping up the Vancouver defence.

Yesterday, he did that in a better fashion than anyone could have expected. He added Eric Weinrich, Sean Brown and Keith Carney.

Weinrich is a seasoned veteran who has been having an excellent year. Carney was the foundation of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' defence when they went to the Stanley Cup final. And Brown is a solid young prospect who has been schooled by the New Jersey Devils.

Over the course of the season, the line of the Sedin twins with Anson Carter has blossomed into one of the best in the league -- and it is ostensibly the second line.

So if the Canucks' future unfolds as it could, they will be a genuine powerhouse.

There are so many good teams in the west that at least one of them is bound to be bitterly disappointed.

It's highly likely that Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver will pull down the third, fourth and fifth seedings, though not necessarily in that order. If that happens, at least one of them will have to make a first-round exit.

At this stage of the season, and after the deals that were made in the west yesterday, it's safe to say that none of those teams is planning to leave the post-season party that soon.


Videos

Photos