Contenders make moves, get head start on NHL trade deadline

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FILE - In this March 20, 2021, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard (58) skates against Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C. The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning acquired defenseman David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a three-team trade Saturday, April 10, 2021, that also involves the Detroit Red Wings. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

The defending Stanley Cup champions found a way to get better, the NHL's top team solved a problem that has hurt it in the past, and another filled a major void created by an injury.

Some of hockey's best teams got a head start on the trade deadline Saturday by making important moves and scooping up some of the hottest players on the market. The cap-strapped, reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning surrendered three draft picks to get defenseman David Savard, the Colorado Avalanche landed veteran goaltender Devan Dubnyk, and the Florida Panthers did something to compensate for Aaron Ekblad's absence by acquiring defenseman Brandon Montour.

“They have a team to go for another run and go for the Stanley Cup," Savard said of the Lightning. “They’ve had a great team for numbers of years, so I'm really excited to go on a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. I couldn’t be more pumped to go meet the guys and be part of the team and go on a run again.”

Given the Lightning's salary-cap situation, general manager Julien BriseBois said a month ago, “Realistically, I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to be adding a player between now and the trade deadline.” It was only possible because the Columbus Blue Jackets retained half of Savard's salary — for a 2021 first- and a 2022 third-round pick — and the Detroit Red Wings took 25% for a fourth-rounder and Tampa Bay taking minor leaguer Brian Lashoff.

Savard gives Tampa Bay a physical presence on the right side of the blue line, a role Zach Bogosian, now with Toronto, filled during the 2020 Cup run. The Lightning also expect to get 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov back from hip surgery when the playoffs begin in mid-May.

Kucherov, the Lighting's leading scorer on the way to the Cup, has been on long-term injured reserve all season.

Colorado didn't go on as long a run in the playoff bubble as it would have liked after top two goalies Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz went down with injuries. After acquiring goalie Jonas Johansson last month, general manager Joe Sakic added more depth in goal with Dubnyk by sending defenseman Greg Pateryn and a fifth-round pick to San Jose.

He also gave the locker room a boost with the Avalanche atop the league standings.