Kaberle's trade was a coup/By S. Bradley

At the very least, the Bruins accomplished the bare minimum of what they set out to do before today’s trade deadline.

Although Boston’s real deadline day turned out to be Feb. 18 — because the team opted to do nothing but a minor-league swap this afternoon before 3 p.m. — the Bruins are now a better team than they were a week ago, two weeks ago and at the start of the 2010-11 season.

Without anointing them as the next Stanley Cup champs, you can at least say that they’re closer to that goal now than Oct. 1, and they’re closer to it than most of their Eastern Conference rivals — many of whom stood pat or didn’t make as great strides through trades as the Bruins did.

Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley, brought in 10 days ago, and Chris Kelly (acquired Feb. 15) have all made contributions of varying size since joining the Bruins. You can’t argue with the results so far, as Boston has won five in a row since the night they traded a second-pick to Ottawa for Kelly. When you consider that all Boston surrendered was Mark Stuart (a healthy scratch), Blake Wheeler (a slumping forward), Joe Colborne (still at least a year away from contributing at the NHL level) and draft picks, you have to chalk up the trades with Toronto, Atlanta and Ottawa as victories for the here and now.

Sure, there was no Brad Richards or Rick Nash deal. David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and other key Bruins performers stayed put instead of becoming part of an amazing blockbuster that landed some superstar — rumored or not — on Causeway Street. But the Bruins added their missing power-play quarterback, they added speed on the wing and gave themselves an injection of more grit and faceoff proficiency. All in all, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was pleased with his work.

“If you look, we’ve done three deals where we added three good players,” he told the assembled media today in Ottawa, where the Bruins will play tomorrow night. “There’s been some subtraction but we felt the net benefit was very positive.”

He’s right. Chiarelli can tell the players in the dressing room, his coaching staff and his fan base that in the end, for the 2010-11 campaign, he netted a positive. That achievement is more impressive when you consider that judging by the sparse number of deals done involving impact NHL players, and Chiarelli’s statement that “there weren’t as many players available [as past years],” making even the slightest upgrade this trading season was like trying to get Charlie Sheen to take a vow of silence.

Such is the life in the welfare state that is the NHL — where the salary cap and loser points give the illusion that every team (except Ottawa, Florida and Edmonton) is in the race until the end.

There are fans in other cities that have more of a beef than those in Boston. If you’re a New York Rangers fan, you have to be wondering why your team didn’t add anything to the 19th-ranked offense in the league. Washington thinks it landed the second-line center it has coveted in veteran Jason Arnott and bolstered its back end by picking up Dennis Wideman. Certainly both acquisitions could be scrutinized as not enough to get the Capitals, first-round failures as a top seed a year ago, back in the championship equation. After all, Arnott, an aged rental, came at the price of  modestly-compensated character player David Steckel, and Wideman … well we all know about his high-risk, low-reward game.

In Montreal, it seems it’ll be a Smurfs victory or bust. The Canadiens failed to add any size to their diminutive front line, which even Randy Newman can see needed some bulk. The Habs also failed to help their injury-depleted back end (beyond the earlier acquisitions of the defensively suspect James Wisniewski and spare parts Paul Mara and Brent Sopel earlier). The Habs are going to have a hard time catching the Bruins in the Northeast Division based on how the two teams altered themselves leading up to this deadline. And it’s doubtful another Cinderella postseason run will await the tiny Habs this spring.

Maybe the Bruins are right and the equation in the NHL has changed. Perhaps you don’t need a bonafide sniper or two to carry your offense in the postseason anymore. Although I’m not ready to buy in 100 percent to that theory and plan a June parade through the Hub, on paper I’d have to favor the Bruins in any playoff series against an Eastern foe other than Philadelphia with the way the teams are presently constituted. Pittsburgh could get Sidney Crosby back at full strength and Washington might respond to its deals the way the Bruins have to their deals to change those odds.

But right now in my mind, there’s the Bruins and above them the Flyers in the East. And we all saw what happened to the highly touted Capitals, Penguins and New Jersey Devils in last year’s postseason as seemingly unstoppable higher seeds.

For those that were hoping Peter Chiarelli would annex another superstar before this year’s deadline — including this blogger — it obviously wasn’t going to happen. It was hard enough to squeeze a third-line winger or third-pair defenseman out of some teams, judging by the few trades that were made.

Reasonably, Chiarelli did all he could do to solidify this year’s club and make sure it has more than the puncher’s chance the Bruins had last season when the postseason opened. That’s nothing to complain about.