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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.