With the trade deadline officially in our wake, let’s take a quick look back at what happened before powering on towards the post-season. As you’d expect with the flat salary cap in a weird pandemic-tinged year, it was a relatively inactive deadline compared to most years.
In the ’80s the trade deadline wasn’t a huge thing, with most seasons offering up about 5-6 deals (there was just one in 1982-83). Over the past 30 years though, you can see action really picked up (thanks to @SNStats for this).
This past year saw the fewest players traded since 1999-2000, with roughly half as much action the previous season.
Since this would be a brutal slog to go deep on every deal, let’s go through and briefly touch each trade with two sentences each. Let’s get into it.
This was one of a number of deadline deals that look win-win, as the Blue Jackets got something for a guy they were gonna pay to get nothing back from for the rest of the season. For the Leafs, Nash was a perfectly-shaped puzzle piece for the picture they’re building, allowing them to get deeper into LTIR while likely being healthy when they need him, and able to fill a roster hole (defensive centre depth) when he does return.
By basically any statistical tool you use to measure it (or just the eye-test), the Avs are an absolute force, and my personal Cup favourite at this point. They acted like it at the deadline too, supplementing the players that make them great with reliable players at the fringes, and Nemeth fits that bill as someone who prioritizes defence and the D-zone rather than being a guy who needs the puck or a huge role.
The Sabres plunged us into a world where it’s almost impossible to tease out who exactly was responsible for their tire fire (here I refer to the tire fire on the ice, as I’m sure some fans are screaming about the Pegulas somewhere), and whose stats/play suffered because they were around it. Montour seems like a good bet as a guy who suffered being around it, and in a smaller role on a good team, it’s not hard to see him finding his game and contributing positively.
I love this pick up for the Avs, because while I don’t know exactly what Devan Dubnyk is as an NHL goalie at this point, I do know he’s been a great one at times, and I believe he could be great for a stretch of play again. If you’re hoping to win the Cup – the year after goalie depth contributed to submarining your chances – I like the idea of taking a chance with a guy who almost certainly has the ability to carry the load over a smaller stretch of time if he’s called upon in the post-season.
Much like Colorado and Toronto, Tampa Bay recognizes that its window is now, and was willing to sacrifice the future for a better chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s grail yet again. In a salary cap world, extending your years of contention almost always come at the cost of future pain (see: Chicago and LA), and Tampa is rightly accepting of that.
Finally I have a window here to heap appreciation on moves like this. In a year where minimal scouting was done and the draft is more uncertain than ever, adding mid-round draft picks (where real value compared to most years could fall) makes a ton of sense, and could pan out wonderfully (and at the end of the day, teams like the Devils need legit NHL players, and can offer them more opportunity).
There go the Red Wings, stacking picks for assets that aren’t going to matter to them by the time they expect to be competitive for a Cup in like three or four seasons. For the Habs, Merrill makes them marginally better in a year where just about anything can happen, but it’s not an overwhelmingly meaningful addition or cost here.
A funny thing about being good is how it makes you better, given other players actually want to play on good teams, as evidenced by Foligno waiving his no-trade for the chance to play for the Leafs. The cost isn’t cheap, but this is an undisputed “go for it” year for the Leafs, and Foligno – like Nash – is a puzzle piece that perfectly suits their needs; he can PK (and they need PKers), protect leads (they don’t have many defensive forwards), and play physical and in the blue paint (two areas the Leafs were light on, too).
The Bruins treated the deadline like they were shopping for needed ingredients at the grocery store, and the transactions weren’t overly difficult. “We’ll take a little bit of help on D, here’s your third rounder, please bag that up and we’ll be on our way.”
The Leafs problem with their goaltending situation is that they can’t play multiple guys at once, and so one of their guys is not only going to have to be healthy, but is also going to have to play well too. Maybe Freddie Andersen can be both healthy/good, maybe Campbell can be healthy/good, or maybe it’s Rittich, but whatever the case, it made sense to bring in another guy with the potential to be both given the stakes for the Leafs this season.
“The Isles get big strong veteran depth on D for cheap” is just about the most Lou Lamiorello sentence ever written. The Isles have an identity, and they are leaned all the way into it.
Another example of the Bruins just grocery shopping, as they saw themselves as a team in need of someone who can create dangerous scoring chances, so they went to the “dangerous scoring chance creators” aisle and picked up a really good one. They lucked out a bit that Hall had them on a short list of teams he wanted to play for, but I mentioned this a few moments ago with the Leafs and Foligno; when you’re a good team, players want to play for you, and that’s an earned reward of being good.
For teams undeniably in their Cup window (and until Crosby/Malkin are gone the Pens will be considered as such), I’m pretty blasé about the cost of years-later mid-round draft picks as it’s just a cost of taking runs. I don’t know how much Jeff Carter has left in the tank, but he’ll surely be invigorated by this opportunity, and adding big strong vets with the ability to shoot the puck in the net heading into playoffs is generally a good idea.
A takeaway of mine from spending two seasons on a coaching staff in the AHL was “man, nobody really knows all the complications that come with dealing with all the personalities on a hockey team,” and this trade reminds me of that. I don’t know if something was up behind the scenes with Gaudette and the Canucks (like he wasn’t getting enough opportunity?) but he’s certainly the bigger name moving here (though I should note I like Highmore’s energy and fit from a role perspective on Vancouver), and it’s not expressly clear to me why this was the abrupt end of the relationship.
The Oilers win “weirdest deadline” for me, as they have those two prime-aged Hart-winning superstars and a legitimate chance this year, and chose to add all of … Dmitry Kulikov, who’s fine, and makes them maybe one per cent better? It’s weird that they didn’t do more, but it does occur to me to harken back to the “good teams get good players because good players want to play on good teams” conversation, as if Taylor Hall wanted to return to Edmonton (and if they were very good maybe he would’ve), maybe they would’ve pulled the trigger on that?
You need D-depth on a long playoff run, and it’s clear Tampa has real designs on that. I’m not going to pretend to know whether Magnus Chrona is a real person or maybe just a fancy watch but I’m told he’s a goaltender and San Jose could certainly use one of those.
Mattias Janmark is a perfect pick-up for a Vegas team that’s one of a handful of Cup-or-bust teams in the NHL this season. He can play a role that’s suited to tighter defensive playoff hockey and should be able to help them when Vegas is inevitably up against the high-flying Avalanche in the second round (oh, and good for Chicago for getting that return, too).
Another luxury for an already-good team is being able to add players who make you one per cent better, and that actually mattering (how fun), given those final few percentage points are the toughest ones to find once you get good. The Blackhawks made some good moves with an eye to the future this deadline, but the Avs are certainly improved today by adding Soderberg.
I feel like just about everyone Bill Zito has added since he took over the Panthers reinforces how easy he thought they were to play against when he was with Columbus. Radko Gudas is one example, Sam Bennett another, as he seems intent on making them a team that plays hard and cares, to go with their quality top-end talent.
Maybe after Victor Mete got picked up on waivers Montreal figured they needed to replace him with another warm body who can do offensive things. With Merrill coming in too, it seems they wanted to shore up their D-depth in Montreal, but this is fairly uninspiring (at least the cost was just a seventh).
As the Lightning and Islanders did, the Leafs went after some big veteran D-depth hoping for a playoff run. I’m not sure if he’ll start in the Leafs six in the post-season if everyone is healthy, but he’s likely the next guy in, and you’d feel good about his ability to hang in bottom pair minutes (it doesn’t hurt that he also checks the “good guy in the room” box the Leafs seem to have pursued so hard this past year).
The Leafs message to free agent talents in Russia and the world over is clear, “Come to Toronto, you’ll get a legitimate shot to perform, and you’ll get more exposure here than you would anywhere else, and if it doesn’t work out here, we’ll move you to another NHL team for another crack at the league.” Sometimes it works (Zaitsev got paid, Mikheyev is a Leafs mainstay), and when it doesn’t, everyone seems to be able to move on amicably.
Gudbranson is on his last NHL legs these days, as a tough defender who gives it his all. But at some point team after team has concluded it isn’t working, so I’m not sold the Preds get better here.
Raffl is an average NHL forward at this point, more or less unremarkable, but when you’re a veteran team hoping to make a deep playoff run like the Caps, you can see why having an extra one or two of those on hand makes some sense. The cost was small, but good for Philly for getting something before likely losing him for nothing in a couple months.
The Jets are my personal deadline disappointment team, as they have a really fun group up front and a really great goalie tandem, but failed to improve their team in any meaningful way. Their obvious weak spot was on D, and while Benn is an NHL defencemen, he gives up more than he creates the other way, which is the precise opposite of what they needed.
Full credit to Yzerman, as Mantha is a hugely valuable player, but his age doesn’t line up with what they see as their window of Cup pursuit (he’ll likely be in decline by the time they’re legit Cup hopefuls). And so, he maxed out Mantha’s value in a return, bringing back great picks and a player in Vrana who’s had strong per-minute stats for years, only the Caps refused to give him minutes.
The Blackhawks move up a round for giving up on a project in Bowey. For the Canucks, a talented long shot in need of an opportunity is probably worth dropping a draft round for, just to see if putting him in a position to succeed brings results out of his potential.
This is a fit thing for the Hurricanes. Fleury seems like the player with more potential (and name cache), but Hakanpaa better suits them by being a right shot, a little more physical, a PK guy, and likely a little cheaper if you look towards their contract negotiations to come.
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