The NHL’s trade deadline is a day normally reserved for a flurry of last-second moves, intense wall-to-wall media coverage, and non-stop chatter on social media from fans hoping to see their teams make moves to either bolster their roster for a playoff run or gather picks and prospects for the future. But a funny thing happened on the way to Monday’s 3 pm EST trade deadline: there were plenty of big moves before the deadline rather than the day of, and there were even a few players expected to be moved that ended up staying with their respective clubs.
It’s usually pretty easy to list the winners and losers of each trade deadline, but with so many big moves being made in the days leading up to Monday afternoon, I’ve decided to focus on some of the story-lines of the aftermath of what was one of the quieter deadline days in the NHL in a very long time.
CONTENDERS OLD AND NEW ALIKE LOADING UP FOR CUP RUNS
The Chicago Blackhawks went into the week leading up to the trade deadline looking to add scoring and depth to their forward group due to the injury suffered by winger Marian Hossa. They certainly didn’t disappoint, as they added pending unrestricted free agent Andrew Ladd in a trade with Winnipeg on February 25th. The Jets’ captain makes his return to Chicago, where he played for the Hawks 2010 Cup-winning team, arriving alongside Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison in exchange for top prospect Marko Dano, a 2016 1st-round pick, and a conditional 2018 draft pick. Winnipeg also agreed to pick up 36% of Ladd’s remaining salary. Chicago also acquired forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann from Montreal for Phillip Danault and a 2018 2nd-round pick in addition to sending defenseman Rob Scuderi in exchange for fellow blue-liner Christian Ehrhoff. In short, this is a team that has its eyes on winning it’s fourth Stanley Cup title in seven years, and anything less than that would be a disappointment for them.
One of the teams that Chicago knocked off in last year’s playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks, also made a pair of moves, getting forward Jamie McGinn from the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional 2016 3rd-round pick while also sending a 2016 6th round pick to Florida in exchange for forward Brandon Pirri. McGinn is a solid two-way player that can occasionally contribute in the offensive end of the ice, while Pirri is capable of going on a hot streak at any time and arrives with a cheap price tag, as he is due to be a restricted free agent after the season is over. In order to make room, the Ducks sent forward Patrick Maroon to the Oilers for defensive prospect Martin Gernat and a 2016 4th-round pick. These are all solid moves for Anaheim, a team that was struggling to score goals early in the season. Since the calendar flipped over to 2016, the Ducks have been on fire, and adding depth up front with McGinn and Pirri gives them a balance of size and skill that will help tremendously in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.
Meanwhile in the East, the Florida Panthers, who are usually known for their history of being sellers at this time of the year, were buyers in the days leading up to the deadline (the Pirri trade being the obvious exception). Panthers general manager Dale Tallon likes what he saw from his team enough to go out and make more moves, picking up Jiri Hudler from Calgary and Teddy Purcell from Edmonton for draft picks, bolstering a forward corps with a pair of guys known for their offense that are also pending UFA’s. Florida also added defenseman Jakub Kindl from Detroit to provide depth on their blue line. For the first time in a very long time, the Panthers are a legitimate threat. Having spent the last several years drafting and developing their young core while balancing that out with veteran acquisitions like Jaromir Jagr, Brian Campbell, and Roberto Luongo, they were able to make moves with the goal of making a long playoff run this season.
THE RANGERS KNOW THAT THEIR CUP WINDOW IS SHRINKING
Since making his NHL debut in the 2005-06 season with the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the elite netminders in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist turns 34 on March 2nd. Even though he’s still one of the best in the game, Lundqvist is on the back nine of his career, and New York would like to win a Stanley Cup with him in net before he moves on. Over the last few years, the Rangers have made moves at the deadline with a championship in mind. Two years ago, they traded high draft picks and Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Marty St. Louis, and they ended up falling to the Kings in five games in the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, they paid a hefty price for Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, who came to New York in a package that included their 2016 1st-round pick and hot prospect Anthony Duclair, who is now a centerpiece of Arizona’s future. The result? A seven-game loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers’ latest win-now move? Acquiring Carolina Hurricanes captain and soon-to-be UFA Eric Staal in exchange for prospect Aleksi Saarela and 2nd-round picks in 2016 and 2017. Thankfully for New York, Carolina agreed to pick up half of Staal’s remaining salary. Staal is a five-time 30-goal and a four-time All-Star, but the 31-year-old only has 33 points this season, and his 0.52 points-per-game rate is his lowest since his rookie season in 2003-04. However, the Rangers feel like a trade and a change of scenery can be beneficial for Staal. Whether or not he sticks around after the season remains to be seen, but if he can get hot heading into the playoffs, it would be a boon for the Rangers. If not, then they just mortgaged more of their future, as they own only five picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, with the earliest coming in the third round. For a team that hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2012, New York knows that the clock is ticking on their championship window.
TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE THAT MADE MOVES WITH AN EYE FOR THE FUTURE, NOT THE PRESENT
We just talked about the Eric Staal trade and how it affected the Rangers, but let’s not forget that the Staal chatter had been lingering over the Hurricanes all season long. Both Staal and goaltender Cam Ward were heading into the final years of their contracts, and it appeared that either one of them or both would be on the move at some point. Carolina couldn’t come to terms on a deal with their captain, so they made that trade with the Rangers with an eye for the future. Expectations were low in Raleigh heading into this season, but the Canes have been one of the league’s surprises, entering Monday night’s contest only four points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. However, they’re in a logjam with Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey, and Philadelphia in chasing the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold that last playoff position. They could’ve stood pat and continued to make a run with their roster intact, and we’ve seen teams on the bubble make moves that mortgaged their future for a shot at the playoffs. However, while seeing the Hurricanes make the playoffs would make for a nice underdog story, a playoff run this season would probably be short, so they shipped off Staal and picked up a pair of 2nd-round picks in the process, setting themselves up for the future. They also made a couple other trades. One of them sent veteran forward Kris Versteeg to the Kings for 20-year-old prospect Valentin Zykov and a conditional 5th-round choice in this year’s draft. The other saw veteran defenseman John-Michael Liles heading to Boston for forward prospect Anthony Camara, a 2016 3rd-round pick and a 2017 5th-round pick.
The New Jersey Devils also went with a similar philosophy, as they’re also in that group of teams chasing the Penguins in the Eastern Conference, as they sit just three points back going into Monday night. Like the Hurricanes, the Devils were expected to be a lottery team this season, but some stellar goaltending from All-Star Cory Schneider and a great coaching job by John Hynes, who took over the job in the offseason, have the Devils overachieving despite scoring the fewest goals in the NHL. So what did New Jersey do despite being in the thick of the playoff race? They made deals with the future in mind, sending defenseman Eric Gelinas, who had fallen out of favor with Hynes, to Colorado for a 2017 3rd-round pick. The Devils then dealt forward Lee Stempniak to the Boston Bruins for a 4th-round pick this year and a 2nd-round selection next year. They ended the deadline by picking up forward Devante Smith-Pelly from Montreal for underachieving forward Stefan Matteau. Odds are if New Jersey had stood pat and made the playoffs, a brief postseason appearance would be the likely outcome, so instead of mortgaging their future, they acquired picks down the road. Usually you see teams near the bottom of the standings stockpiling picks (hello Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo), but give credit to two overachieving, emerging, yet not-quite-there teams for making moves with an eye for the future.
PLAYERS THAT DIDN’T MOVE MAKING AS MUCH NEWS AS THOSE THAT DID
In the weeks and days leading up to the trade deadline, plenty of players rumored to be on the move ended up being traded. Edmonton’s Justin Schultz was moved to Pittsburgh, Arizona winger Mikkel Boedker was dealt to Colorado, Calgary defenseman Kris Russell ended up in Dallas, while Ladd, Staal, Hudler, and Purcell found new homes as well. However, there were a small handful of players that stayed with their current teams despite being rumored to be heading elsewhere for the stretch run. Boston’s Loui Eriksson, who turns 31 this summer and will also be an unrestricted free agent, is staying with the Bruins for the time being, as both sides continue to try and work on a new contract. Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis, a 33-year-old veteran who is also slated to be a UFA in the offseason, had been linked to discussions with Boston, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Chicago. However, Hamhuis wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause to go to the Eastern Conference, while potential deals with the Stars (considered to be the favorites for Hamhuis) and Blackhawks fell through at the last-second. There was even talk that Columbus forward Scott Hartnell was on the trade block with Nashville being the likely destination. A return to the Predators, the team that originally drafted Hartnell, was not in the cards as a deal was never worked out. However, no player’s situation continues to be as fascinating as that of Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin. Drouin has been skating on his own since being suspended indefinitely by Tampa Bay after refusing to show up for a game with AHL Syracuse back in the middle of January. Before that, he had demanded a trade back in November and was demoted to Syracuse at the beginning of January. There was plenty of chatter that multiple teams were in competition for his services, but general manager Steve Yzerman made it clear that he wasn’t going to make a trade for the sake of making a trade.
“My feeling was, if it’s not going to help me now, I’m better off keeping my options this summer,” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday after the trade deadline came and went without a deal for Drouin. “What we were looking for wasn’t there today. Anything that would involve future draft picks or prospects at this time, it didn’t make sense to do that. We’ll have more certainty, more clarity on the salary cap and make a decision at that time. I wasn’t trading Jonathan Drouin for an unrestricted free agent that I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to resign. That made no sense.”
Yzerman did mention that the door is open for Drouin to return to the Lightning, but that it would be up to the talented 20-year-old to make that decision. Whether or not Drouin actually decides to swallow his pride and come back remains to be seen, but if I were a gambling man, I wouldn’t bet anything of value on that happening. Like Yzerman said, the organization will have a much clearer outlook of what they’re going to do once the offseason arrives, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he finds a deal he likes at the NHL Draft, an event where big moves always seem to go down.
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