Trade Deadline Provides Activity & Suprises
By Scott Lowe - MyHockeyRankings.com
So much for no big names being available at the NHL Trade Deadline.
While teams like the Penguins, Canucks, Lightning and Capitals filled needs in the days leading up to Monday’s deadline by bringing in quality players such as Jason Zucker, Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Brenden Dillon, the general consensus was that the biggest name who might be on the move was Rangers power-forward Kris Kreider.
To start, Kreider signed with New York for seven years at $6.5 million per year, which set the stage for another surprise move by the Rangers later on in the day. But even before that, the Carolina Hurricanes set off a flurry of Deadline Day activity with a semi-blockbuster that brought them highly skilled former 30-goal and 75-point scorer Vincent Trochek in return for steady depth guy Erik Haula, fourth-liner Lucas Wallmark and a pair of prospects.
A shocking move of this magnitude so early in the day seemed to send GMs around the league scurrying back to their offices and into a frenzy of creatively trying to come up with deals to keep pace – especially in the extremely competitive Metropolitan Division, where the top and bottom teams were very active in different ways.
Deals were thrown at us rapid fire up to and beyond the 3 p.m. deadline, giving the hockey world plenty to talk about and analyze.
Oddly, while the Canes, Caps, Penguins, Islanders and Flyers all made moves to bolster their lineups for the stretch run, Columbus remained relatively quiet after going all-in last year. And as expected, at the bottom of the Metro, the Devils and Rangers were busy selling off assets as they continue to rebuild for the future.
The Rangers were not as active as many thought, perhaps in part because of a car accident Sunday night that left one of their promising young goalies injured, but they did surprise be keeping Kreider while moving solid 25-year-old defenseman Brady Skej to Carolina for a 2020 first-round pick. It was a bold move by the Canes – and a surprising one by New York – given that Skej has a $5.25 million salary-cap hit for the next four years.
The Rangers do have up-and-coming young defensemen Adam Fox and Tony D’Angelo and probably wanted to move some salary given the new Kreider contract.
For Carolina, which has been dealing with several injuries to its defensive group – including a season-ender for all-star Dougie Hamilton – that seem to be correlated to the Canes recent drop in the standings, the move makes sense, as does the additional pick up of D-man Sami Vatanen, an unrestricted free agent, from New Jersey.
If nothing else, as the beneficiary of the day’s two biggest surprise moves, the Canes have filled their defensive holes and added a legitimate top-six center who should add scoring depth and take some of the pressure off Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen for a team that at times struggles to score goals.
The Trochek deal doesn’t come without its risks, as the 26-year-old has battled injuries the past two years and not come close to the 75 points he recorded three seasons ago. He has 10 goals and 36 points this year.
No matter how you slice it, though, Carolina was the clear winner of this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. And although the Jumbo Joe to Boston outlandish prediction made here last week didn’t come true (apparently it almost did), we did get Dillon to the Caps right.
Here is a look at some other Deadline Day highlights:
Other Winners: Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Vegas, Washington
It’s funny how much difference a week can make.
Last week the Penguins were flying high coming off a pre-deadline deal for Zucker and despite having suffered through an endless string of injuries to top players throughout the season. Monday, after three straight losses – including a 5-3 setback to the Caps that knocked them out of first place Sunday – Pittsburgh jumped into the Deadline Day pool with all body parts by bringing back former Pens Cup-winner Conor Sheary along with Evan Rodrigues from Buffalo and picking up veteran Patrick Marleau from San Jose.
Add Zucker to that list and now you’re looking at a team that could potentially replace one third of a forward group that had helped the team to one of the hottest second halves in the league. These are all smart moves that should help in the long run, but how might they affect team chemistry and how long will it take for everyone to feel comfortable
Regardless, Pittsburgh is always one step ahead and realized that Mike Sullivan probably couldn’t work more miracles with the group he had.
Edmonton finally got a guy who can keep up with Connor McDavid in former Red Wing Andreas Anathasiou, a speedster who has put up good numbers in the past but struggled offensively on a bad Detroit team recently. This move takes the Oilers’ speed to otherworldly levels and also should help their penalty kill as Anathasiou is strong in all three zones even when struggling to put up points.
The Oilers also brought in defenseman Mike Green, whose best days in the D-zone may be over, but still is a smooth, creative offensive threat. Having a guy like Green to QB an already-dangerous power play will only help, and he can be effective defensively with the right partner – and his minutes can be limited. At this point, you could put any combination of Moe, Larry or Curly on the ice in the other two Oilers’ power-play slots and still light the lamp regularly.
Green leaving dead-end Detroit and going home to Alberta could be just the jolt his career needs, and the Oilers made up for having to move forward Sam Gagner by also grabbing Tyler Ennis, who can play anywhere in the lineup and should add some badly needed scoring depth.
Vegas has been on the upswing of late, going 10-3 since the hiring of coach Pete DeBoer, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. The Golden Knights, who have been playing with a renewed enthusiasm and at a very high tempo since DeBoer took over for Gerard Gallant, needed to sure up two areas – defense and goaltending. Check and check.
Stanley Cup-winner Alec Martinez was just what the doctor ordered on D for Vegas, a smart puck mover with veteran experience to bolster what has been an up-and-down defensive corps the past two seasons. And to get former Vezina-finalist Robin Lehner, not only as insurance but also to push future Hall-of-Famer Marc Andre Fleury, is as good as it gets.
Fleury has been fantastic throughout his career with his back against the wall and when faced with adversity, but also has had times where he seems bored and lacks focus. The smart money says this move will get him back to the top of his game in a hurry.
Vegas also brought in versatile two-way forward Nick Cousins from Montreal, a player who should help improve the bottom six and help some of the team’s D-zone issues.
From the outside looking in, most people would assume that a Capitals team that has cruised along at the top of the standings for most of the year wouldn’t need to do much at the deadline. Those closer to the situation realize that while the team is supremely talented offensively, the defense has been a concern all season.
Braden Holby not playing like Braden Holtby has been as much a product of a defensive unit that has lacked consistency and much of a physical presence as it was anything Holtby was doing. Bringing in a big, yet mobile and physical defenseman in Dillon was the perfect move for this group, and he quickly became a fan favorite in DC after serving rival Geno Malkin a few knuckle sandwiches for lunch Sunday.
One of the other big issues with the Caps this year is a power play that just hasn’t been able to find itself since about Thanksgiving. Usually perched atop the league extra-man rankings, Washington finds itself in the middle at the moment. So while bringing in Ilya Kovalchuk was a surprise to many, it certainly could allow the Caps to show different looks on the PP and revive their extra-man unit.
Where Kovalchuk fits into the lineup remains to be seen. The third line – specifically newcomer Richard Panik – has been a disappointment all year, but Kovalchuk isn’t really a third-line-type player. However, if he plays on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie you may see Kovalchuk return to his sniping days gone by, while young budding superstar Jacob Vrana dropping to the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin would give the Caps a super-fast and potentially potent third group that would be sound in all three zones.
Not a bad idea, but …
The Islanders brought in a really good two-way player who is having a career year on a bad Ottawa team in Jean-Gabriel Pageau and then signed him to a six-year deal. Pageau is a really good player who is putting up great numbers as the top guy on a weak club even though his real strength might be the intangibles he brings over his actual offensive production.
Pageau is a responsible defensive player and good penalty killer. He’s truly a Barry Trotz-type player, but is that what this team needs to make a run right now? Will he make other players better and create chances for them or will he be just one of the guys? It remains to be seen how Pageau will produce when he’s counted on by a stronger team to be The Man
Adding New Jersey defenseman and former captain Andy Greene a few days before the deadline was a smart move to improve a solid, but youngish defensive corps and to add veteran leadership.
Bruins. Bruins. Where for art thou, Bruins?
The one knock on the Bruins is that they have a top-heavy offense with a severe drop off in production from the top two guys down to even Patrice Bergeron. Then there’s another big dip below Bergeron. While Bergeron recently has turned his production up a notch, there still seems to be a void in the middle.
Boston was mentioned when it came to pretty much all of the bigger offensive names who might be available: Kreider, Pageau, Kovalchuk, Thornton, etc. Instead of a head-turner, the B’s brought in a couple of depth role-players in massive 6-3, 230-pound forward Nick Ritchie and versatile forward Ondrej Kase from Anaheim in two separate deals.
The Bruins’ biggest accomplishment may have been clearing 75 percent of forward David Backes’ salary off of their books, not to minimize their pickups. Ritchie and Kase are depth guys who will help a team looking to make a deep run in what can be a war of attrition. We just expected a little more from the B’s at the deadline. And some of us wanted to see Jumbo Joe return home.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise …
The biggest surprise deal of this year’s deadline had to be Trocheck going to Carolina. No. 2 may have been Skej to the Canes. And the third-biggest surprise had to be Kovalchuk going to a Capitals team that is already overflowing with skilled offensive players. With all the teams in search of more scoring out there – the Stars, Islanders, Bruins, Wild, Canes, Blue Jackets and Golden Knights just to name a few – it is remarkable that Kovalchuk ended up in D.C
Apparently he was presented with many options, but chose D.C. even though the Caps’ deal apparently was the worst for the Habs in terms of the return. Nice gesture by Montreal for a veteran on the back side of a great career, although the Candiens’ picking up half of Kovalchuk’s salary turns out to be only about $75,000 prorated.
The Biggest Loser
Florida is an easy mark if you want to pick out this year’s biggest deadline failure, but that may be unnecessarily harsh. The assumption by many is that Trocheck is closer to the 75-point guy from three years ago than he is to the oft-injured, sometimes disinterested player he has appeared to be the past two seasons.
Dale Tallon didn’t give up the ship without a fight, either.
Erik Haula is a solid NHL player who has recorded a 55-point NHL season, can contribute in various roles and is effective on the power play. Wallmark has 23 points as a fourth-line center, which has to be near the top of the league for bottom-line players. And Florida also got two prospects.
The fact that Haula is a UFA seems odd, but he only makes $2.75 million, which is a nice savings from the more than $4 million Trocheck makes. If he’s a good fit and helps the team, you bring him back at $3.5 million or so and still have a nice savings to put toward another UFA or RFA.
Every organization has experienced the player who seems to have all the potential in the world or has a great season and seems like a budding superstar but never comes close to living up to expectations – or the ultra-talented player who just can’t avoid the injury bug. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for everyone involved.
Let’s hold off on calling the Panthers losers until we see how this one plays out.
Missing in Action
Teams that seem to be on the cusp of being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders but clearly have needs were conspicuous in their absence as far as this year’s Trade Deadline festivities were concerned.
The Dallas stars are solid in the D-zone and in net. At some point you have to score goals to win a championship, though, and there’s no doubt that’s an area where Dallas struggles. They are so close to possibly being the Western Conference favorites, but apparently were limited by the number of draft picks they could move and a lack of prospects at the AHL level.
Another team expected to be a player was the Colorado Avalanche.
With two solid goaltenders, but no one with any real postseason experience to speak of, Colorado figured to be in the market for Lehner, Corey Crawford or even Henrik Lundqvist. The Avs also were linked to players who could add scoring depth and possibly help replace the injured Nazem Kadri in the top six such as Thornton, Kyle Palmieri, and Pageau.
Instead, Colorado brought in penalty-killing specialist and depth forward Vladislav Namestikov from Ottawa and depth goaltender Michael Hutchinson from Toronto. The Avs are a contender in the Western Conference, but have been up and down in terms of consistency as a result of various injuries all season. It remains to be seen if they can play a style that will take them deep into the spring.
Other Notable Moves
Erik Gustafsson to Calgary was a good pickup for the Flames. Maybe surrounded by a little more talent Gustafson will return to his past 60-point form. The Flames had to do something with Norris-winner Mark Giordano out for the year and Travis Hamonic also injured. They also brought in big, stay-at-home D-man Derek Forbort, who is back to 100 percent after suffering from back issues, from the Kings.
Vancouver acquiring top-six forward Tyler Toffoli from the Kings with Brock Boeser sidelined took one of the top offensive threats off the market well before Deadline Day. This was a necessary move and a smart preemptive strike.
Finally, the Flyers made a couple under-the-radar deals that will provide depth, size and physicality while removing some of the weaknesses in the bottom six that have contributed to them being mostly an also-ran in recent years. Veteran forward Nate Thompson was a solid pickup from Montreal. At 6-1, 207 lbs., he will add grit and experience at the bottom of the lineup along with 6-foot-3, 206-pound bruiser Derek Grant, who came over from Anaheim (do the Ducks have any players left?).
Hopefully all of you had an enjoyable hockey Christmas in February. Now the real fun begins as the teams fit all the new pieces together and make a final push for the playoffs.