As NHL Trade Deadlines go, Monday’s was a near snoozer.
The TSN talking heads — who hyped the 2018 edition to death — were twiddling their thumbs and yawning at the veritable lack of movement. That is, until the Tampa Bay Lightning livened up the proceedings.
With just minutes to spare, Bolts GM Steve Yzerman pulled the trigger on his second most favorite deal, acquiring New York Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh and two-way forward J.T. Miller for forwards Vladislave Namestnikov and Brett Howden, D Libor Hajek, a 2018 first round pick and a conditional 2019 second rounder.
A blockbuster, to be certain, but all the bluster and speculation on a so-so deadline day was about Ottawa Senators superstar rearguard Erik Karlsson and the umpteen teams he was rumored to be going to — including Tampa.
In the end, EK65 went nowhere, which probably didn’t make him very happy — ditto forward Bobby Ryan, whose “horrible” contract the team wanted to jettison along with Karlsson.
All in all, a number of small and medium deals were made along with a few “bigger” deals. Which means there were prohibitive “winners” and “losers” on Monday. We will chronicle them here, along with a “meh” section for teams who, while they didn’t wow anyone with deals, didn’t really hurt themselves either.
From winners to losers, and “meh’s” in between.
18. Winner – Nashville Predators
The Preds and GM David Poile got things going on Sunday, sending young forward Pontus Aberg to Edmonton for veteran forward Mark Letestu. But, Letestu’s legacy in the Music City lasted minutes, as he was then flipped to Columbus for a fourth round pick in 2018. Poile followed those moves up by adding some depth muscle in the form of San Jose’s Brandon Bollig, as well as G Troy Grosenick. All he had to give up was a 6th rounder in this year’s draft. Poile, never one to sit on his hands and sensing this could be his team’s year to win it all, then rolled the dice on impending restricted free agent forward Ryan Hartman of the Blackhawks, getting him and a 2018 fifth rounder for a 2018 first round selection, forward Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 fourth rounder. Hartman slots in on their fourth line and brings 25 points, a +5 and 95 hits to the Predators line-up. And, oh yah, Poile signed semi-retired veteran Mike Fisher for the rest of the year, for good measure.
17. Winner – New Jersey Devils
Sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and holding the first wild card spot is a precarious place for the Devils. Looked at another way, though, they are nine points clear of the chasing New York Islanders with less than 20 games to go. So, while they aren’t quite in the drivers seat, they made some moves to make life difficult for a team like Tampa Bay, who they could face if the playoffs started today. They made the last significant deal of the day Monday, getting hulking forward Patrick Maroon from Edmonton for minor leaguer J.D. Dudek and a 2019 third round draft pick. His 14 goals and 30 points with Edmonton were impressive, but his big body down the wing makes him more imposing. Jersey also announced to potential playoff foes that they will beat them with speed, too, having pulled the trigger to bring in 25-goal man Michael Grabner last Tuesday. In that transaction they also gave up virtually nothing — minor league D Igor Rykov and a 2018 second round pick.
16. Winner – Winnipeg Jets
For much of his six and a half year career as GM of the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff was known as a “Stand Pat” when it came to trades. Ever exercising extreme caution, he was praised, but mostly vilified for not wanting to do anything “until the time was right.” Well, that moment came Monday in the guise of veteran centerman and impending UFA Paul Stastny, who the tanking St. Louis Blues were surprisingly willing to part with — to a Central Division foe, nonetheless. The 32-year-old pivot, acquired for minor league F Erik Foley and two draft picks (2018 first round; 2020 4th round conditional), immediately makes the Jets very deep down the middle. Stastny slots into a dynamic third line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine, giving Winnipeg three solid lines heading into a post-season the Jets figure they can win in. Chevy capped his banner day off by sending a 2018 fourth round selection to Montreal for depth defenceman Joe Morrow (38 games, 11 points).
15. Winner – New York Rangers
In the NHL manual under “how to strip down and rebuild a team, the right way” it should say “see Rangers, New York.” Knowing full well that his aging core of players needed to be moved, especially in a season gone way off the post-season rails, GM Jeff Gorton put out the feelers and reeled in enough prospects and draft picks to satisfy his critics. Now, his first move on Feb. 20 involved sending veteran defenceman Nick Holden, who was due to become a UFA this off-season, to Boston. In return, Gorton got D Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third round pick. Then he pulled the trigger on the aforementioned Grabner to New Jersey swap on Feb. 22. Then, a day before the deadline, he kick-started things with a huge deal, again with the Bruins, shipping out UFA Rick Nash for Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren and two draft picks (2018 first rounder and 2019 7th rounder). Still not satisfied with the tear down Gorton finished a busy week by trading captain Ryan McDonagh and F J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for F Vladislav Namestnikov, F Brett Howden, D Libor Hajek and two more picks (2018 first round; 2019 second round). Not a bad haul.
14. Winner – Pittsburgh Penguins
Eastern Conference front-runners Boston and Tampa Bay, both of who made big deadline moves, were put on notice by two-time defending champs Pittsburgh that the path to the Stanley Cup still goes through them. After a slow start to the season, the Pens got over a second straight championship hangover and hoisted themselves back into contention (they are third in the Metro Division with 76 points). Sensing an opportunity to make his club that much better, GM Jim Rutherford fleeced the Ottawa Senators last Friday, sending D Ian Cole, G Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first rounder and a 2019 third round selection for C Derick Brassard, F Vincent Dunn and a 2018 third rounder. Brassard gives the Penguins three great centermen and a potent third line in Brassard, Conor Sheary and Phil Kessel. In two housekeeping moves, Rutherford sent veteran winger Ryan Reaves to Vegas for young F Tobias Lindberg, as well as trading Greg McKegg to Carolina for Josh Jooris.
13. Winner – Tampa Bay Lightning
Give Tampa GM Steve Yzerman a lot of credit, he sure knows which trade hill he wants to die on. After exhausting all avenues to acquire Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, Stevie Y put together a deal the New York Rangers couldn’t refuse. With his team just hours from beating Toronto 4-3 in a shootout to put another point between them and the Maple Leafs for first in the East, he acquired Rangers captain and solid defenceman Ryan McDonagh, as well as good two-way forward J.T. Miller for a package including F Vladislav Namestnikov, F Brett Howden, D Libor Hajek and two draft picks (2018 first round; 2019 second round). McDonagh, who had 26 points and a +7 in 49 games with the Blueshirts, gives the Lightning a frighteningly good top four that includes Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Anton Stralman. Miller is a solid center who had 40 points in New York and won 54.3 percent of his face-offs. A great trade for Tampa, in our estimation, that makes them serious Cup threats.
12. Meh – Philadelphia Flyers
With the Lightning, Bruins and Penguins all loading up for a deep playoff run, a few teams didn’t do enough to make them serious contenders come April. While the Flyers have been super hot lately, going 9-0-1 to vault into first place in the Metropolitan Division (as of Tuesday), they could have used some depth on a defensive corps that doesn’t really scare anyone. The one move they did make to improve their lot was getting pending RFA netminder Petr Mrazek from Detroit to replace injured starter Brian Elliott, who had abdominal surgery on Feb. 13 and is out at least four more weeks. Mrazek’s acquisition was exacerbated by the fact that back-up netminder Michal Neuvirth was also recently shelved with an undisclosed injury and will be out 4-6 weeks too. Mrazek, who has been outstanding in three games with Philly (3-0, 1.30 goals against average, .947 save percentage), cost the team just a 2018 4th round selection and a 2019 third rounder. They get a “meh” grade though, for not shoring up the back end in front of Mrazek.
11. Meh – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have proven to everyone that they can score and are getting outstanding, and Vezina-worthy, goaltending from Frederik Andersen. But, like the Flyers, they didn’t do anything to bring in a veteran depth defenceman to stop some of the bleeding in their own end. The Buds are third in scoring with 210 goals so far this season, however, they are only 15th in goals against (183, or 2.77 per game) and near dead last in shots against (34.1). So, what did wily GM Lou Lamoriello do to improve his club? He went out and got depth at center in Montreal veteran Tomas Plekanec and afterward insisted he “liked the make-up” of his team. Now, Plekanec does come at the right time, what with Auston Matthews out for a couple of weeks, but Toronto really could have used a third-pair, shutdown defenceman going into the playoffs against improved clubs like Tampa, Pittsburgh and especially Boston — who they will likely face in the first round.
10. Meh – Boston Bruins
Yes, the Bruins did get aging sniper and 2018 UFA Rick Nash to provide much needed secondary scoring as well as veteran C Tommy Wingels from Chicago and D Nick Holden from the Rangers. Nash, though, has not been a superb post-season performer and is three years removed from being an elite level shooter. He has 18 goals in 61 games so far this season, for which the Bruins gave up a sizable package including Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren, a 2018 first round pick and a 2019 seventh round pick. They better hope he’s got more than the three goals in 12 games he scored during last year’s playoffs. Overall, Nash has 15 goals in 77 post-season contests or about one every five or six games, compared to 434 markers in 1,050 regular season games (one every two and a half games). Holden might be the best of the lot, as he has five goals and eight points in 18 playoff games. We will see what effect Nash has on the B’s, especially at playoff time.
9. Meh – San Jose Sharks
The Sharks sure rolled the dice at the deadline, surprising a few by going out and getting enigmatic winger Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. It was an even bigger gamble considering Kane is a rental who hits free agency in the summer. They “won” the deal in that the picks that went the Sabres way, a 2019 first rounder and a 2020 fourth rounder, are conditional on whether Kane re-signs with them or not. The “meh” part of the deal, though, comes in the form of Kane’s often me-first attitude and total lack of playoff experience (zero games in eight seasons). Kane did have nice round 20-goal, 20-assist totals in Buffalo and brings some grit. However, the Sharks, despite being in second place in the Pacific, don’t have a rock solid grip on a playoff spot yet, as they are in a group of eight teams separated by just six points. A dog fight will ensue and if they don’t make the playoffs, we’ll still be left wondering if Kane has any post-season game.
8. Meh – Vegas Golden Knights
We weren’t going to put the second place overall expansion Knights anywhere on this list, that is until they swapped three picks, including a first rounder, to Detroit for expensive forward Tomas Tatar. The Detroit veteran brings speed and scoring (75 goals in last three seasons, 16 so far in 2017-18) to a surprisingly good Knights squad that has plenty of scoring already. What he doesn’t bring, necessarily, is penalty killing acumen. The Golden Knights are strong in just about every facet except for when they are a man or two down. That was proved in a playoff-like game against the Kings in L.A. Monday night, when the hosts stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to win in overtime 3-2. Two of L.A.’s goals came via the powerplay, against a Knights’ penalty killing unit that is ranked just 17th at 79.9 percent efficiency (35 PPGA in 174 times shorthanded). We like the Tatar acquisition and we might have liked it better if he had proven PK ability.
7. Meh – Columbus Blue Jackets
First, we’ll give kudos to Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen for not sitting idle when his team needed a boost at the deadline. With 69 points and the slimmest of holds on the last wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Kekalainen made a made a trio of deals to hopefully provide depth at forward and defence. First he brought back former Jacket Mark Letestu from Nashville (via Edmonton) for a 2018 fourth rounder. Not a bad swap, considering the 33-year-old scored in his debut and had 11 points in 13 playoff games last year. Then, the Columbus GM continued his shopping spree by parting with a 2020 3rd round pick and F Nick Moutrey for Ottawa defenceman-for-the-minute Ian Cole (who was acquired in the Pittsburgh trade for Derick Brassard). A two-time Cup winner, Cole provides balance on the back end. Lastly, the Jackets sent little used Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte to Vancouver for aging scorer Thomas Vanek. Again, not bad, but not a huge home run. Columbus gets a “meh” for the fact that none of these players provides a “wow” factor, or instantly brings them a playoff berth.
6. Loser – St. Louis Blues
Could it be the slumping Blues have already thrown in the towel on their 2017-18 season. Just a point out of the last wild card spot in the West, the Blues sent veteran C Paul Stastny to Winnipeg in a shocker of a deadline trade Monday. With the talent they possess, the Blues shouldn’t be fighting for their playoff lives and on a 3-6-1 skid at a critical time of the season. Yet, we smell a white flag and that came in the guise of Stastny’s departure north to a Central division foe, with a late 2018 first round selection coming back, along with F Erik Foley and a conditional 2020 fourth round pick. At the time of the trade, Stastny was the Blues fourth leading scorer with 12 goals and 28 assists. He will help the Jets make a deep run into the 2018 post-season, barring a huge upset.
5. Loser – Dallas Stars
The Stars are still in the race in the West and it’s going to be a vicious, knock-down, drag-out fight to the very end of the season to see who claims the last five playoff spots. Vegas, Nashville and Winnipeg seem to be shoo-ins, followed by eight teams — including Dallas — within eight points of each other. The silence out of GM Jim Nill’s office in the week leading up to and including the deadline, was deafening. The Stars need secondary scoring in a big way and got none. The usual suspects — Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin — account for the greater part of Dallas’ offence with 76 goals (the team has 186 through 63 games). Being in the middle of that eight-team pack with 76 points is hardly a home-and-cooled situation and by virtue of doing nothing at the deadline, Nill might have doomed his team to another year of golfing early.
4. Loser – Washington Capitals
Perennial also-rans Washington will most likely make the playoffs but at this deadline they were curiously quiet, and that could cost them again when the chips are down. Don’t get us wrong, this is still a formidable club with a top scorer in Alex Ovechkin who is still lighting it up with a league leading 39 goals. Yet, we get the feeling they are wasting his talent and an opportunity to win by not adding a key ingredient or two. The problem with the Capitals is thus. They have taken the fewest shots per game of any team (28.6 per game), while giving up the 11th most in the league at 32.4. This has had the effect of wearing down former Vezina winner Braden Holtby. He is sporting his worst ever career numbers with a .908 save percentage, zero shutouts and 3.02 goals against (he was yanked in a 5-1 loss to Columbus Tuesday night). He has faced over 31 shots per game this season, which means the Caps should have rustled up a defensive defenceman and maybe a defensive minded forward, both who could block shots. The lights might go out early in D.C. — again.
3. Loser – Buffalo Sabres
It’s been a miserable season in the Queen City and with just one deal made at the deadline, things aren’t going to get better, short term or maybe even long term. The team did manage to deal impending UFA Evander Kane to San Jose, but got no bodies in return and only a conditional first or second round pick. The Sabres get a first rounder (and probable low one, at that) if he re-signs with the Sharks, a second if he bolts at the end of the season. They should have at least got one serviceable body back in the transaction, to start. Otherwise, the Sabres are a mess, with a leader in Jack Eichel out for an extended period and holes all over the line-up. They do have many impending UFAs/RFAs this summer, so the trade deadline may have been fairly quiet for a reason. The fact, though, that they got so little for Kane makes them a deadline loser.
2. Loser – Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver had a chance to bend the Columbus Blue Jackets over a barrel at the deadline, but in the end gave away old but still productive winger Thomas Vanek. He had 41 points this season prior to being dealt to the Jackets, which was one more point than fellow 30-something forward Paul Stastny had with St. Louis before he was sent to Winnipeg. Only thing is, the Blues actually got a better return for shipping Stastny out (a first round pick, a prospect in Erik Foley and a conditional 4th rounder in 2020). The Jackets, begging for scoring, only had to part with the uninspiring UFA Jussi Jokinen, who had seven points in 46 games with three different teams this season and minor leaguer Tyler Motte. We think the Canucks could have pried a younger UFA out of Columbus, like Boone Jenner or Matt Calvert, but the deal’s done. The ‘Nucks are going nowhere and won’t for the foreseeable future.
1. Loser – Ottawa Senators
In the end, the Senators couldn’t maximize the value in 2019 free agent and superstar defenceman Erik Karlsson. They didn’t need to, considering more teams will be in play for his services come the entry draft this year, but Ottawa gets a big, fat loser label anyway. Why? Because we have this nagging suspicion that GM Pierre Dorion and meddling owner Eugene Melnyk might still screw up a blockbuster trade anyway — or, shudder, see him leave for nothing on or about July 1, 2019. Karlsson — and tag along Bobby Ryan — can’t be happy to still be with a non-contender and can’t be all that impressed with the deals the team made. The return on the Derick Brassard deal with Pittsburgh, D Ian Cole, G Filip Gustavsson and two picks (2018 first round, 2019 3rd round) actually turned into minor league F Nick Moutrey, Gustavsson, the two previous picks and a 2020 third rounder when Cole was flipped to Columbus. And that deal two weeks before the deadline that saw Dion Phaneuf depart for L.A., bringing Marian Gaborik to Ottawa, was just bad big contract for lesser bad contract. What an utter mess.