Down Goes Brown: Unusual trade deadline winners and losers

Michael Grange joins Daren Millard to discuss the quantity and quality of trades across the 4 major sports on their Deadline Days, which has become too dependent on the league's salary cap situation.

After months of speculation, weeks of rumours, and hours of… well, not all that much, really, the NHL trade deadline has passed.

By law, that means everyone must now immediately declare winners and losers.

Usually, we slap those labels on the teams themselves. But with so few of them actually wading into the action, we may need to dive a little deeper. So here are a dozen other winners and losers in the immediate aftermath of what turned out to be a remarkably quite deadline.

Winner: The Blackhawks’ GM tree
We sometimes hear about coaching trees in various sports – the group of coaches who can trace their career paths back to a common start with a specific team or staff. The coaches take a back seat on deadline day, but the GMs are front and centre, and it was hard to ignore how many of them had connections to one team.

Chicago’s Stan Bowman was deadline week’s biggest player, landing one of the biggest names available when he pried Andrew Ladd out of Winnipeg. The GM on the other side of that deal: Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’d been Bowman’s assistant for the Blackhawks’ first Cup win. Bowman then turned to another former assistant, this time Marc Bergevin in Montreal, to pick up Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

Meanwhile, the only GM giving Bowman a run for his money on the buyer’s market was Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers. Tallon, of course, built much of the Hawks’ Cup-winning core before making way for Bowman in 2009, and he spent the past few days trying to put together another contender in Florida.

We don’t know exactly what’s in the Blackhawks’ orientation handbook for new front office employees, but it’s safe to assume that “play it safe” doesn’t show up anywhere.

Loser: Jonathan Drouin… and maybe Steve Yzerman too?

Drouin’s the easy call here. He walked away from the Lightning organization in the hopes of forcing a trade, and he didn’t get one. Now he’ll have to wait for the off-season, and unless he comes back, it will cost him a year of free agent eligibility. He can’t be happy right now.

Yzerman and the Lightning may also end up looking back on the day as a missed opportunity. This is a team with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup – maybe their last shot of the Steven Stamkos era. They didn’t ask Drouin to walk away, but once he did, it gave them a trade chip that you’d think could bring in some serious reinforcements. Instead, nothing.

Was that a mistake? We can’t say without knowing what was on the table. Maybe the Lightning win it all anyway. And maybe they get a much better haul in June than was available in February. But Yzerman, who managed to take a tough situation with Martin St. Louis and turn it into a great deal, couldn’t make it happen here. He may regret it.

Winner: Second round picks
The second round pick was this year’s must-have accessory for GMs doing their deadline shopping. Everyone from Kris Russell to Roman Polak to Jiri Hudler to Eric Staal was being moved in deals that revolved around a second rounder or two.

You could argue over whether all of those guys were worth what their new teams gave up for them, but the pattern was clear. And if you couldn’t pry away a second, you’d settle for a third. Not every trade will work out, of course, but the prices were reasonable.

That was good news if you were a buyer. If you were a seller, you were probably longing for the days when your fellow GMs weren’t quite so conservative…

Loser: First round picks
They used to be the currency of deadline day, so much so that even guys like Paul Gaustad would cost one. But this year, only one changed hands – and that one belonged to the Blackhawks, meaning it will almost certainly fall in the 25-30 range.

We’ve been talking for years about the importance of drafting and development in the cap era, and for the most part, GMs have been taking that to heart. But deadline day is supposed to be the moment when the bidding gets out of control somewhere, and eventually somebody cracks. This year, it didn’t happen.

Winner: The evolution of cap creativity
Managing the cap has long been a crucial part of a GMs job. But in the early years of the cap era, it seemed like GMs spent as much time managing expectations. And that meant shrugging their shoulders while listing off reasons why the cap was preventing them from making the moves they wanted.

There was still plenty of that on Monday. But this felt like the year that GMs collectively started getting creative with some of the tools in front of them. Teams have been able to retain salary in trades for years, but this was the first deadline where it seemed to be a top-of-mind consideration. Even deals that didn’t feature retained salary had that fact noted early on in the reporting.

More notably, this seemed to finally be the year that GMs embraced the possibility of giving up assets to dump salary commitments. It’s not a new concept – we’ve been speculating about these sorts of deals for years, and executives like Brian Burke have been rumoured to put them on the table at various points. But with the exception of a couple of Devils trades in the cap’s first year, we haven’t seen these deals happen.

But we got one, sort of, when the Caps sent a second round pick to the Leafs along with the remainder of Brooks Laich’s contract. And there was plenty of talk around someone making a similar move involving Brandon Bollig. It’s not much, but we’ll take it.

We even learned about a rare wrinkle that was probably new to many fans, thanks to Jared Cowen. An unusual contract structure that resulted in Cowen’s carrying a cap credit in the event of a buyout made him an unlikely trade target. Factor in the relatively new development of minor league players being traded and then loaned back to their original team, and it seems like NHL GMs have decided that it’s time to stop complaining and start getting creative.

Loser: Anyone who took the day off work
The whole day? Like, you burned a vacation day and everything? Oops.

Winner: Anyone who took an extended lunch
Much better. Honestly, a regular lunch probably would have worked out too.

Loser: Brooks Laich
Deadline day is tough on the players. For every deal that gets announced, real people have to pack up their lives and leave friends and family behind to head out to join a new team. Fans know this. And let’s be honest: we’re completely fine with it. We may pay lip service to feeling bad about the real-life impact, but we love our trades.

But man, poor Brooks Laich. It’s impossible not to feel for a guy who’d been with the Caps organization for 12 years. He’d been there for rock bottom in 2004, through the start of the Ovechkin era, and the heartbreak of the 2010 crash-and-burn against Jaroslav Halak and the Habs. He’d gone from rookie unknown to top-six piece, to veteran presence. He’d become a key part of the community. And then, just as the Capitals had built what may be the best team in franchise history, he was gone, shipped off to Toronto in a cost-saving move.

Damien Cox called it “the end of the last vestiges of sentimentality in the NHL,” and it’s hard to argue. This is a business and has been for a long time. But man, Brooks Laich. Poor guy.

Winner: Sergei Plotnikov, morning edition
I woke up this morning knowing nothing about Sergei Plotnikov. By 10 a.m., I felt like I knew everything about Sergei Plotnikov. By noon, I’d renamed my two kids “Sergei” and “Plotnikov.” Being the one and only player dealt on a slow morning has a way of messing with your perception among hockey fans.

Loser: Sergei Plotnikov, afternoon edition
Yeah, I don’t remember who he is either.

Winner: Reality
Typically, this is the time of year that teams that have little or no hope of making the playoffs make the mistake of talking themselves into a run. We see GMs of teams sitting six points out of a wild card decide to sacrifice picks and prospects, all in an apparent effort to improve enough that they can finish five points out.

Not this year. Not a single team that found itself outside of a playoff spot made a deal that was designed to help them down the stretch. Call it cold feet, or call it common sense, but NHL GMs on the outside looking in seemed to finally be willing to accept reality, instead of pretending that they’re going to crash a dramatic playoff race that they weren’t really invited to.

Loser: The playoff bubble
So about that dramatic playoff race…

You never want to rule anyone out – last year’s Senators showed us that miracles can happen. But after today’s movement, it’s hard to get overly excited about the stretch run. The West would appear to basically be down to the Wild and Avalanche fighting for one spot. The East race is tighter, but with both the Flyers staying quiet, the Devils, Canadiens and Hurricanes selling and the Senators losing Kyle Turris, the improving Penguins may walk away with it.

How will hockey fans feel about a quiet final six weeks? Probably not great, but look the bright side: most of the league’s GMs gave them a dress rehearsal today.