Down Goes Brown: NHL Trade Deadline winners and losers

Ryan McDonagh reacts after scoring. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Well that was fun.

After a busy deadline day that saw 16 deals involving 31 players, it’s going to take some time to sort it all out. [Takes a few minutes to sort it all out.] Yep, that’ll do it, let’s get to the winners and losers.

Winner: Deadline day anticipation

For years, we watched as NHL GMs got their dealing done early, finalizing their biggest moves in the days and even weeks leading up to deadline day. And whenever it happened, we’d all shake our heads and mumble about saving some of the action for the big day.

This year, that’s what the GMs did. Apart from Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, all of the biggest names were still available heading into this morning. Heck, they were all still available with an hour to go. If you wanted to see the drama go down to the wire like it did in the old days, today was your day.

Loser: Deadline day reality

No Erik Karlsson trade. No Max Pacioretty. No Mike Green. No Jack Johnson. No big-name surprises, unless you count Paul Stastny. It wasn’t a bad deadline day, but given how it was shaping up by mid-afternoon, it was starting to feel like a letdown. Luckily, two teams stepped up to save the day…

Winners: The Lightning and Rangers

They kept us waiting, not just until the deadline but well past it as we waited for the details of their blockbuster to leak out. But the wait was worth it.

Steve Yzerman went out and got his big-time defenseman, but it turned out not be Karlsson after all. Instead, he lands McDonagh and J.T. Miller for Vladislav Namestnikov, picks and prospects. That potentially reunites McDonagh with Dan Girardi, gives the Lightning one of the best 1-2 blue line punches in the league, and cements their status as the clear-cut Stanley Cup favourite. And he did it without giving up a key young piece like Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point. Yzerman is not playing around.

As for the Rangers, they told us what they were going to do and then they did it. Jeff Gorton got a nice haul for Nash, and he loads up on futures in this deal. Did he get enough for McDonagh, who still has a year left on a very team-friendly deal? It’s a decent return, but not an eye-popping one. But sometimes when you decide to rebuild, you have to be willing to make a clean break, if only to avoid that mushy middle so many teams are stuck in.

This deal, along with the Nash trade, certainly does that.

These are two teams headed purposefully and aggressively in opposite directions. There were no half-measures here. And their late-day bomb seemed to suck some of the air out of the rest of deadline day, leaving a few teams largely on the sidelines. Such as…

Loser: Ottawa

Just Ottawa. Not the front office. Not the team. Not the city. The whole thing. All of it.

Look, Pierre Dorion’s trades were fine. He turned Dion Phaneuf’s bad contract into a cheaper bad contract. He got a decent return for Brassard, especially when you wrap in the Ian Cole deal. He dumped some other salaries. And maybe most importantly, he showed he could be creative in a league where too many GMs still need to colour inside the lines.

But man, this is a mess.

Erik Karlsson can’t be happy. He could have been off to a contender to chase his first Stanley Cup, and instead he’s stuck riding out the season with an also-ran – and then gets to go through the whole thing all over again in the summer. At his post-deadline media availability, Dorion swore he had a great relationship with Karlsson. Maybe. But the captain can’t be thrilled with how all this played out.

If Karlsson’s miserable, imagine how Bobby Ryan feels after spending the last few weeks listening to everyone talk about how awful his contract is, and how it was being tied to Karlsson like an albatross. Or Mike Hoffman, who had his name fed into the rumour mill and now sticks around. Or Matt Duchene, who worked his way out of Colorado to get back to the playoffs and wound up in the middle of all this. Or Mark Stone, who has to sign a new contract this summer. Or an offer sheet.

But while it’s bad for the players, it’s worse for the fans. They’ve endured an awful season, they can’t stand the owner, and they were told to prepare for the franchise player’s departure, if not a total tear-down of the roster. Now the message is “Sorry, false alarm, but can I interest you in a season ticket renewal?” I’ve been in Ottawa for almost the entire history of the franchise, including the pitiful early years and all the playoff losses to the hated Leafs. In terms of fan morale, I’ve never seen it this bad.

So now, can Dorion get more for Karlsson in the summer? Maybe. There should be more bidders. But they’ll be bidding on one playoff run instead of two, and there won’t be that “we’re this close to a Cup” urgency that some teams may have had right now. There’s no guarantee that the offers get better, especially if the Lightning are out of the running now. And it’s at least possible that things get even uglier between the team and Karlsson along the way, which could really throw a wrench into everything.

It’s bad, and there’s little indication it’s going to get better anytime soon. Worse, you wonder if there’s even a path towards it getting better, at least under current ownership.

Winner: San Jose Sharks

There was a decent case to made for Evander Kane as the top winger available at the deadline, and maybe the best rental, period. And the Sharks got him for a conditional first which turns into a second if they don’t re-sign him.

That’s a reasonable price, especially if you figure that the Sharks are viewing this as a short-term move. If so, they’ll get a top rental without losing a first-round pick. Not a bad move for Doug Wilson.

From the Sabres’ perspective, the return is disappointing – they also get a fourth, and a player in Danny O’Regan who at 24 is barely still a prospect. If there had been a better offer out there then Jason Botterill would have taken it, but obviously, the market just never materialized. Given the numbers he’s put up on the ice, Kane’s personal history would certainly seem to be a factor here.

We probably have to assign a “loser” to the Sabres here, since they didn’t manage to move Robin Lehner or Josh Gorges. Sabres fans didn’t watch this entire nightmare season play out so they could settle for a (likely) second-round pick at the deadline.

Loser: The Canadiens, Marc Bergevin and Max Pacioretty

Poor guy. The Habs basically put him on the market in November, and he responded by playing well enough to drive up the price. He certainly sounded like a guy who was ready to move on. And with the Canadiens shutting everyone down and chasing lottery odds, it seemed to make all the sense in the world to move him now.

And yet… nothing. So the question is what happened? Did something fall through at the last moment? Were the Canadiens never as serious about the deal as they seemed to be? Or, and this is where it gets interesting, was Marc Bergevin told not to make any major deals, because the team already has a good idea that he may not be their long-term GM?

We might find out soon, although you’ll have to take everything that we hear with a big grain of salt. But this was a chance to cut the cord and give everyone a fresh start. Instead, the drama drags on in Montreal.

Winner: Trading first round picks

In the NHL, drafting and development are the path to winning championships. And with the draft being such a crap shoot after the first round, those high picks are gold. You hang onto them at all costs.
Or so we’ve been told. Apparently the GMs missed the memo, because first-rounders were solidly in play this year. We saw six 2018 first rounders moved ahead of the deadline, including four today, plus that conditional Sharks pick and a Lightning pick that becomes a first if they win a Cup this year or next.

Maybe we’re seeing a market correction back to the days when late firsts weren’t valued all that highly. Or maybe we’ve just got an unusually desperate group of GMs out there. Either way, mix in the up to three 2018 firsts that had already been moved (by the Blues, Islanders and maybe Senators) and the draft board is already a mess. And that’s before guys like Karlsson and Pacioretty go back on the market this summer.
Man, is there anyone out there who can’t trade for high picks these days? [Checks earpiece.] Oh, right.

Losers: Vancouver Canucks

The Thomas Vanek deal was OK, and like any pure rental you have to assume the team took the best offer that was out there. But Jim Benning does know he can acquire picks, right? These days, the Canucks are mostly saying the right things about knowing they’re in a rebuild, but their actions don’t really back it up.

Their entire deadline amounted to Vanek and one other minor deal (swapping Philip Holm to Vegas for Brendan Leipsic). They weren’t well-positioned to do a massive fire sale, but given how they’ve spent almost the entire year as obvious sellers, it’s disappointing to see them do even less at the deadline than they managed last season.

Winner: Jussi Jokinen’s moving company

At some point you have to start taking it just a little bit personally, right?

Loser: Tomas Plekanec’s goatee

I mean…. really?

I can’t tell if we’re all OK with Lou Lamoriello’s facial hair policy from the 1940s, or just so afraid of him that we can’t point out how ridiculous this all is. If I disappear tomorrow and am never heard from again, we’ll know which it is.

Winner: It’s complicated

For years, we’ve been hearing about how hard it is to trade in the cap-era NHL. Countless GMs have shuffled up to a microphone, made puppy-dog eyes at the cameras, and sulked about how complicated their jobs were. Then, inevitably, we’d find out that the complication causing everybody so much trouble was some intricate and convoluted concept like “a team retained 20 per cent of a salary” or “one of the draft picks is conditional.”

Well, not this year. For once, the league’s GMs really did churn out some complicated work. The Brassard deal had so many levels that the league sent it back to be reworked. The Nash trade needed a delicate bit of salary-swapping to make it work. There were plenty of three-way deals, several conditional picks, and lots of salary retention.

That’s good news for fans. Because if “this trade is complicated” is viewed as a starting point instead of an excuse, it will open up all sorts of possibilities for future wheeling and dealing. We’ve know this day was coming – NBA salary rules makes their trades way more complicated than the NHL version, and they never complain about it making their jobs too hard. But now that it’s finally here, it bodes well for the off-season, next year’s deadline and beyond.

Get creative and get to work guys. As we found out this week, it really can be done.

Loser: Central Division stability

The Central has long been considered the best division in hockey. It might still be, but the balance of power has shifted mightily. And you didn’t have to look any further than the day’s two most surprising sellers, the Blackhawks and Blues. Both teams made major deals that saw them sacrifice the present for the future. And both made those deals with division rivals.

We knew it was coming, but seeing the Hawks reduced to scrounging for draft picks on deadline day was jarring. But Stan Bowman turns out to be a pretty darn good scrounger, getting a first and more from the Predators for Ryan Hartman. Hartman’s a decent player, a former first-rounder himself who’s still just 23, but he hadn’t exactly been burning up the top of anyone’s trade bait list.

Seeing David Poile spend his first-round ammo on Hartman instead of one of the higher-profile rentals seems odd, even if it may pay off in the long-term.

If we didn’t expect the Blackhawks to be selling heading into the season, we didn’t expect it from the Blues heading into this month. But here they are, fresh off of six straight losses and apparently throwing in the towel on what had initially seemed like a solid season. Getting a first and more for a few months of Paul Stastny is a decent return, but it highlights a stunning plunge by the Blues that has to raise some serious questions about where this team is headed. And it sounds like some of their best players are already wondering about that very question.

As for Stastny’s new team, they need their own section…

Winner: Kevin Cheveldayoff

He did it. After nearly seven years, Cheveldayoff finally got up on the bar and danced.

The narrative of Cheveldayoff’s nearly non-existent trade record has been beaten to death over the years, including in this space. And rightly so, given how glaring his inactivity was when compared to what guys like Bowman, Armstrong and Poile were doing. But the defense was always that he wasn’t timid, he was simply biding his time until the moment was right. And sure enough, with the Jets looking like Cup contenders, Cheveldayoff made his move.

Stastny didn’t come cheap, and it’s certainly possible that this is one of those deals like last year’s Kevin Shattenkirk and Martin Hanzal acquisitions where you look back and think “oops.” That’s hindsight, and it’s usually pretty accurate. But without that benefit right now, this looks like the right move, especially in this year’s West. The Predators are still scary, but with the Hawks and Blues folding, the Stars and Wild standing pat, and an expansion team leading the Pacific, there’s a lot of open field here if the Jets can hit the right holes.

Also, Cheveldayoff got lottery protection on the first-round pick, even though his team is on pace for 110 points. I’d give up a conditional sixth just to obtain the rights to a recording to that portion of the negotiation.

We’ll finish with some quick hits, including a handful of teams that broke even.

Winners: Blue Jackets – They added enough depth to look like a feisty playoff underdog, without giving up a big chunk of the future. Now we see what happens with Jack Johnson in the offseason.

Losers: The Eastern bubble teams – The Panthers, Hurricanes and Islanders were all largely quiet, even as the Blue Jackets and Devils teams they’re chasing got better.

Even: Oilers – They had two rentals, they did just OK on both, and maybe a little better than OK on Brandon Davidson. We’ll generously call that even, although after this miserable season. Oiler fans may not agree.

Losers: Coyotes – Not because we expected them to do much. But to be this bad and not come away with anything to show for it from the deadline is just ugly.

Even: Maple Leafs – The Thomas Plekanec deal was fine, but they tinkered while the Lightning and Bruins swung for the fences. Their path out of the Atlantic looks a whole lot steeper than it did a few days ago.

Losers: Stars – They did nothing at all, which was a surprise given their tenuous playoff position and Jim Nill’s history.

Even: Red Wings – This is a weird one. The Tomas Tatar deal looks great, but not finding anyone to take Mike Green seems like a major failure. He was hurt, had no-trade protection and may have been everyone’s Plan B or C after Karlsson and McDonagh. But that feels like a deal that a rebuilding team just has to find a way to make.

Losers: Capitals – They were rumored to be a late dark-horse entrant into the Karlsson sweepstakes, but ended up not doing anything. Maybe they were understandably gun shy after last year’s Shattenkirk failure. But with the Penguins improving and Flyers surging, their grip on the Metro is looking awfully slippery.

Even: Flames – With Mike Smith hurt, they didn’t land a goalie. Then again, there weren’t many goalies available, especially at the prices the Flames would want to pay. That will probably be the right call. But if the goaltending goes south and it costs them a playoff spot, they’ll get roasted for it.

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