Down Goes Brown: NHL Trade Deadline winners and losers

Lou Lamoriello talks about a quite deadline for the Toronto Maple Leafs, adding Brian Boyle and staying the course.

The NHL Trade Deadline was today. You may have heard about it. We posted a few articles about the topic over the last month, and there was even some TV coverage.

In all, we had 19 deals today and 35 in total over the last week. Now that the 3:00 ET deadline has come and gone and any trade-call stragglers have been wrapped up, we can get to the good part: Immediately slapping “winner” and “loser” labels on everything, even though we have no idea how any of it will turn out.

Let’s get started. We’ll lead off with the biggest deal of the week.

Winner: Washington Capitals

The league’s best team landed the deadline’s biggest addition. And they did it without giving up quite as much as we thought they might. That’s a pretty clear win.

No, Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t exactly come cheap, costing the Capitals this year’s first, a decent young player in Zach Sanford and maybe a second. That’s not nothing.

But it’s also not an unbearable price for a Stanley Cup favourite. And that’s especially true if, as rumoured, Metro rivals like the Penguins and Rangers had interest. Brian MacLellan has sent a clear signal that his team is all-in on a Cup this year.

That might feel like an uncomfortable position for nervous Caps fans who’ve been burned by hope before. But for a franchise that’s still seeking their first title, swinging for the fences seems like the right play. And MacLellan didn’t even have to overpay to do it.

Loser: St. Louis Blues

The flip side of the Shattenkirk deal is the team that gave him up.

Armstrong has since hinted that the market for Shattenkirk just didn’t materialize the way he hoped it would, and the fact that the deal went down two days before the deadline suggests that was the case. That’s partly on him – this is where a GM needs to be actively shopping, not just listening – but at a certain point there’s only so much you can do. If everyone knows a guy is available and only one team was willing to pay up, you take what you can get, right?

Well, maybe. The other option is to keep the player and hope you can go on a playoff run of your own. Instead, Armstrong basically folded his hand, making it clear that he doesn’t view the Blues as real contenders (a stance that was backed up by the Blues not making any other moves). That’s a tough call for a GM to make, and sometimes accepting reality is the smart play. But in this case, you’d like to think that any sort of concession-style trade of a star would have also included a bidding war somewhere along the line.

But before we close the book on Shattenkirk, let’s look at one more angle.

Loser: Henrik Lundqvist‘s window

The Rangers had been linked to Shattenkirk, but ended up watching him head to a division rival while getting a cheaper blueliner in Brendan Smith. In the long term, that makes perfect sense. It’s still widely assumed that Shattenkirk lands in New York as a free agent, so the Rangers will probably wind up with the player they want and hold onto their first-round pick in the process. Solid work.

And yet…

In 2005, the Rangers got a gift from the hockey gods when a sixth-round pick from five years earlier arrived and almost immediately established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the world. That’s Lundqvist, of course, and he’s done everything the Rangers could have asked over the last decade-plus. But he turns 35 tomorrow, last season was the first time in his career he finished outside the top six in Vezina voting, and he struggled through much of this year’s first half.

He’s been better since, posting a .928 save percentage in February to help the Rangers to a 9-4 month, one that firmly reestablished them as legitimate Cup contenders. Still, when the dust cleared, it was the Capitals who walked away with the deadline’s biggest prize. We don’t know if the Rangers were even bidding — to hear Armstrong tell it, not many teams were — but they had the picks and cap space to make the move. They chose not to, and a team that the Rangers may have to go through to get back to the Cup final stepped up instead.

And again, that probably makes sense, especially if they sign Shattenkirk in July. But Lundqvist only has so many playoff runs left him as an elite goaltender, and one more of them is likely to slip by while the Rangers refocus on the long game.

Losers: The bystanders

Here’s the harsh reality of today’s NHL: When it comes to putting together a championship roster, you’d better be moving forward or moving backward. Being flatfooted is a ticket to irrelevance.

And yet, just like every year, a few teams in the middle of the pack chose to largely sit out the deadline. Sometimes that can make sense. The Sabres were quiet, but that’s a young team that might still have enough momentum from their rebuild that you can forgive it. Same with the Oilers, even though there seemed to be an opportunity to be a bit more aggressive.

But other teams are getting dangerously close to getting stuck in that dreaded middle ground, and did little or nothing to change it. The Jets barely did anything, which has become their style over the years, although they did flip Drew Stafford to Boston for a late pick. That was it for Don Sweeney and the Bruins, and the Islanders didn’t do anything at all, despite rumours they’d be able to move Jaroslav Halak. And the Flyers swapped Mark Streit for Valtteri Filppula and some late picks, but otherwise didn’t do anything that will help them in the future.

You want to be careful about beating a GM up too badly for what they don’t do, because you never know what went on behind the scenes. Maybe somebody backed out on a nearly done deal, or maybe a player with an NTC changed his mind. But in this league, we’re constantly told, results are what count. This is the busiest time of the regular season for reshaping rosters, and some teams don’t have anything to show for it.

And speaking of doing next to nothing…

Loser: Colorado Avalanche

Sorry, Avs fans. There’s really no excuse here.

Despite being mired in one of the worst seasons in the history of the salary-cap era, Joe Sakic managed to make only one deal of any significance. That was for Jarome Iginla, and Colorado didn’t get much for him. That’s fine – if anyone deserves a chance to win somewhere, it’s Iginla, so at least Sakic found a way to make that happen for him. But to do absolutely nothing else borders on unforgivable.

Again, as we’ve covered in recent weeks, that doesn’t mean he had to move Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog at a discount. Sakic’s reported asking price for those players was high but reasonable.

But he didn’t find a taker for any of his other pending free agents. He didn’t unload any bad contracts with term. He didn’t add a single prospect of any note. Nothing.

And sure, you could point to the Avalanche season and ask, “Who would want anything off that roster?” But when you’re the GM of a bad team, being a salesman is part of your job. You can’t wait for the market to come to you; you have to go out and create it. That’s easier said than done, of course. But as others have pointed out, teams that are in last place overall have one job at the deadline: unload so you can reload.

For whatever reason, Sakic couldn’t get it done. And now it’s probably fair to wonder if he’s still around to get another shot in the off-season.

Winner: Vancouver Canucks

There might not be a GM in the league who’s taken more criticism over the last year. From questionable off-season trades to a wishy-washy approach to rebuilding, Benning hadn’t done much to inspire confidence.

So he was an unlikely candidate to emerge as one of the deadline’s top performers. But here we are. After a year of clinging to hopes of a playoff spot, Benning made the right call and shifted firmly into rebuild mode. And he got an excellent return for doing so, landing top prospect Jonathan Dahlen, a good young player in Nikolay Goldobin and a conditional pick that reportedly could end up being as high as a first.

In a perfect world, he would have kept going and found a taker for Ryan Miller. But with the goaltending market appearing to go ice cold, that was always going to be a longshot, so we’ll give him a pass.

Benning’s taken his lumps, many of them deserved. Let’s give him some credit for a job well done this week.

Winner: Alex Burrows

The deal that sent Burrows from Vancouver to Ottawa was a divisive one from the Senators’ perspective. Some saw a team recognizing a chance to emerge from an unusually weak Atlantic Division and loading up to make the most of the opportunity, trading a well-regarded but untested prospect in the process. Others saw a classic deadline disaster, featuring a team giving up one of its better young players for a washed-up veteran who hasn’t moved the needle in years.

In either case, one winner was clear: Burrows himself. The longtime Canuck was a rumoured buyout candidate last year and was heading towards an uncertain UFA future this summer. Given how the market has treated other depth veterans in recent years, it was fair to wonder if he might be left out of the big spending on July 1.

He won’t have to worry. Within hours of the trade going down, Burrows had signed a two-year extension with the Senators, one that will pay him $5 million and even includes no-trade protection. It’s a pay cut, sure, but that’s still a great deal for a guy who’s about to turn 36 and has a lot of hard miles on him. For the Senators, the extension felt like a classic shiny-new-toy mistake. But for Burrows, Christmas came early.

Winner: The Battle of Ontario

There’s a decent chance that the Leafs and Senators could meet in the playoffs, marking the first matchup between the one-time rivals since 2004. That rivalry has cooled significantly over the years, largely due to the Leafs never being any good, and there was a risk that a matchup this year could be awkwardly free of bad blood.

Then came the deadline, and two moves that could help inject some malice back into what was once a pretty epic rivalry. Obviously, the Burrows deal helps immensely – there are few players in the league who are as easy to hate (and who embrace that role as enthusiastically). But let’s not forget new Leaf Brian Boyle, whose playoff history with Ottawa includes this whole thing:

It’s not Darcy Tucker dive-bombing an entire bench, but in a rivalry-starved NHL, every little bit helps.

Loser: Tampa Bay Lightning

I know, I know. Steve Yzerman’s done such good work with the Lightning over the years that he’s practically untouchable when it comes to significant criticism these days. And it’s true that he did fine on the deal that sent Boyle to the Leafs for a second-round pick, which is a fair price for a veteran rental, and wriggled free of Filppula’s deal.

But hear me out: Doesn’t it seem like Yzerman might have misplayed the whole Ben Bishop situation?

We’ve known since last year that Bishop was likely headed out of Tampa at some point this season. He was a pending UFA, and with a cap crunch looming and Andrei Vasilevskiy ready to take over, the writing was on the wall. It was always possible that the Lightning kept both goalies all season, but a Bishop trade seemed more than likely. And while moving goalies is always tricky, Yzerman was well-positioned to get a decent return – after all, Bishop was coming off a year in which he was runner-up for the Vezina.

Instead, the Lightning ended up moving Bishop for next to nothing, getting back one middling prospect, a backup goalie who’s headed to UFA status, and a conditional pick that could range from as high as the second round to as low as nothing at all. And they had to retain salary and swap late-round picks just to get that much. (They also gained some cap space, which is especially valuable given the Lightning’s precarious situation, but that would have come in virtually any deal.)

Could Tampa have done better? Obviously not, at least not this week, or they would have taken that deal instead. Yzerman made it clear that nobody else was bidding, telling reporters “to be honest, it was the only option I had”.

But it’s hard not to wonder if Yzerman didn’t misplay his hand here; by holding onto Bishop all season long, he let the market for a good goaltender dwindle down to almost nothing. We’ll never know how things could have played out if Yzerman had timed the move differently.

Maybe a team like the Stars would have given up more before they fell out of contention. Maybe there were other offers along the way, even underwhelming ones, that would have added up to a better deal.

Or maybe there was just no way this worked out well. (Remember, Bishop has slumped and was injured at one point earlier in the year, and he has a limited no-trade clause that could have closed some doors.) Clearly, by the time this month arrived, Yzerman’s hands were tied, and he did the best he could. But for a goalie who’s ranked as one of the league’s best over the last few years, that sure didn’t add up to much.

Winner: Conditional picks

This was the hot fad this year, with every other trade involving a conditional pick of some sort. The Shattenkirk deal got so complicated that Elliotte Friedman needed six tweets to get through it.

We spent all year hearing NHL GMs tell us that making trades in today’s league is too complicated. Now we know why. When every draft pick has to be tied into some future playoff result and/or the phase of the Moon, you can see why some of these deals take a while to get done.

Winner: George McPhee and the Golden Knights

McPhee was a winner for a few reasons. For one, the Knights’ payment to the league has gone through and he’s officially allowed to start trading. Remember, the sort of moves he’ll be making aren’t bound by the deadline, so he can start making trades (official and otherwise) any time.

But maybe just as importantly, for all the talk of the expansion draft hanging over everything, the deadline came and went without anyone making any deals that took McPhee’s presumed targets off the table. The Penguins didn’t trade Marc-Andre Fleury, meaning in theory Matt Murray could still be exposed. And the Ducks didn’t move a young defenceman, meaning they’re still in danger of losing a good young player to the Knights.

Neither of those scenarios are likely to happen, because teams can still maneuver their way around the expansion draft with trades and buyouts right up until the protected lists are submitted. The Knights aren’t going to end up with Murray, and likely won’t get a Josh Manson or Jakob Silfverberg from Anaheim either.

But now McPhee gets a chance to be in on any deals those teams might want to make. Somebody’s going to squeeze a team like the Ducks over their expansion concerns; why not the Knights themselves?

Loser: Montreal Canadiens

Marc Bergevin seemed to be setting Montreal fans up for a quiet deadline. Then he went out and made five deals. He wanted size and sandpaper, and he got it, adding Jordie Benn, Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martiensen, along with defenceman Brandon Davidson.

That will make the Canadiens tougher to play against. But it may not make them any tougher to beat. This is a team that could use some scoring help, ideally down the middle, and they didn’t get it. That’s not an easy piece to add at the deadline, but the Habs had been linked to names like Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Patrick Sharp, and for various reasons missed out on all of them.

The end result is a team that’s got plenty of grit for a long playoff run, but will need to lean heavily on Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk to make it happen. The tandem of Carey Price and Shea Weber aren’t quite in Lundqvist’s clock-is-ticking ballpark, but Montreal has a window here, and their fans will be left hoping they did enough to maximize their chances.

Let’s finish with some quick hits from around the league, including a few teams that broke even.

Even: Arizona Coyotes
I was all set to give John Chayka an easy win, just based on the windfall he managed to extract for Hanzal. But then came word that he didn’t move either Shane Doan or Radim Vrbata. Doan, you can understand, but whiffing on Vrbata seems awful. There must me more to that story.

Winner: Minnesota Wild
Did they overpay for Hanzal? Sure. But the West is wide open, and they’re the odds-on favourite. If not now, when?

Winner: Florida Panthers
Thomas Vanek came at a reasonable cost, and could jump-start their power play. He has a reputation as a playoff disappointment, but the Panthers need to get there first, and he’ll help.

Even: Dallas Stars
Jim Nill did well on the Patrick Eaves deal and at least got something for Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn. But arguably his best trade chip, Patrick Sharp, turned out to be too hurt to move. And Stars fans who’ve been waiting for a goaltending add for years couldn’t have enjoyed watching Bishop get moved at a discount.

Winner: Detroit Red Wings
They made a few moves and didn’t bring in all that much, but we’ll give them a mild “win” just for accepting reality and moving into rebuild mode. The streak was fun, but now it’s time to focus on the future.

Loser: Anaheim Ducks
Bob Murray gave up a conditional pick that could end up being a first for Patrick Eaves, and that was about it. They’re another team with a window that seems to be sliding closed.

Winner: Nashville Predators
Ideally they probably would’ve liked to do more, but getting P.A. Parenteau on the cheap is at least a small step forward.

Loser: L.A. Kings
On the one hand, they added two big names in Bishop and Iginla that they didn’t seem to need. On the other, they didn’t give up much at all to get them. But you wonder about opportunity cost here – with limited cap space, should Dean Lombardi and company have been focusing on something that would helped more?

Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
They added three defencemen even though we all thought they were capped out, because Jim Rutherford is good at this.

Even: Toronto Maple Leafs
They didn’t sell off veterans, which some of their fans wanted. They didn’t pay up to add a blueliner, which some of their other fans wanted. Instead, they made two deals, paying a fair price to add Boyle and making a mildly weird deal with the Penguins to dump Frank Corrado. That’s middle ground, with maybe a slight nudge towards the winner side if Boyle eventually re-signs.

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