With the trade deadline behind us, it’s time to declare the winners and losers of the big day — because that’s what puts the bow on it all.
A total of 31 trades were made on Feb. 24 as the buyers and sellers did what business they could before all the action closed. Here are some of our highlights and lo(l)-lights of the day as we try to figure out what it all means for the playoff push ahead.
Ottawa Senators: Draft picks!
The return for Jean-Gabriel Pageau (picks in the first and second rounds, and a conditional third-rounder) was solid and better than anyone expected in the lead-up to the trade deadline. They got a second-round pick and a first-round prospect in Erik Brannstrom for Mark freakin’ Stone last year, so by comparison this is a big win. They got a fifth for Tyler Ennis and a fourth for Vlad Namestnikov and now hold 14 picks in this summer’s draft — including three first-rounders and four second-rounders.
And the 2020 draft is regarded as an especially strong one. Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield headline it at the top, but there’s a lot of high-end depth to follow.
“From what I’ve seen… there’s probably another drop-off around 20 and from there I’d have to tell you from about 20 to 60 it’s a very good draft,” Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion told Sportsnet at the CHL-NHL Top Prospects game in January. “It’s one of the better drafts, our scouts feel, in a long time and we’re fortunate enough to probably have six picks in the first 60 or so, or 65, so we feel we’re going to have a pretty good draft this year.”
Now the Senators are staring at the possibility of having three picks inside the top 20. Theirs and San Jose’s (that’s karma for you) are setting Ottawa up for two high lottery selections, and there’s no guarantee the Islanders make the playoffs this year. And if they don’t? Their pick is only protected if it ends up in the top three.
Ottawa’s focus is on accumulating future assets. They were already in a good spot before the trade deadline, but adding another first to that is a big, big positive.
Now they just have to knock it out of the park at the draft.
Carolina Hurricanes: Did the most to upgrade their team
How often does a bonafide second-line centre signed with term, in his prime, become available on the trade market? It almost never happens. But there was one available on Monday, and the Hurricanes roped in 26-year-old Vincent Trocheck for what looks like a steal of a deal.
No slight on Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark, who came back in the trade. Haula is a pending UFA and could turn out to be a rental, while Wallmark is a middle-six forward who leans more towards the third line side of things. Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie are a couple of secondary prospects… at best.
The Canes didn’t stop winning there. Sami Vatanen was brought in off the rental market and though he’s injured right now he will return soon and be a nice second-pair add. He’s not at his peak anymore, but he moves the puck well and his defending can be a little underrated. You can argue the most expensive pickup they made was for Rangers defenceman Brady Skjei, a 25-year-old defenceman signed for another four years beyond this one, who Carolina acquired for whichever of their two first-round picks ends up being the later one. So after all this, Carolina still holds a first-rounder this summer (we’re betting they keep Toronto’s).
No one did more to improve their team on deadline day than Carolina. The only thing they didn’t improve on was their netminding, in the wake of injuries to Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. Both were labelled as “longer term” injuries by head coach Rod Brind’Amour. But, as we saw Saturday night, Carolina’s defence is one of the better shutdown units in the league — so good, in fact, that a beer-league goalie could be successful behind it.
There’s not even an ounce of hyperbole to that anymore.
Edmonton Oilers: Ken Holland rewarded his troops
Connor McDavid’s short-term injury could have been a real setback for the top-heavy Oilers, but the team won three of its first four without him and went 3-2-1 overall before he returned on Saturday. That was a real statement and must have influenced the GM to do something.
“No risk, no gain. I can sit around and do nothing. I can puddle around, but I felt like I had a chance to help,” Holland said. “They’ve played hard all year. They’ve battled and scratched and clawed.”
First of all, I cannot wait to see Andreas Athanasiou on McDavid’s wing. Edmonton’s top need at the deadline was for speed and scoring on the wings, and while Athanasiou has struggled this year, he scored 30 times in 2018-19 and could find that touch again next to McDavid. He’s an RFA this summer as well, which means Edmonton will have more than one year of control on him.
Tyler Ennis was a cheap addition as a depth winger and also adds some speed, so the Oilers leave the deadline having addressed their primary need and didn’t have to use a first-rounder or Jesse Puljujarvi to get it done.
And then there’s Mike Green, who was a late-night addition on Sunday. Like Athanasiou, Green comes over from Holland’s old team in Detroit, so the GM feels comfortable with the player. He’s a depth add at 5-on-5, but is still an excellent passer with great offensive instincts and should help their second power-play unit. And, heck, Green sending stretch passes to McDavid and Athanasiou could be a lethal combination.
Vegas Golden Knights: Buyers for a Cup run once again
Expansion teams shouldn’t be making the sort of moves Vegas has since Day 1, but here we are at another deadline talking about this third-year team as an impressive buyer. There was no big splash along the lines of Stone from last year, but don’t underestimate how large Robin Lehner could be for them.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the face of the franchise and the backbone to all the success the team has had, but the fact is he has a .906 save percentage on the season and it’s been sub-.900 over the past three months. His .808 high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 this season ranks 44th among goalies with at least 500 minutes.
He’s never had a backup capable of taking over for stretches and allowing the 35-year-old Fleury to rest. Lehner will at least be that, but he could be much more. It’s not as though Vegas is itching to move on from Fleury, but Lehner’s play could very well demand that he become the starter at some point — maybe even in the playoffs.
Vegas is solid up front, running with the 12th-best offence, and their defence corps was added to in prior to the deadline when they picked up Alec Martinez for a couple of second-round picks. They seem to be coming into their own again, too, with a 7-2-1 record in their past 10, which has brought them to the top of the Pacific. The general feeling has been “Vegas is great and could go on a playoff run… if Fleury is good enough.” But now with Lehner, that caveat has been diminished.
Florida Panthers: What are you doing?
It makes no sense.
The Panthers spent money all off-season — on head coach Joel Quenneville, and on UFAs Sergei Bobrovsky and Anton Stralman. Heck, they were even making a push on Artemi Panarin. They’re in the thick of the playoff hunt, too, just two points back of Toronto for third in the Atlantic with a game in hand.
And they just, basically, threw up the white flag.
The return for Trocheck was underwhelming, and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been able to do better by waiting until the summer. There should have been no rush there because Trocheck is under contract for another two seasons.
That trade was made early enough in the day that the optimistic fans (don’t know if any Florida backers would even qualify at this point) may have thought, “OK, this isn’t great, but maybe these are assets to flip for defensive help.” We waited. And waited. And waited. And then, just… nothing.
Florida actually traded a termed second-line centre in his prime, and the best player coming back is a rental.
Here’s the long-time issue with the Panthers organization: There is no focus from one season to the next. When they made the playoffs in 2012, neither their first line nor their coach made it through another 82-game season with the organization. When they next made the playoffs in 2016, they fired their coach a quarter of the way through the following season. They made a pivot towards more of an analytical approach, then went the complete opposite direction one year later.
In the expansion draft, they gave Vegas two thirds of their top line to protect, presumably, Nick Bjugstad, Mark Pysyk or Alex Petrovic — two of which aren’t even with the team anymore.
Who knows what the plan is there. But they walk out of the deadline having lost a deal to two teams they are directly competing against for a playoff spot — Carolina and Toronto (who they moved Denis Malgin to). They are the day’s biggest loser, hands down.
Vancouver Canucks: Devastating injury news and a busy division around them
To be fair to GM Jim Benning, he already made his move a week ago, bringing in Tyler Toffoli from the Kings when news hit that Brock Boeser was going to be out for a few weeks. He didn’t want to move his first-round pick and, really, this is still a team building towards its best days, so one eye always had to be on the future.
The Canucks aren’t in the losers category because they didn’t make an impactful move on Feb. 24, but for things out of their control. They made a last-minute move to bring in goalie Louis Domingue from New Jersey because it was announced Jacob Markstrom was returning to Vancouver to get his knee checked out — and early indications are that this could also be a multi-week setback.
It can not be overstated how important Markstrom has been to this Cinderella season. He’s the team’s MVP, its rock, and losing him is nothing short of a disaster. It means 24-year-old goalie of the future Thatcher Demko is now the goalie of the present at a key point in the season. He has shown flashes and is a good, young netminder in his own right, but putting the weight of what’s ahead on him now is no small task.
At the same time, Edmonton added all sorts of depth, Vegas added a top-notch goalie, Calgary added defensive depth and Arizona paid up for Taylor Hall two months ago. Everyone in the Pacific got better, while Vancouver is going to have to handle this tough news as they embark on an Eastern Canadian road trip.