The NHL Trade Deadline is just a few days away, and we’re all wondering if we’ll see a blockbuster go down involving a top contender.
The best indicator when looking ahead at contenders and their deadline dealings is to look at what past champions have done. With that in mind, we looked at the Stanley Cup champion in each of the past five seasons to see how they approached the deadline – and whether those moves (or lack thereof) ultimately helped them win it all.
Generally, the biggest deadline buyers over the past few years have made waves in the playoffs, but haven’t ultimately gone on to win it all. With the exception of the loophole-exposing 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks, none of the past five Stanley Cup winners made a big splash at the deadline the year they won the Stanley Cup. Another trend: most of the past five champions made their biggest deals the summer prior to winning it all (think Ryan O’Reilly with the Blues and Phil Kessel with the Penguins) and made only minor depth moves – typically targeting the blue line – at the deadline to prepare for the stretch.
2018-19: St. Louis Blues
Last year’s St. Louis Blues made a splash over the summer with some notable free-agent signings (Tyler Bozak, David Perron and hometown hero Patrick Maroon) and went all-in with a blockbuster deal to acquire eventual Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly, but barely even dipped a toe in the trade waters at the deadline. The club made just one depth move, trading a sixth-round pick for defenceman Michael Del Zotto. (Del Zotto played just seven regular-season games for St. Louis, and none in the playoffs.)
Instead of looking beyond the organization at the midway point of 2018-19 to try to dig themselves out of last place in the league, the Blues looked within. Goaltender Jordan Binnington rose up the organizational ranks to ultimately backstop the club on what was a historic comeback campaign.
2017-18: Washington Capitals
One year after making a big deal for defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk in a blockbuster transaction with the St. Louis Blues in 2017, the Capitals kept their 2018 deadline dealings pretty low-key. A focus on depth among defencemen saw the team trade mid- and late-round picks for Michal Kempny (from Chicago) and Jakub Jerabek (Montreal). A cheap depth defenceman on an expiring deal, Kempny was a contending GM’s dream – and the deal worked out incredibly well for Washington. The rearguard appeared in all 24 post-season games en route to the franchise’s first Cup victory and earned himself a nice raise in the process, re-signing with the Capitals for $10 million over four years.
2016-17: Pittsburgh Penguins
Maybe the Capitals were looking to their playoff arch rivals for deadline inspiration, as the Penguins took a similar defence-first approach one year prior. While Pittsburgh still had its Cup-winning core intact from their 2016 victory, GM Jim Rutherford brought in a pair of veteran defencemen in Mark Streit and Ron Hainsey. Hainsey, a rental, was able to finally break his career-long playoff drought and even scored a few clutch points in big-game moments in the Cup Final. He also revived his career, going on to sign a two-year, $6-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that July.
2015-16: Pittsburgh Penguins
Rather than bulk up at the deadline, the Penguins set themselves up for success down the stretch by making deals throughout the year. First, they landed Phil Kessel in a July blockbuster with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Later that summer, they added more strength on forward by bringing in Nick Bonino. Both players came up big in the playoffs, as did Rutherford’s mid-season acquisitions: defenceman Trevor Daley and speedy winger Carl Hagelin.
That left Rutherford with the task of filling in – you guessed it – a little blue-line depth when the deadline rolled around, opting to bring in defenceman Justin Schultz. Schultz excelled in Pittsburgh, re-signing with the club and putting up his best season on record one year later to help the Penguins repeat as Cup champs.
Rutherford’s heavy lifting all season set the club up for a two-year run and earned him GM-of-the-year honours.
2014-15: Chicago Blackhawks
This one was an interesting case. Before the Blackhawks closed in on another Stanley Cup run, they opened up a big loophole when it comes to the salary cap and trade deadline deals. Just prior to the deadline, Blackhawks star Patrick Kane suffered a fractured clavicle that required surgery to repair. At the time, Kane’s recovery was expected to see him back on the ice by the beginning of the Western Conference Final, should they make it that far. With Kane (and his cap hit) on injured reserve to finish the regular season, GM Stan Bowman suddenly had some cap space to play with. He brought in pending UFAs Antoine Vermette, Kimmo Timonen and Andrew Desjardins while staying under the cap. When Kane returned to action just in time to start the playoffs, Bowman was able to bring him back without any cap concerns as the salary cap doesn’t pertain to the playoffs.