Even though we’re about a month past the deadline, trade rumours of the off-season variety are already swirling again.
Jack Eichel contributed to those in a big way Monday, with a press availability that was filled with bombs left and right. He didn’t outwardly say he had requested a trade out of Buffalo, but he made it clear that there was a “disconnect” between himself and the team in terms of how he recovers from his neck injury, and that losing was taking a toll. Eichel said he had “a lot of thinking to do in this off-season” and was aiming to be back ready for the start of next season… “wherever that may be.”
So, naturally, that has led to a lot of eyebrow raising and speculation. He may be the biggest name who will appear in trade speculation this off-season, but far from the only one. The Calgary Flames will have to consider a re-tool to some degree and the Arizona Coyotes could consider rebuilding through the draft. San Jose might explore a shake up, as could Philadelphia. And this only covers the teams that miss the playoffs.
Some of those participating in the playoffs will have disappointments of their own and fallout to deal with. But at the moment, it’s all optimism and upside for them. Most of those teams made some addition at or around the trade deadline to help with their playoff push, whether it was a depth pick up or something more substantial.
It’s the latter that we’re interested in for this piece. How have the biggest deadline deals panned out so far? Here we look at eight teams that made a move of note in April to see how the fit is. We won’t touch on pick-ups of a seventh defenceman or third-string goalie, but the players who came with a purpose to add an element that will factor into a playoff run on a nightly basis.
NY Islanders: Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac
Lou Lamoriello’s team was humming along this season and seemingly on track for us to reasonably presume they could meet or exceed last year’s appearance in the semifinal. Then captain and leading goal scorer Anders Lee tore his ACL to end his season and that gave them team an obvious need.
New York played 12 games between Lee’s injury and the trade they worked out with New Jersey to acquire Palmieri and Zajac. They went 8-4-0 in those games. The trick for the Islanders was to find players who could add some of the goals that would be missed without Lee, but also fit into the very team-first mentality that defines the Lamoriello era in that organization. Palmieri and Zajac, coming from Lamoriello’s former team in New Jersey, could do that, with Palmieri adding the goals and Zajac some veteran presence and versatility in the bottom-six, where he could play on the wing or at centre.
But ever since that trade was made, New York’s 7-7-3 record and .500 points percentage ranks 19th in the NHL and now they will finish fourth and draw Pittsburgh in Round 1. They’re 29th in goal scoring in that span which, to be fair, wasn’t always the strongest part of this team. It has been trending the wrong way though.
Palmieri, who wasn’t having his strongest season to begin with, has just two goals since the trade, which is an even slower pace than he was producing in New Jersey. He’s not even directly replacing Lee in the top-six and has more often been on the third line.
Zajac, who is averaging a bit more even strength ice time than Palmieri, has a single goal and two points so far. The price of acquisition wasn’t too high for the Islanders, with the most notable asset moving out being a first-round pick, but they’re struggling across the finish line here. To this point, the trade hasn’t paid off.
Florida: Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett
Acquired in two separate deals a couple of days apart, the Panthers perhaps didn’t take as big a swing as some were anticipating, but the result has been terrific.
Let’s start with Montour. The Panthers sorely needed another top-four option on the back end with Aaron Ekblad out, but Montour was not acquired to be a straight up replacement there. If you’re looking for Florida’s No. 1 blueliner right now, it’s MacKenzie Weegar (and he’s crushing it). Montour has settled in on the Panthers’ second pair with Markus Nutivaara.
When Montour’s been on the ice in a Panthers uniform, the team has controlled 59.73 per cent of the shot attempts, 57.27 per cent of the shots on net, and 68.18 per cent of the goals scored at 5-on-5. Nutivaara has been slightly better by every measure.
Sam Bennett, meantime, has been one of the best deadline pickups in the league so far. He brings an edge that can be tough to play against and has historically been a solid offensive producer in the playoffs, well above what he does in the regular season. Both were good reasons for the Panthers to target him.
But Playoff Bennett has arrived early. He’s scored six goals and 15 points in 11 games and has got on the score sheet in all but two games he’s played for Florida. He’s broke a Pavel Bure team record.
Where in Calgary Bennett was a moveable piece in and out of the centre position, up and down between a top- and bottom-sixer, with Florida he’s been the locked-in second line centre between Jonathan Huberdeau and Owen Tippett, and gets usage on the top power play unit.
“When you’re on one team for a while, you can kind of be trapped and put in a position and there’s always new, younger guys coming up or new guys to the team, and sometimes they get given bigger roles,” Bennett told the Calgary Sun. “Just like how I’m a new guy in Florida and I was given a big role right away. That’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s part of the game, I guess. But when you are given those opportunities, you just have to make the most of it.”
The total cost for both players plus a sixth-round pick the Panthers also got: 2021 third-rounder, 2022 second-rounder, prospect Emil Heineman.
Colorado: Devan Dubnyk
Dubnyk has played a bigger role than perhaps the Avs had planned since the trade. Four days after it was made Philipp Grubauer was added to the NHL’s COVID list and missed five games. Dubnyk started four of them, posted an .887 save percentage, allowed 13 goals and went 2-2.
The Avs were after a backup goalie at the deadline following last season’s playoff where injuries led them to starting third stringer Michael Hutchinson in the second round versus Dallas. Dubnyk was the safety net this year, which was puzzling after he failed to have even a .900 save rate with the San Jose Sharks. Even more so when considering the other goalie Colorado picked up, Jonas Johansson, hadn’t shown anything with the Sabres. So far Johansson has been the better of the two.
The Avs gave up a third-rounder and Greg Pateryn for Dubnyk, but if Grubauer goes down again this season Colorado won’t be much better off than last.
Tampa Bay: David Savard
Playing alongside Ryan McDonagh, Savard has fit into Tampa’s top four and averages over two minutes per game shorthanded as well. He’s second among all Lightning blueliners in hits and blocked shots since arriving.
In unsheltered minutes the Lightning have been outshot by six with Savard on the ice at 5-on-5 and while the expected goal differential with him has been about even, the actual goals have been 10-2 against the Lightning.
A UFA at the end of the season, it cost the Lightning a first-rounder and a mid-round pick for Savard and retained salary.
Toronto: Nick Foligno
The other notable rental moved out by Columbus, Foligno was eased in to Toronto on the top line next to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The plan would have been to give him some other looks around the lineup, namely on the second line with William Nylander and John Tavares, but injuries and the fact he was producing and performing kept him in place. Foligno recorded an assist in each of his first four games.
Now he’s injured, missing the past two Leafs games. He’s hopeful to return to one of the last two regular season games and certainly sounds in line to be in the lineup for Game 1.
Zach Hyman, the presumed top-line winger next to Matthews and Marner, skated Monday without a no-contact jersey for the first time and figures to be back for the playoffs as well. At that time Foligno may move back to the second line.
The Leafs brought in Foligno for another veteran voice, but also to get a player they could utilize anywhere in the lineup and who can be counted on for responsible minutes at both ends. So far he’s been just that, even if it’s only been a five game showing.
Boston: Taylor Hall
When the Buffalo Sabres signed Hall to a one-year contract they hoped he could bring a level of offence that could take pressure off Jack Eichel, round out a top-six and contribute to a bounce back. Didn’t even come close to happening.
When Boston traded for him, they hoped he could add a scoring threat to their second line, something they tried to address at last season’s deadline with Ondrej Kase. This time Hall has met expectations.
It took Hall three games to equal the goal total he reached in Buffalo this season. Hall has played 16 games for the Bruins now and has scored eight goals and 14 points, never going two games in a row without getting on the score sheet.
He’s formed instant chemistry with David Krejci, who has 20 points and a team-leading 11 primary assists since Hall arrived.
The Bruins gave up Anders Bjork and a second-rounder for Hall, a season after he was dealt for a first and some prospects. It was a great bargain for the Bruins, who Hall had to waive a no-move clause for, and could lead to a contract extension if playoff output follows.
Pittsburgh: Jeff Carter
Penguins GM Ron Hextall made it clear he was after size and a centre at the deadline, but it was a bit surprising that Carter was the guy.
Carter surpassed his goal total scored with the Kings in just 14 games with the Penguins. His four-goal game against the Sabres last week helped, but he’s scored five others as well and has given the Pens daunting depth at centre behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins have outscored the opposition 15-5 when their third-line centre has been on the ice at 5-on-5, which would translate to matchup nightmares in the playoffs. And it’s not wholly unsustainable — by expected goals Carter’s 53.80 xGF% at 5-on-5 is second on the team since he’s arrived only to linemate Frederick Gauthier.
Washington: Anthony Mantha
The biggest deal of the deadline has had an interesting result so far. We won’t truly know who wins this one for a couple of years, after both players involved settle in and the draft picks Detroit got are selected and developed. But for the here and now you have a Cup hopeful in Washington that traded one productive player for another who is a) signed to a long-term contract and, b) was seen as a better fit with the team and coach.
Mantha started on fire, scoring a goal in each of his first four games. The power forward hasn’t found the back of the net since, but has three assists in his past nine games.
Since he arrived, Mantha leads the Caps with 34 shots on net (Alex Ovechkin has missed most of those games), and all forwards with an average of 15:14 of even strength ice time per game. His most notable moment as a Capital so far, at least on a national scale, might be his run in with Pavel Buchnevich during the melee game with the Rangers last week.
As this trade plays out, Mantha and Jakub Vrana will be compared directly to one another. Vrana had great underlying and per-minute offensive stats with the Capitals, but was never given the same sort of minutes Mantha is getting now (Vrana averaged 12:01 of even strength time this season). With the rebuilding Red Wings, Vrana has been a leading player and answered with eight goals in 11 games, including a four-goal game against Dallas. He’s been a point per game player with Detroit.