Thoughts on all 10 player-based trades made since the expansion draft

Watch as Sam Reinhart speaks about joining the Florida Panthers after a trade from the Buffalo Sabres, and how he is motivated to be a part of a group that is hungry to make the next step.

Well that was something, wasn’t it?

There’s been no shortage of days over the past two decades where hockey fans have watched what’s gone on in other sports – namely basketball – and asked “Wait, why can’t the NHL get frisky with player movement like that?”

If it was frisky you wanted, good news, at long last NHL GMs got Friskier than a tin of cat chow.

The expansion draft prompted some pre-emptory positioning trades -- a la Jared McCann to the Leafs -- and the reality of that onrushing pressure point encouraged more player movement in general. But there was a five-day gap in trades from July 17 to July 22, where GMs around the league gathered themselves in the lead up to the usual ol’ player draft, then collectively agreed it was time to get weird again.

When the dust settled, numerous rosters look considerably different. For our purposes today let’s look at all the player-based trades from Thursday through the weekend and assess who got better or worse heading towards 2021-22.

First up,

This one’s about certainty and availability. In another year, maybe Carolina hangs on to Nedeljkovic and crosses their fingers that they’ve finally found a home-grown answer at a position that’s vexed some pretty good Canes teams of yore.

But Nedeljkovic’s excellent 23 games this season put him in line for a big arbitration reward, which put the Canes in an awkward position. Is 23 games enough to convince you he’s a bonafide NHL starter, or at least worthy of tandem-inclusion? Looking back, he had a good 2018-19 (a .916 in 50 AHL games), but he’s 25 years old, and in the following year (2019-20) he put up a .906 over 30 AHL starts. The team had him on waivers early in the 2020-21 season, anyone could’ve had him, and everyone passed.

It’s not at all impossible the kid has just found it, and is the real deal. That’s not why I bring any of that up at all. But his great play this past year was going to earn him an arbitration award of something like $3-4 million. And given the myriad goaltending options out there this summer, it’s quite likely that $3-4 million or a little more could buy you someone who’s a proven NHL starter or at least an established 1B.

Will Freddy Andersen cost much more than four? I doubt it. Antti Raanta? Is Robin Lehner available in a trade for $5 million a season? Do you like Linus Ullmark at age 27, who put up a .915 and .917 the past two years on the Sabres. Is he an option?

The point is, they turned Nedeljkovic into a third-rounder this year, in a draft that was a great year to have mid-round lottery tickets, given how little hockey was played last year.

It could come back to bite them, no doubt. He could go on to a long, great career. But the Canes are pretty close to win-now mode here, and I don’t think they could head into another year with those expectations committing to such a big question mark in net.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand how Seattle didn’t take deals like this (and this one specifically), given everything they’re doing seems to be aimed at being good in a couple of years. I wrote about this last week, and how if win-now were the plan you don’t pass on Vladimir Tarasenko and JVR and Carey Price. If it isn’t the plan, then the Gostisbhere deal looks pretty good, and the return would be greater given Philly could’ve kept Twarynski.

But Philly wanted to make some major changes, and need to free up cap space. The player could use a fresh start. Arizona is ever-so-wisely building for the future, as they’ve yet to establish themselves as a free agent destination (that said, there were rumours about them considering an arena site in Tempe. If they were good, and located there, combined with having no taxes, I bet players would flock there).

Anyway this one makes sense all around.

Sure. Calgary needs an injection of fresh blood. What disappoints me is I should be commenting on like five trades of Seattle’s in this article. Stunning this is the only one. I’m expecting to focus on them a lot more in the one I have planned post-free agency?

I’m not sure there’s a player more commonly liked by the eye test (by GMs anyway) and universally loathed by the analytics than Rasmus Ristolainen. I get it with Philly, they’re trying to reimagine their D-core, they wanted someone with size, and this checks those two boxes. And I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that a 26-year-old with a big body continues to get better as he gets older, improves on a better team with a fresh start, and has a good year. But the reality is that nothing Ristolainen has shown as a player so far should lead you to bet on it happening. It could, sure, but it’s a lot more likely that it won’t.

I like this going both ways just fine. The Rangers have a lot of talent, could use someone physical and solid down the lineup, and Blais checks those boxes. Can’t complain about a second-rounder either. For the Blues, they generally just suffer from a lack of goal-producing talents, but they got one here in Buchnevich. One of those deals where you go “Yeah that makes sense,” and you feel like we should see more of them in-season.

When you own an NHL team and you’re debating keeping or firing a manager who’s underachieved for a number of years, you have to ask yourself: have I seen enough from them to believe that, with the pressure obviously on this person to make some big trades, are they going to make the right ones for the future of this franchise? Because honestly, this deal feels like Jim Benning recognizing “I know if we don’t make the playoffs and maybe even win a round next season I’m fired, so we have to go all-in on the short-term.”

The thing I mentioned about Ristolainen, with the analytics? Yeah they don’t like OEL’s past few seasons either, and he’s been in steady decline since his peak some five years back. Vancouver unloaded that debilitating Eriksson deal, but may have taken on another albatross in exchange, drawing the pain out until 2026. And the cost in draft picks was substantial.

The thing is it’s tough to be mad at a hockey team for trying to win, and the Canucks are substantially better today than they were before the weekend. Conor Garland is excellent, a huge addition for Vancouver, and given the soft Pacific Division and emergence of Thatcher Demko, it’s real easy to see the Canucks having a nice season next year.

But they better, because the bill probably comes due down the line. If you’re Benning, that’s either something worth dealing with later, or someone else’s problem, so it’s clear why he’d make this move now. Whether he should’ve been in the job to make it or not, given the long-term implications of OEL’s cap hit and the draft pick capital lost, is another discussion.

There’s a theme here today, and it’s not fun to share it, because positivity rules and we all want to be more like Ted Lasso. But I’m telling you that the people who dig into the numbers have an excellent track record, and Jones is another D that has earned more skepticism than the common rhetoric around the player.

I see Jones as a top-pair guy with his best years ahead of him, who makes the Blackhawks better today than they were yesterday. But the contract they gave him (eight years, $9.5 million AAV) was, without equivocation, far too big a commitment, and the cost they paid was astronomical. Bidding wars will do that.

So in the positive spirit of Lasso, kudos to Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets, who got a nice player in Boqvist, and the rights to draft some quality players, for a guy who didn’t want to be a part of their team long-term. And congrats to Chicago for getting better today.

Sure! I don’t know what Jake Bean will become, but he feels like one of those talented players who has the upside to break through into a middle pair NHL guy. He’s close enough to take a shot on, without a doubt. Carolina doesn’t have room on D, and so they added another high lottery ticket in a weird draft, and Columbus gets a magic bean (I’m hilarious) that hopefully grows into something great.

When I mentioned fans complaining because they want to see NHL GMs get a little more frisky sometimes, it’s because deals like this come up and seem to make sense all around. Shouldn’t that happen more?

The Flyers get some cap savings and a competitive player who can put the puck in the net with Cam Atkinson. The Blue Jackets get out from a big cap hit on a declining asset a season sooner (and they likely expect to be better down the road, not tomorrow, so they might as well pay up front), and Jakub Voracek is the type of elite play-maker that could help CBJ capitalize on having a guy like Patrik Laine around. This one makes sense.

The Panthers gave Tampa Bay a good series early in the playoffs and didn’t feel like they were that far off. The addition of Sam Reinhart is substantial, and only pushes them closer. This addition, combined with Tampa’s off-season losses (all of the Gourde, Goodrow and Coleman line for starters), and suddenly the battle for the best team in Florida (and in turn the league?) got a little tighter. It’s a big price, of course, but Florida’s time is now.

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