With the NHL trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we have full view of what each team has to work with in their playoff pushes, or for running out the clock to the draft and off-season.
It was an arms race in the Atlantic Division, a somewhat quieter landscape out west and, in a few places that expect long post-season runs, some concerning trends went unaddressed and will be watched closely the rest of the way.
It’s our winners and losers of the deadline season…
Fans of the four Atlantic Division playoff teams
As much as deadline trades will be put under the microscope for the long-term effects of them, or how a GM fared relative to “market value” the whole excitement of this day is the theatre of it all. You want for your team to be involved, to make a headline, to acquire a player you’re going to be excited to see in your colours. Making an impact matters; worry about the cap fallout later.
So if you’re rooting for Florida, Tampa Bay, Boston or *Toronto, you’re probably generally happy with how your team did around the deadline. It’s being called an arms race because they all improved without a doubt and were actually four of the five most impactful teams this trade season.
*More on the Maple Leafs in the losers section
Did Florida pay too much for Ben Chiarot? Maybe. But who cares? Aaron Ekblad is out now for the rest of the regular season at least and now they need Chiarot more than before. He plays a very specific style the Panthers wanted and they got the player. And Claude Giroux being added to the league’s most feared offence? Management is truly all-in on this team and that’s exciting given the Panthers haven’t won a playoff round since 1996.
Boston got the best defensive rental on the market in Hampus Lindholm, and then extended him. The Lightning rebuilt their third line lost last summer with Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel. Toronto landed Mark Giordano, who secures a healthy top four on the blue line, which was a big need. And Colin Blackwell is another nice defensive forward addition.
These teams are going to have a heck of a time getting out of Round 1 against each other if that’s how it lines up, and they’re all capable of coming out of the East. The haymakers they tossed at the trade market gave this deadline a heartbeat.
Once again Joe Sakic was linked to the biggest names available at the deadline and, once again, he mostly stayed out of it. But we shouldn’t take the Avalanche as losers.
For one, outside of Minnesota, the Western Conference wasn’t nearly as active as the East. There weren’t critical moves Colorado needed to answer. The Flames made some earlier deals, most notably Tyler Toffoli, and the Avs already match up well to them.
Colorado may not have added a marquee name, but the Avs did fill holes. The Avalanche have the 18th-ranked penalty kill and Artturi Lehkonen will help them there. He can play on either wing, allowing the Avs lineup flexibility. Playoff experience, too — he had a good run with the Habs to last year’s final. The price of acquisition was steep — Justin Barron is a good prospect — but Colorado is organizationally strong at defence. It’s a no-worse trade than Chiarot. And Andrew Cogliano likewise gives them flexibility, experience, and he can still play with the pace required to really mesh with this roster.
On the blue line, Josh Manson comes in from the Ducks to help fill the loss of Sam Girard to injury but he also adds a physical element to a defence corp built around the high-scoring Cale Makar.
Sakic did make an investment to take a swing on Lehkonen and did upgrade some more subtle, yet necessary parts of the roster. It’s not fair to say he had a quiet deadline… it was very Sakic.
Have to give a big win to the Wild for getting the goalie they were after without straight-up relinquishing their first-rounder — it’s a conditional second that turns into a first if the Wild get to the conference final and Fleury contributes at least four wins in the first two rounds. At that point, it would still be worth it.
The Wild’s goalie concerns were no secret and with vicious cap penalties kicking in next season GM Bill Guerin decided not to tread softly with his still-young team, but to run through the wall and add something that tries to get Minnesota on track.
There is reason to believe this team can be really good, despite where the Wild are in the standings right now. Strong defence, dangerous scorers and, earlier at least, stable goaltending with Cam Talbot. But as Talbot soured so too did the Wild’s outlook. Now Fleury can save the day.
That was the big add, but getting Jacob Middleton to strengthen the blue line literally and figuratively was a nice add and Nic Deslauriers’ truculence will be welcomed up front. These were playoff-driven additions and it’s clear Guerin took his shot now, before cap issues hit hard.
The first-round pick-plus return for Ben Chiarot was a nice get for a player who wasn’t sticking around anyway. Artturi Lehkonen perhaps could have been re-signed and it’s not easy to move on from a player like him, but defenceman Justin Barron was a first-round pick himself just in 2020 and lands the Habs an excellent blue line prospect.
GM Kent Hughes picked up seven draft picks over the next three years from the Toffoli trade to Monday’s dealings and when they host the event this summer, Montreal will start with 14 selections.
If they want, bigger moves that would have more impact on a rebuild could still happen in the summer. Or, they can keep some veterans to try and get better, quicker. We’ll see. But deadline season was a good one for Montreal as the Canadiens look to the future.
New York Rangers
Despite their troubling shot metrics, the Rangers are a highly skilled and dangerous team. They have a few individuals, most notably the goalie Igor Shesterkin, who could win or turn a series on their own. So they didn’t need a major splash. But they did need more “playoff” type players.
New York bulked up its third line and Andrew Copp as 3C would be terrific there — but he can also get bumped up to the second line. Tyler Motte comes in to join Barclay Goodrow on a tough fourth line with Ryan Reaves. Remember when the Rangers got pushed around by the Capitals last season? Ya, that ain’t happening anymore.
At one time he was Minnesota’s goalie of the future — a fourth-round pick from 2014 who slow cooked in Finland for a few years and has posted some good numbers in the NHL in 54 appearances over three years. He hasn’t been perfect, but maybe with some time.
However, it all became apparent what the organization thought of him when it left Kahkonen exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft instead of Cam Talbot. Surprisingly, the Kraken didn’t touch him. And now Kahkonen is a casualty of the Fleury trade, sent to San Jose for Jacob Middleton.
The good news is, we’re probably going to find out once and for all just what Kahkonen is as an NHLer. He joins James Reimer and Adin Hill in San Jose’s crease, but figures to be given plenty of opportunity down the stretch before his contract comes up and he becomes an RFA.
The off-season rumour/trade market
The Canucks didn’t trade JT Miller, Brock Boeser or Conor Garland. The Anaheim Ducks still have John Gibson. As expected, Patrick Kane didn’t get traded yet, but we can see what might be coming next there. The Jets stayed in the middle this deadline, pushing inevitably difficult conversations and realizations to the summer. And if the Flyers want more impactful change to their failed build, they didn’t move any of the prime assets Monday.
And that means the summer is shaping up to be one to watch. The draft falls on July 7 this year. Mark that date on the calendar — it could be eventful.
Vegas Golden Knights
What a mess.
They just haven’t had any luck at all this season and the biggest question mark before the deadline remains so after it: how bad is Robin Lehner’s injury? The Golden Knights did not back him up on the trade market and instead tried to do a little salary dumping by trading Evgenii Dadonov and his contract to Anaheim in a package that included…Ryan Kesler. Only, that deal is being disputed by the player and his representation, who claim the Ducks were on his no-trade list.
Dadonov’s contract allows for a list of 10 teams he will not accept a trade to and Vegas’ claim is that the list was never submitted by its due date prior to Ottawa trading Dadonov to Vegas last July.
The player’s side claims that paperwork was filed, and on time.
So now we have a team that needs the cap space freed up from Dadonov’s contract, which provided enough space to activate Alec Martinez from LTIR when the time comes. But they don’t know if Dadonov’s contract is still on the books or not. If he does go, it will leave the injury-riddled lineup down another skilled player anyway. There is a worse outcome out of the two for Vegas — they need this salary cleared — but there is no good option for them here.
Between the way Fleury was traded without discussion and now this, Vegas’ management team should be facing scrutiny today.
Oilers and *Leafs fans who worry about the goalies (all of them)
The Oilers made a nice little pickup in hometown boy Brett Kulak, who gives defensive depth to a roster that needs it. With a playoff spot far from a guarantee, GM Ken Holland felt it too risky to pay up some of the wild prices we saw, certainly for rentals, and was largely quiet.
That means Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner and Mike Smith are Edmonton’s goalies for this playoff run.
Things have been better of late. The team has been improved defensively under Jay Woodcroft and Koskinen has handled the increased workload rather well this time, with a .916 save percentage in seven March games. But we’ve seen this before and have to wonder how long it lasts. There’s no forgetting that Edmonton’s lowest point in the season in late December/early-January was due to the goaltending and Koskinen played a role in that, as did Smith, who just can’t stay healthy.
Toronto can at least point to Mark Giordano as its deadline prize … however, there’s a pretty big BUT attached to it. BUT they didn’t do anything about their goaltending, which has been downright bad for months. Since Jan. 1, Toronto’s goalies rank 28th in all-situations save percentage (.885). The next-lowest Eastern Conference playoff team? Washington at .899.
So, ya, the Leafs have good special teams, a great offence, and the best looking blue line they’ve had in some time when everyone’s healthy.
BUT that goaltending … Kyle Dubas has maybe staked his job on Jack Campbell being able to return to form whenever he returns from his rib injury.