Acquiring Erik Gudbranson certainly won’t put the Nashville Predators over the top, but his move to Tennessee does clinch one fact: This was definitely the weirdest trade deadline season in a long time.
Everything is off-kilter in this condensed year where you don’t play 75 per cent of the other NHL teams, players moving from the U.S. to Canada have to quarantine and everybody knows there will be no salary cap-bump to provide extra breathing room for years to come.
That said, the single weirdest thing that happened in the past month was serious Nashville players like Mattias Ekholm, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Ellis going from the top of every website’s trade board to the Predators — now fairly comfortably in a Central Division playoff spot — becoming soft buyers when they went out and spent a 2023 seventh-rounder on some blue-line depth in the form Gudbranson, formerly of the Ottawa Senators.
Funny how a 12-3-0 mark since the middle of March changes things.
Beyond Nashville’s stunning transformation, there was also the peculiar fact that a No. 1-overall pick who won a Hart Trophy three years ago and hasn’t turned 30 yet failed to return his team a first-round pick. Then again, 429 NHLers have more goals than Taylor Hall’s two this year — talk about oddities — so maybe the Buffalo Sabres did well to get what they could from the Boston Bruins, especially given the influence Hall could exert through his no-trade clause.
Clearly there’s a lot to sort through and we better get right to it since there’s another unique wrinkle that makes this deadline stand out — it’s happening only a month before the actual playoffs start, at which point we get to find out whose moves really paid off.
This was a buy-low opportunity on Hall the B’s couldn’t pass up. It already sounds like, if things go well at all, there’s potential for the relationship to extend past Hall’s ability to hit the open market this summer. Boston has made a few plays to increase secondary scoring in the past handful of years, but the team has yet to hit on anything that could really take the pressure off the over-worked top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Hall said Monday that one of the reasons he wants to go to Boston is so he doesn’t have to worry about being “the guy.” It was refreshing honesty from a person who doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotype of a chest-thumping, Alpha athlete. If he can slide in and find a seam to do his thing, this could be one heck of a pickup for GM Don Sweeney, who surrendered a second-rounder and Anders Bjork to get Hall (and Curtis Lazar) from Buffalo.
Smooth-skating Mike Reilly, scooped up from Ottawa, also adds a little depth to the blue line.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The off-season departures of Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian created a dearth of right-shooting options on Tampa’s blue line. Enter David Savard, a rugged defenceman who is perfectly suited to a long playoff grind. Bolts GM Julien BriseBois brought in old friend Steve Yzerman from Detroit to eat half the portion of Savard’s salary that was left after Columbus swallowed the initial 50 per cent. Savard can play in Tampa’s top four and that’s worth surrendering a 2021 first-rounder.
Central Division Sellers
The Jackets wound up with two first-rounders after GM Jarmo Kekalainen was done wheeling and dealing with contenders Tampa and Toronto; Detroit pocketed five draft picks — including a first and second in the splashy move that shipped Anthony Mantha to Washington — and the Hawks’ willingness to take on salary landed them a couple of prospects from the Panthers organization to go along with second- and third-round selections gained in the swap that sent Mattias Janmark to Vegas via salary-retaining San Jose. Good work by all those teams in what everyone acknowledged was a buyers’ market.
Toronto Maple Leafs
This isn’t about any coup executed by GM Kyle Dubas on deadline day; it’s a reflection of the fact the man made good on his word — he’s been saying the Leafs are all in for weeks — by paying significant prices to acquire pieces he believes will help. There is surely some overlap between the Leafs’ path and that of the defending champions from Tampa Bay. After years of disappointment, the Bolts went out and got some snarl at the 2020 deadline in the form of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. That’s the mould Nick Foligno fits. Throw in defenceman Ben Hutton and goalie David Rittich as security blankets at key positions and it was a good day for the Buds.
The Canadian Middle Class
I won’t roast either Edmonton or Winnipeg for not addressing key areas of need because prices tend to get exorbitant on deadline day and sometimes you’re just not in a position to pay them. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff surrendered first-rounders at the 2018 and ’19 deadlines, so he’s obviously not afraid to pull the trigger when there’s a fit. That said, defence is a throbbing weakness on an otherwise strong Jets squad and slotting in Jordie Benn from Vancouver isn’t going to tip the balance of power in the North.
Edmonton, meanwhile, added former Jet Dmitry Kulikov (from New Jersey) to its back end. That’s a tidy bit of business, but the Oilers are more in need of help on the flanks to balance out the forward lines.
Every East Division Contender
I guess this technically means Boston is a winner and a loser. The Bruins, Penguins, Capitals and Islanders all made nice additions in deadline season — making the path out of this Group of Death that much harder. Kyle Palmieri already has his first goal as an Islander; Anthony Mantha goes from toiling on a bottom-feeder to being a top-six guy for a powerhouse in Washington; Jeff Carter slots in as an experienced 3C in Pittsburgh and we already covered what Hall can do for Boston.
Good luck, everybody.
You and I
We won’t spend too much time carping about this being a bit of a deadline dud, but fans and media get so stoked for what could be, that it’s inevitably a little disappointing when nothing extremely out-of-the-blue or really juicy happens. Then again, as noted, we only have a few weeks to wait until the madness of the first-round hits, so buckle up and enjoy the shortened stretch drive.