Pretty easy to pick some winners and losers at the trade deadline with so many players moving, and so many general managers making moves to improve their team. When names like Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Marian Gaborik are all being dealt prior to the March 5 NHL deadline, it’s pretty apparent there are a number of teams that felt they’re painfully close to contending for a Cup.
The ability for the selling team to pay off part of the salary – or cap hit – for a player being dealt also clearly raised the volume of deals over the last two days leading up to the 3 p.m. deadline. In all there were 20 deadline deals involving 38 players and 24 draft picks this season in a significant uptick from the number of moves during last year’s deadline during the lockout shortened season.
Here are three winners and losers at the NHL trade deadline:
1. St Louis Blues – The Blues took care of business early and locked down goalie Ryan Miller and agitator Steve Ott days before the trade deadline once the Buffalo Sabres finally decided to get into the trade game. While Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott formed a nice goaltending tandem with a dazzlingly talented roster playing in front of them in St. Louis, Miller is the kind of goalie that could lift the Blues to a Stanley Cup level if he gets hot during the postseason. Just the mere fact that Miller is out of Buffalo with free agent riches awaiting him this summer should be an uplifting notion for him over the next few months. Adding Ott as a pesky forward capable of annoying, winning face-offs and getting the Blues engaged into games is something they’ll absolutely need going into the playoffs as well. At this point, the Blues don’t seem to have a weakness on their team if they can stay healthy.
2. Montreal Canadiens – Marc Bergevin took care of business for the Canadiens. The Habs needed a power forward-type with offensive skill, and he dealt a mid-level prospect and a second round pick for a franchise-level player in Thomas Vanek. Vanek is an absolute thorn in the side of the Bruins should another Boston/Montreal playoff series happen this spring with the new divisional playoff setup, and he gives the Habs’ smallish front line exactly what they were looking for. Bergevin also dealt for defensemen depth in Florida’s Mike Weaver, and now has a goalie insurance policy in Devan Dubnyk should something seriously be wrong with Carey Price. The Habs are a much better team now than they were a week ago.
3. Los Angeles Kings – The one big weakness for the Kings has been offensive play-makers and game-breakers, and Dean Lombardi addressed that need with the deal for Marian Gaborik. Sure it’s risky, and there’s every chance Gaborik gets hurt and isn’t a factor when the Kings need him most. But there’s also free agent dollars riding on Gaborik’s performance this spring, and his speed and goal-scoring is the kind of thing that could really pump some life into a Kings team that’s pretty meat-and-potatoes when it gets down to it. Gaborik is a gamble, but it’s one that could pay off and only cost the Kings Matt Frattin, a second round pick and a conditional third rounder as well.
1. Garth Snow had the best assets on the trade market in Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald, and failed to get a first round pick or an elite prospect in exchange for either of the players. The MacDonald return of a second round pick, third round pick and prospect was respectable, but he was left holding the bag with Vanek as the clock began ticking down to 3 p.m. Certainly there were some worse performances by NHL GMs at the deadline, and I’m beginning to think that serving as manager of the New York Islanders is one of those gigs that just isn’t worth the aggravation given the restless native fan base.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis didn’t even bother to hit the war room during trade deadline day, and essentially felt compelled to do nothing with a team that’s right in the thick of things in the Atlantic Division. Sure he’d already traded for Tim Gleason earlier this season, and has made some shrewd moves while calling the shots for the Leafs. But he also said something about the prices being too high at the deadline, and the ultimate prices paid for rental players at the end proved Nonis to be extremely wrong. It’s just not a good look for a GM to basically skip class on trade deadline day, and that goes doubly so in a media maelstrom like Toronto.
3. Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made a number of big signings over the last year to lock up the nucleus in Winnipeg, and it should have been pretty apparent by now that those players won’t be good enough in a brutal Western Conference. There were rumors about Dustin Byfuglien, but nothing ever happened with the wildly talented forward/defenseman hybrid. In fact nobody was dealt from the nucleus of players that has the Jets perpetually locked just outside the playoff standings. It was time to shake things up and change out a few players, and Winnipeg never really seemed to be in the market to do that. We all love Mark Stuart, but when a GM’s only trade deadline move is locking up Stuart to a four-year contract…well, then it’s pretty much a failure of a deadline. Winnipeg just guaranteed more cellar-dwelling in the West until they start pulling off some bigger moves.
A LITTLE BIT MORE INFO ON EDLER
Interesting report from Fluto Shinzawa at the Boston Globe that the Bruins had a deal in place for Alex Edler that was nixed when the Ryan Kesler-to-Pittsburgh deal also fell through. One thing not clearly explained in the article: why the Edler deal had to be predicated on the Kesler deal also being completed prior to the deadline.
Vancouver is clearly in a rebuilding phase, and there’s no good reason for the team to want to pull Edler back if they received an acceptable offer of Matt Bartkowski, a draft pick and Ryan Spooner/Alex Khokhlachev. Clearly Bartkowski would have been the younger, more affordable piece going back to the Canucks that would have been the “Edler replacement” on the roster.
But perhaps it was never going to be Vancouver’s call to nix the trade. Edler has a full no-trade clause, and the Canucks defenseman was quoted as saying as recently as Monday that he didn’t foresee any scenario where he’d lift his no-trade prior to the deadline. The 27-year-old defenseman has developed strong ties in the Vancouver area that he wasn’t likely to leave in the middle of an NHL season, and he’s just starting the first year of a six-year contract he signed with the Canucks.
That isn’t the kind of player that signs off on waiving his no-trade clause for a midseason deadline deal, and there is no reason to believe Edler was going to do it. So for all of the pomp and circumstance about the Bruins management putting all their eggs in the Edler basket at the trade deadline, it doesn’t appear there was ever any chance of the deal actually going down.
Perhaps things will change this summer if the Canucks stubbornly decide to keep John Tortorella on as head coach, and there’s a mass exodus of the current nucleus of players unwilling to work with Torts. But those believing Edler would have actually dropped everything and reported to Boston for a deadline deal may be more into fantasy than reality.
TIME TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE FOR SHERO
Perhaps we can now end the Ray Shero narrative that has him sounding like a Canadian Mountie that “always gets his man” at the trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins GM had brought in an impressive 17 players in the seven previous trade deadlines running the Pens, and last season really stood out when he snagged Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, Jussi Jokinen and Brenden Morrow prior to the playoffs.
Of course none of that helped the Penguins against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, and probably prompted this quote from B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli about “winning” the trade deadline.
“It never seems that we’re an anointed winner of trade deadline day, and I’m fine with that,” said Chiarelli.
That’s because the real winning comes months after the trade deadline, and the Bruins proved it last June when they dusted the talented Penguins in four quick postseason games. The Bruins understand this better than anyone. They’re undoubtedly unaffected by the lack of real roster improvement through any of Chiarelli’s player pick-ups prior to the March 5 deadline, and will still be a handful for any come playoff time.
But the Penguins had very real problems up front (Pascal Dupuis out for the season) and on the back end (Kris Letang out indefinitely with a stroke, and Paul Martin out a couple of months with a broken hand), and were sorely in need of some reinforcements.
Shero identified Ryan Kesler as his big fish at the deadline, and he went full bore after him. There’s no doubt Penguins management had visions of the Vancouver pivot riding on the right wing with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz for the rest of this season, and then giving Pittsburgh unprecedented strength down the middle moving forward.
The Penguins put forth an offer of third line center Brandon Sutter, two 2014 draft picks and one of two young defensemen, Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, to Vancouver for Kesler. It’s unclear whether Vancouver ownership squashed the deal, or Canucks GM Mike Gillis was simply holding out for Pittsburgh defenseman prospect Derrick Pouliot to be included in the deal.
But the bottom line is this: Shero wasn’t able to close things out, and get the Penguins what they badly needed in Kesler. He also wasn’t able to do anything to bring in a veteran defenseman to go along with a kiddie corps of D-men.
He did get a decent offensive player in Lee Stempniak that will be even better skating with Crosby and Kunitz, but Shero wasn’t able to land his big target at the trade deadline. Perhaps it’s time for the narrative to change about Shero always getting his man.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Everybody’s got to pay the price and that’s why this team has had success. The high-end guy, like Kopitar, Carter, Doughty, all these guys never have lost sight of the fact there’s a price to be paid. Now go do your thing. And that’s what we’re expecting from him, meshing in that team, and then bring to this team what it does not have in its arsenal: an explosive player that can make something out of nothing.” –Kings GM Dean Lombardi on newly acquired Marian Gaborik buying in with the Kings team concept.
Thomas Vanek might pick his spots, and he might not be the kind of grinding gamer that will carry a playoff team through an entire postseason. But the former Sabres and Islanders forward has 30 goals and 61 career points in 53 games against the Bruins, and is exactly the kind of Bruins killer that could come back to haunt them in the playoffs. Being able to beat divisional rivals is a much more important thing with the newly restructured playoff system where teams battle their way out of their divisions in the first two rounds. The Bruins really didn’t make sense as a team interested in Vanek at the deadline, but he went to the absolute worst possible team when it comes to the best interest of the Bruins.
Roberto Luongo got a 25-save shutout win in his first game as a member of the Florida Panthers, and that gave Florida their first shutout in the past 124 games. That is a pretty remarkable stat.
NHL projections originally had the salary cap rising all the way to $71.1 million for next season from its current $64.3 million figure for the 2013-14 season, but Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi poured some cold water on that this week. He told a group of reporters at a post-deadline conference call that the Canadian dollar losing some of its value may drop next season’s salary cap ceiling all the way down to $68 million. It’s still a steady rise from this season, but about $3 million less than NHL general manager had planned for throughout this season. Something to keep in mind once free agency kicks up this summer with big raises in store for Bruins restricted free agents like Reilly Smith and Torey Krug.
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.