The 2018 NHL trade deadline was a triumph of quality over quantity, and it might be remembered as the time when two teams involved in the same blockbuster deal emerged as winners.
These are strange, strange times indeed. Because when the dust settles, 2018 may very well be forever remembered as the year the New York Rangers were both the biggest sellers and biggest winners of the trade deadline. These are not your father’s Rangers. They are Jeff Gorton’s Rangers and good on the Rangers GM for recognizing when it’s time to stop trading for stopgaps and start the process of rebuilding the roster.
But that’s not the only thing that makes this trade deadline unique. It could also be remembered as a time when the two teams that made the biggest blockbuster deal with each other emerged among the winners. The Tampa Bay Lightning, already ensconced as a serious favorite to win the Stanley Cup, have two former Rangers captains in their lineup and may very well have put themselves over the top. And if that indeed does happen, things will look even better for the Rangers.
So it was on a trade deadline day that was a clear triumph of quality over quantity. What the day lacked in sheer numbers it more than made up for in intriguing hockey deals that will have an impact for years to come. So, even though the ink isn’t even dry on some of these deals yet, we present our 2018 Trade Deadline winners and losers. (And hey, whatever happened to the value of first-round draft picks?)
WINNER: NEW YORK RANGERS
Hey, remember that time when the Rangers went four straight years without a first-round draft pick? Well, it’s pretty safe to say those days are very much in the rearview mirror. After holding two first-rounders in 2017, the Rangers have three first-rounders, two seconds and two thirds this year, giving them seven picks in the top 93. In Brett Howden, they got a big center with some very good offensive potential, and in Libor Hajek they got a player who might have been the second-best defenseman in this year’s World Junior Championship behind Rasmus Dahlin. In Vladislav Namestnikov, they got a 25-year-old 20-goal scorer who is a pending restricted free agent, meaning they basically control his rights. And the deal Gorton made for Rick Nash was masterful. In getting Ryan Spooner, he got a player that might be on par with Nash right now, forget about the first-round pick and prospect he also landed. And they parlayed a 30-year-old with an expiring contract (Michael Grabner) into a promising prospect (Igor Rykov).
LOSER: OTTAWA SENATORS
Perhaps we’ll find out in the coming days what the offers were for Erik Karlsson and we’ll learn that they weren’t enough. And if that’s the case, then GM Pierre Dorion did the right thing not dealing him. But, jeez Louise, this was a deal that needed to get done from Ottawa’s perspective. Hanging on to Karlsson longer does nothing for either the team or the player. We all have a pretty good idea how this is ultimately going to end up and it won’t be pretty. Things have soured between the organization and the best player it has ever had and this simply gives the situation more time to fester. Teams that would have been getting Karlsson for two playoff runs had they traded for him today are now looking at a more complicated deal this summer.
WINNER: TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Already the odds-on favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, the Lightning used their embarrassment of riches in picks and prospects for immediate help in Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. McDonagh bolsters an already formidable defense corps and still has a year left on his deal and Miller more than makes up for the loss of Namestnikov. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has done an excellent job straddling the dual tracks of winning and drafting well, and because he has done that he was able to make this deal with the Rangers.
LOSER: BOSTON BRUINS
The Bruins are losers for the same reason the Rangers are winners. Rick Nash at the deadline? To give up that kind of haul for a pending unrestricted free agent who has put up decidedly pedestrian offensive totals each of the past three seasons is taking quite a risk. And the Brian Gionta signing was a tough one to figure out. The guy couldn’t even play in the Olympics. We get that veteran leadership is important in the playoffs, but if you’re getting to the point where you have to rely on Gionta, you’re probably in trouble already. The Bruins, who did such a good job this season proving they were a contending team, took a step backward.
WINNER: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
When all the dust settled and the Penguins had worked out their three-way deal with Vegas and Ottawa, they came away with a third-line center who is better than the one they had last year when they won the Stanley Cup. The Penguins have dispensed with any notion that they care about the future, which is exactly what you should do when you have two of the best players in the world and you’re positioned to seriously compete for your third consecutive Cup. And the best thing about all of this is that Derick Brassard is under contract for another year at a ridiculously friendly $3 million.
LOSER: BUFFALO SABRES
Sabres fans have been a patient lot the past couple of seasons. They still make their way to the Key Bank Arena in the middle of a Buffalo winter to watch a team that still occupies the nether regions of the NHL standings. The one flicker of hope they had this season was that they were going to get a boatload for Evander Kane. Didn’t happen. The Sharks got Kane and in doing so, took on almost no risk. If things don’t work out for Kane in San Jose, and maybe even if they do, the Sabres are looking at a second- and third-round pick and Jack Eichel’s college linemate. The two most depressed fan bases in the NHL today undoubtedly reside in Buffalo and Ottawa.
WINNER: WINNIPEG JETS
Here’s a quick question. Is Paul Stastny the first player in NHL history to have a no-trade clause only to accept a trade to Winnipeg? Clearly, Stastny has seen what the rest of the league is seeing in the Jets – a team that could seriously contend for the Stanley Cup if it can only make it out of the toughest division in the NHL. This was a coup for the Jets, who now can say they have a roster that allows them to hang with the big boys. Stastny, meanwhile, was a beast in the playoffs last year and if he brings that kind of attitude and style of play to the post-season this year, that Jets-Predators series in the second round will be something to behold.
LOSER: NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders are losers not because they didn’t trade John Tavares, but because they refused to listen to offers for him. Having a pending UFA whom you have no idea whether or not you’ll sign without at least picking up the phone is unconscionable. We get that the Islanders want to re-sign Tavares, but it’s not their decision. If Tavares signs with the San Jose Sharks on July 1, Islanders fans will look back and rue the fact that their team didn’t even explore the possibility of dealing him at the deadline.
WINNER: NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils had a sneaky good trade deadline, one that should position them to do some damage in the playoffs. They gave up nothing off their roster and got both Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon. Grabner gives the Devils the kind of player that is tailor-made for their speed-based game and one that has proven to be one of the most productive 5-on-5 players in the NHL the past couple of seasons. Maroon no longer has the luxury of playing with Connor McDavid, but he’s a big body who can give the Devils some secondary scoring. And by getting Grabner and Maroon, the Devils just became a far more difficult team to shut down in the playoffs.
LOSER: VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Was Thomas Vanek’s playoff run with the Montreal Canadiens four years ago really that bad? It must have been since the Canucks were unable to get anything even resembling an impact player either in the present or the future. This one reeks of making a trade just to say you got something for a pending UFA. No picks? Not even a third- or fourth-rounder? Had the Canucks wanted Jussi Jokinen this badly, they could’ve plucked him off waivers this week. Would the Canucks not have been just as well off keeping Vanek and hoping to re-sign him over the summer? Vanek does not exactly have a sterling playoff resume, but the fact there were no options other than this one speaks to how far his stock has fallen.