There’s no guarantee that making a splashy trade at the deadline will mean post-season success, but you have to wonder what could have been if these teams were more aggressive.
So the trade deadline has come and gone, and it was a relatively quiet one. There were plenty of deals, but not much you’d try to call a blockbuster. Several of the bigger names on the block didn’t go anywhere, and most teams decided to tinker, at most.
So while chances are your favorite team did something – well, assuming you’re not an Islanders fan – you might have been left wishing they’d done more. But then you probably reminded yourself that plenty of teams have had quiet deadlines and then gone on to successful playoff runs, or even Stanley Cup wins. Teams like the 2007 Ducks and 2008 Red Wings didn’t do much at the deadline, and they won it all. Your team could, too.
And that’s all true. But there’s another side to that coin: Sometimes, teams follow up a quiet deadline with the sort of playoff run that leaves them wishing they’d been more aggressive. Maybe it’s an early exit, or maybe they come agonizingly close to a Stanley Cup. Either way, they’re left wondering: What if we’d done just a little more?
Here are five teams form the salary cap era who may wish they could have a deadline do-over.
At the deadline: On the morning of February 28, the Canucks woke up in first place overall and sitting with a 14-point lead in their division. They led the league in goals scored, and only two teams had given up fewer. It seemed like a classic case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” that called for nothing more than minor tinkering.
What they did: They added a little bit of depth up front, bringing in Maxim Lapierre and Christopher Higgins in exchange for picks. At the time, most of us figured that was just fine.
But then… : We all know how this one ended. The Canucks drew a first round matchup with their long-time rivals, the Blackhawks, and nearly blew a 3-0 series lead before Alex Burrows’ Game 7 OT winner salvaged the series. Wins over the Predators and Sharks sent them to the Cup final, where they took a 3-2 series lead over the Bruins before collapsing in the last two games, coming up one win shy of their first ever championship.
Would a more aggressive deadline have paid off? We’ll never know for sure, and it’s worth pointing out that many of the bigger names moved at the 2011 deadline didn’t exactly pan out – think Dustin Penner and Bryan McCabe. But it’s also true that the Bruins were the far more aggressive team leading up to the deadline, making five trades and adding names like Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle. Did that make the difference? It might have.
At the deadline: The Sharks went into deadline day tied with the Bruins for first place overall, and sitting a ridiculous 25 points ahead of the Ducks for first place in the Pacific. They were gunning for their fourth division title in seven years and were on pace to finish well over the 100-point mark for the third straight season. The Sharks had been aggressive at the last two deadlines, trading first round picks for Bill Guerin in 2007 and Bryan Campbell in 2008. But with a growing reputation as playoff disappointments, some wondered if this was the year Doug Wilson went all-in.
What they did: They ended up making just one deal, adding veterans Kent Huskins and Travis Moen from Anaheim for a pick and two prospects, including a young Nick Bonino. (A second deal that sent Kyle McLaren to Philadelphia was later reversed when McLaren failed his physical.)
But then… : After finishing with a league-leading 117 points to win their first Presidents’ Trophy, the Sharks imploded in the first round, losing in six games in what stands as one of the bigger upsets in recent NHL history. To make matters worse, that loss came against the same Ducks team that had served as the sellers in their only deadline deal.
At the deadline: Unlike the 2011 Canucks or 2009 Sharks, the 2010 Flyers weren’t anybody’s idea of a Cup favorite as March approached. They were more concerned with just locking down a playoff spot, heading into the deadline sitting seventh in the East with several teams looming just a few points behind them.
What they did: Not a thing. The Flyers made their last trade of the season in the first week of February, then sat out the deadline action altogether. Even at the time, their silence raised eyebrows.
But then… : “Why should we make a trade at the deadline,” you’ve no doubt heard some fans ask, “since it’s not like we’re winning the Cup anyway”.
Well, as the 2010 Flyers showed us, you never know.
In one of the strangest playoff seasons in memory, the seventh-seeded Flyers managed to not just make it to the conference final, but to do it with home ice. They then knocked off the eighth-seeded Canadiens to advance to the final, where they faced a young Blackhawks team. The Flyers ended up losing that series in six games, coming within an overtime goal of forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 for the Cup.
In fairness, we should point out that that early February deal the Flyers made worked out pretty well; they added rookie Vielle Leino, who put up 21 points in 19 playoff games. One more deal like that, and who knows how the 2010 final plays out.
At the deadline: The Bruins went into the 2014 deadline sitting eight points up for first place in the Atlantic. That was only good for seventh spot overall, but after having come up just short in the 2013 final against Chicago, the Bruins were still viewed as legitimate contenders.
What they did: The Bruins made just one move, adding defenseman Andrej Meszaros from the Flyers for a third rounder. They also claimed Corey Potter of waivers from the Oilers.
But then… : It didn’t take long for the Bruins’ quiet deadline to look like the right call – they were virtually unbeatable for the rest of the month, going 13-0-1 through the end of March. That was enough to launch them to the top of the league, and they ended up winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time since 1990.
Unfortunately, that late-season momentum didn’t last. After knocking off the Red Wings in the opening round, the Bruins fell victim to a disappointing Game 7 upset at the hands of the Canadiens. They dropped the last two games of that series, outscored 7-1 along the way.
In hindsight, that was the Bruins’ last real chance at a Stanley Cup; they haven’t been back to the playoffs since. Maybe an extra deal or two at the deadline would have resulted in another banner hanging from the rafters. Or maybe it would have disrupted team chemistry enough to wipe out that late-season win streak. Even with 20/20 hindsight, sometimes you just never know.
At the deadline: A year after posting the best record in the conference but then losing in the second round, the Senators went into the 2007 deadline on shakier ground. They were well back of the Sabres for the division lead, and were battling just to land home ice advantage in the opening round.
What they did: With rumors flying that they’d land longtime arch-nemesis Gary Roberts, the Senators instead settled for two minor deals, adding Lawrence Nycholat and Oleg Saprykin.
But then… : The Senators finished strong, losing just twice in regulation the rest of the way and winding up as the fourth seed in the conference with 105 points. They kept rolling through the playoffs, winning three straight series in just five games each to set up a date in the final with the Ducks.
That’s where the ride ended; everything that could go wrong against Anaheim did, and the Senators bowed out in five games in what still stands as the most lopsided Cup final loss in the cap era.
As far as their pickups go, Nycholat never dressed in the playoffs and Saprykin had just one goal. To this day, Senators fans have been known to grimace at the mention of the deadline day addition they’ve come to know as Oleg “Freakin” Saprykin.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.