Shortly after the 2004-05 lockout, Chris Pronger was traded from St. Louis to Edmonton for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. It was the dawn of a new era in the NHL and while most early moves such as this one were done to align teams in a new economic and competitive era, it brought a sense of excitement accentuated by the return of hockey in general.
It also made me think about fantasy hockey. Chris Pronger…in Edmonton? The Oilers always lost big-name players to bigger-market teams, but now they were bringing in one of the biggest? It really was something you thought would only happen in a mystical, make-believe world.
During the years since, of course, the salary cap has been charged with ruining NHL trades. Without the freedom to spend at will and with the value of future assets inflating, the death of the bold trades – especially in-season – appeared to be upon us. But now that line of thinking may be changing yet again, as the past few days have been the most exciting lead up to a trade deadline in recent memory.
After the Tomas Kaberle deal everyone saw coming for more than a year materialized, two big deals came out of nowhere to shake the foundation of the post-lockout philosophy. Will the two trades prove to be a passing fancy or a level of excitement we can legitimately look out and hope for in coming years?
Perhaps that will depend on how the Colorado-St. Louis and Pittsburgh-Dallas deals pan out.
BLUES TRADE ERIK JOHNSON TO COLORADO
First off, when a recent No. 1 overall pick is traded it’s a big deal – but when that player is traded in a league that has seen championship teams built on draft picks, it’ll shake the ground. Talk about a fantasy trade, before the wee hours of Saturday morning you more likely would have seen a Sidney Crosby trade in your keeper pool than a real-life Erik Johnson blockbuster.
Colorado: Boy oh boy, if Johnson can reach his potential the Avs will come out smelling pretty. Averaging 31.3 shots against per game the Avalanche needed to beef up on the defensive side of the puck and did so not only with the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Johnson, but also with center and penalty-killer Jay McClement.
The 6-foot-1 Kingston, Ont., native won’t ever approach the goal totals Chris Stewart may one day reach, but he will be a nice complementary piece on a depth line and when a man down. But this deal is all about Johnson. Was it a hefty price to pay for a defenseman who may or may not reach the heights expected of a No. 1 pick? Absolutely, but if Johnson ever hits a Chris Pronger-like high, Colorado would have just added a rare breed that often puts teams over the top.
St. Louis: Completely opposite to Colorado, the Blues had no real trouble playing on the ‘D’ side of the puck, but struggled mightily to score goals on a consistent basis. The duo of Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo was something the Blues could hang their hat on and build around, but rather than start from the net out, GM Doug Armstrong is calling an audible and focusing on his offense. As the team has failed to live up to the improved hopes of management, Armstrong chose to send an aggressive message.
I don’t believe Stewart can be classified as injury prone, but he has missed time this season. After scoring 28 goals in 2009-10 last the 23-year-old power forward likely won’t get that high this year, but with T.J. Oshie, David Backes, David Perron and Patrik Berglund alongside him, Stewart will have all the help he’ll need to be a year-in, year-out 30-goal scorer in the near future. The cherry on top is Kevin Shattenkirk who, after a tremendous start to his NHL career, has cooled somewhat. He won’t be the big bruiser Johnson should become, but Shattenkirk fills in with blossoming offense on the back end.
Who wins: We can’t really make a final judgment on this deal for four or five years, but in getting Shattenkirk as part of the return with Stewart, the Blues are in a good spot.
STARS TRADE JAMES NEAL TO PENGUINS FOR ALEX GOLIGOSKI
What’s with the sudden movement of young power forwards? Every team needs one and if you don’t have it you’ll have a difficult time proving yourself a contender in the NHL. Detroit has Johan Franzen, Pittsburgh had Bill Guerin and Chicago had Dustin Byfuglien.
Dallas: Not only are power forwards integral to success, but so is a reliable puck-moving defenseman to run the power play (breaking news) – and some GMs are willing to pay big for one. Rather than dealing fewer assets to acquire a more expensive veteran, Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk went out and got a guy he can count on for the foreseeable future, as Goligoski’s rights will still be owned by Dallas when he becomes an RFA in two years.
The Stars absolutely needed to address their ‘D’ corps. Having Stephane Robidas as your leading producer from the back end just doesn’t cut it (nothing against the responsible and effective Robidas, but he can’t be ‘the guy’). Dallas got the type of player it needed, but boy did it pay a premium.
Pittsburgh: The Pens let Guerin go after last season and, while anyone can play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, some consistency was needed on the wing. Rather than continuing to go out and do some patch work in the off-season, GM Ray Shero landed the young power forward he needed to play alongside his superstars for years to come. Goligoski was expendable in the sense the Pens had four other defensemen (including a puck-mover) signed for at least another three years. Making the deal even more attractive to the Pens is the fact they got Matt Niskanen to slot into a No. 5 role. Niskanen isn’t a huge loss for the Stars, but he’s a great depth add for the Penguins.
Who wins: What’s more important, a power forward or a puck-moving defenseman? Neal scored 27 goals last season and is on pace for 28 this year, so expect that to increase in a healthy Penguins lineup. As good as Goligoski is and how important he’ll be for a team that was starving for a puck-mover, the Penguins found the exact piece they needed.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
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