It was a second straight year of shocking blockbusters. Which swaps were the biggest and craftiest?
When did trading become fun again? I’m thinking we should thank Nashville Predators GM David Poile for that. He shook the NHL during the 2016 calendar year with two blockbuster, star-for-star “hockey” trades, sending Seth Jones and Shea Weber out for Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban, respectively.
That throwback trend of swapping big names for big names continued in 2017. We still saw plenty of standard players-for-picks transactions but also some old-fashioned deals. The trades this calendar year can’t match the epic scale of 2016’s, but there were plenty of humdingers. These are the top 10 trades of 2017. Some make the list because they benefited one team massively, others because both parties walked away happy.
Disclaimer: no Vegas Golden Knights trades appear on this list. The expansion draft gave GM George McPhee special advantages, so comparing his deals to those of other GMs feels like apples to oranges. In other years, you can’t get guys like Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch practically free.
10. Lightning trade Valtteri Filppula, a 2017 fourth-round pick (Maksim Sushko) and a 2017 conditional seventh-round pick (Wyatt Kalynuk) to Flyers for Mark Streit
Just when it appeared the Bolts would become victims of their own skill, that they’d be forced to deal away some core talent with so many players due for big raises, Steve Yzerman pulled off this little miracle. He cleared Filppula’s $5-million cap hit, which carried over into this season, without retaining any of his salary. Yzerman then immediately flipped Streit to the Pittsburgh Penguins, swallowing half his salary but only until the end of the season since Streit was a UFA.
The freed-up money made it far easier for Yzerman to re-sign crucial RFAs Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson over the summer. Of course, Tampa did have to part with one key RFA. More on that later.
9. Islanders trade Travis Hamonic and a 2019 conditional fourth-round pick to Flames for a 2018 first-round pick, a 2018 second-round pick and a 2019 conditional second-round pick
Funny how player valuations change so quickly. At the time of the deal, the Flames generated big excitement by going all in to get the versatile right-shot blueliner Hamonic. At THN, we declared their vaunted D-corps one of the league’s very best behind only Nashville’s. But Hamonic and partner T.J. Brodie struggled mightily to start the season, making the Islanders’ haul of draft picks look like a coup. That said, Hamonic has shown signs of bouncing back lately. If he continues trending in the right direction and the trade ends up benefitting both teams mutually, it deserves a higher rank on this list. It will be interesting to revisit by summer.
8. Ducks trade 2017 conditional second-round pick (became first rounder, traded to Chicago, Blackhawk select Henri Jokiharju) to Stars for Patrick Eaves
Set aside that GM Bob Murray re-signed Eaves, who was 33, highly injury prone and fresh off a 32-goal season when his previous career best was just 20, notched in his rookie year of 2005-06. And disregard his rotten luck being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder.
These rankings grade the trade, not the ensuing contract. Eaves was a pending UFA and thus a rental when the Ducks acquired him in February, and he couldn’t have worked out better in that regard. He discovered awesome chemistry on a line with Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf, ripping off 11 goals in 20 regular season games, good for a 45-goal pace over a full campaign. Eaves eventually got hurt in the playoffs but nevertheless played a major part in getting the Ducks to the Western Conference final. This was a perfect rental deal for Anaheim.
7. Devils trade Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick to Ducks for Sami Vatanen and a 2019 or 2020 conditional third-round pick
This deal is difficult to grade so early, but it was quite a franchise-shaker on both ends, and my hat’s off to Murray and Devils GM Ray Shero for aggressively addressing team needs. In Henrique, the badly banged-up Ducks forward group got a versatile player who can man all three positions, can play on both special teams and is under team control through the end of 2018-19. Blandisi has also flashed a bit of scoring touch, particularly in the AHL, and has some leftover upside at 23.
The Devils, meanwhile, bought low on Vatanen, who started 2017-18 slowly as he recovered from shoulder surgery. He’s just a few years removed from being a good prospect turned high-end NHL puck-mover and gives the Devils something they really need. He’ a right shot to boot. He hasn’t shown much yet with his new team, but it’s early. Don’t be surprised if the Devils end up the long-term victor in this deal. The Ducks, already swimming in good defensemen, are the short-term winners, though.
6. Flames trade Brandon Hickey, Chad Johnson and a 2018 conditional third-round pick to Coyotes for Mike Smith
Smith was 35 with no above-average NHL seasons since his stupendous 2011-12, which he punctuated with a phenomenal playoff run. The Flames and GM Brad Treliving, however, were convinced Smith was just a good goalie rotting away on a bad team that gave up far too many 10-bell chances for him to post respectable numbers. With the battery of Johnson and playoff flop Brian Elliott reaching free agency anyway, Calgary had little to lose, especially once the Dallas Stars landed Ben Bishop. So Treliving added Smith at a relatively low price, and so far the hunch was bang on.
Smith has carried the Flames in plenty of games so far this season, flashing his amazing puck-moving skill, which is far and away the best in the NHL. His .919 SP is his highest since that 2011-12 campaign. Maybe Smith just needed superior talent in front of him – and the emotional spark that comes with playing for a contender.
5. Islanders trade Ryan Strome to Oilers for Jordan Eberle
Not every great trade is a win for both teams. Islanders GM Garth Snow crushed Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli on this one. Strome has looked every bit like the disappointing former megaprospect he was the past couple seasons in Brooklyn. Eberle, meanwhile, has flourished as an Islander on a dynamite second line with Matt Barzal and Andrew Ladd. Eberle is on pace for his most goals and points in years. The maddeningly inconsistent Oilers, meanwhile, have sorely lacked speed and scoring touch on the wings, which is exactly what they traded away in Eberle. Oops. Chiarelli would probably like a mulligan on this one, even if it cleared a bunch of cap space, which was used to sign, ahem, Kris Russell the next day.
4. Blackhawks trade Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth-round pick (Jonathan Davidson) for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round pick
A true hockey trade here and a shocker. Incensed after two consecutive first-round playoff exits and likely concerned over the loss of two-way maven Marian Hossa, Hawks GM Stan Bowman decided his forward group needed to get stronger and tougher to play against again. He thus brought the speedy, intelligent Saad back to the Windy City, and Saad has been pretty much as advertised, producing his usual good-but-not-great offense while adding top-end possession play.
The Blue Jackets, armed with a bevy of big, strong forwards, decided they wanted more speed and skill to complement Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg, so GM Jarmo Kekalainen sprung for Panarin. The big question was whether Panarin could still produce elite scoring numbers without Patrick Kane playing on his line. Panarin took a little while to find his footing but has since caught fire. How about that five-assist game? Feels like both teams got exactly that they wanted out of this blockbuster.
3. Blues trade Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and a 2018 conditional first-round pick to Flyers for Brayden Schenn
Oh boy. Maybe Flyers GM Ron Hextall has behaved so conservatively in his tenure because when he does emerge from his hole to make a trade, he gets pillaged like he did here. There’s just no justifying Philly’s return for this one. It was an iffy trade the day it happened, with the Blues quickly announcing they’d give Schenn a crack at a scoring-line center role, and it has since become the steal of the year. Schenn has been the NHL’s top power forward this season, period. He already has six game-winning goals and is in contention for the league scoring crown and Hart Trophy. He’s finally realizing the potential he showed as a superstar junior player in the WHL, and it hasn’t seemed to matter which wingers he’s played with between Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen.
2. Lightning trade Jonathan Drouin and a 2018 conditional sixth-round pick for Mikhail Sergachev and a 2018 conditional second-round pick
What a stunner! This is 2017’s most talked-about trade. It generated major headlines when it happened in June, and the buzz hasn’t stopped since. Habs GM Marc Bergevin knew his team needed a top-end center and decided to roll the dice on Drouin, a dazzling playmaker who had not played center since his QMJHL days with Halifax and even then was just learning the position in his final year of junior. Drouin faced a heap of pressure as the team’s first francophone star since Jose Theodore. Has he delivered? It’s debatable. He’s struggled on faceoffs, which isn’t surprising given he’s learning a new job on the fly. He’s been a decent but unspectacular offensive contributor. There’s plenty of time for him to blossom. He’s only 22.
Unfortunately, Drouin can’t seem to escape comparisons to the piece Montreal surrendered in the deal: powerhouse defenseman Sergachev. Everyone knew he was an elite prospect at his position, projected to become a do-it-all No. 1 NHL defenseman when Montreal picked him ninth overall in 2016. But Bergevin likely didn’t expect Sergachev to make a splash right now at 19. He’s been not only one of the NHL’s best rookies, but best overall defensemen, too. He more goals, assists and points than Drouin. Sergachev already looks like an all-around stud and has made the Lightning so much more dangerous because they can split stalwarts Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman onto two separate pairings, with Stralman mentoring Sergachev. The trade is another home run for Yzerman and will continue to generate comparisons for years, just as the Adam Larsson-for-Taylor Hall swap will.
1. To Senators: Matt Duchene; to Predators: Kyle Turris; to Avalanche: Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, a 2018 first-round pick, a 2018 second-round pick and a 2018 third-round pick
So much to unpack here. The simple components of the deal: Ottawa and Nashville both wanted to upgrade at center. Ottawa did so in theory, landing the trade market’s biggest fish in the speedy Duchene. The Sens and GM Pierre Dorion paid a massive cost, though, not just surrendering two picks and a prospect but also giving up one of their top two pivots in Turris. Ouch. Duchene was barely an upgrade over Turris to begin with, and Turris has since skated circles around him, flourishing in Music City, who signed him to a big contract extension right after acquiring him. The Preds are 10-2-2 with Turris in the lineup since the trade. Ottawa: 3-10-2 with Duchene. We can’t pin each team’s fate solely on one player, but the optics sure are damning for the Sens on this one.
Especially when they also gave up their 2017 first-round pick in Bowers not to mention a first-rounder next June. Those are just a few of the pieces in Avalanche GM Joe Sakic’s comically huge haul. After months of chatter suggesting teams were scoffing at Sakic’s enormous asking price, he got what he wanted. Three picks, three legit prospects and depth goalie Andrew Hammond just for Duchene, whose contract expires in summer 2019. WOW. Kamenev broke his arm shortly after the deal, but the rebuilding Avs don’t need him boosting their win total this season anyway, so the loss was palatable, and Girard has gained valuable experience playing more than 18 minutes a night in Colorado’s lineup.
The three-teamer was the trade of the year, not only because it involved the year’s top trade candidate but also because it grew into a transaction of such tremendous magnitude. Keep ’em coming, GMs.