Big names changed teams in the year 2014, from Martin St-Louis to Roberto Luongo. What were the top 10 deals of the year?
Is it better to give than receive? It is during the holiday season, maybe, if you’re a really good person. But nowhere does that adage apply less than on the trade market. The Boston Bruins won’t pat themselves on the back for giving Dallas the extravagant gift that is Tyler Seguin. In hindsight, a Starbucks card would’ve sufficed.
Which teams did the best jobs giving and receiving in 2014? What were the 10 best trades of the year? As I outlined in last year’s edition, the trade’s utility is key. A big-name deal doesn’t mean much if it helps no one. It’s important to avoid evaluating trades based on the emotion at the time of the deal. For example, everyone remembers Montreal’s Thomas Vanek acquisition as a fleecing of Islanders GM Garth Snow when, in the end, the Habs got a brief rental who disappeared in the playoffs. The best swaps are the ones that tangibly benefit one or both parties.
With that, let’s delve into the list.
10. Senators trade Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to Stars for Alex Chiasson, Alexander Guptil, Nicholas Paul and a 2015 second-round pick
JULY 1 – My first instinct was to rank this deal around the top five. “Hey, it’s Jason Spezza, and Dallas gave up so little to get him!” On second thought, the deal isn’t quite the home run it appeared to be for Stars GM Jim Nill. Spezza has produced like a second-line center, but Dallas hoped for a second-line center who mimicked a No. 1. Spezza hasn’t so far. And now that the Stars have rewarded him anyway with a four-year, $30-million extension, there’s potential for this deal to hurt them down the road. At least Nill didn’t surrender the moon to Ottawa to get Spezza. It still feels like Ottawa would’ve gotten more by waiting to move him at this year’s deadline. A rental could command less in theory but would also attract additional suitors who wouldn’t have wanted to eat a full year of Spezza’s deal.
9. Blue Jackets trade R.J. Umberger and a 2014 fourth-round pick to Flyers for Scott Hartnell
JUNE 23 – Umberger’s five-year contract paying him $4.6 million annually was an albatross the moment it kicked in at the start of 2012-13. Over his final two seasons with Columbus, he produced 26 goals and 52 points in 122 games. Simply ridding themselves of Umberger made the trade a win for the Jackets, so acquiring power forward Hartnell was gravy. Hartnell isn’t the player he was running shotgun with Claude Giroux in Philadelphia, and he missed some time with a broken finger, but he’s been infinitely more productive than Umberger, who had three goals in his first 35 games after joining the Flyers. This deal was a headscratcher for Ron Hextall from day 1.
8. Senators trade a 2014 fifth-round pick (Liam Coughlin) and 2015 third-round pick to Oilers for Ales Hemsky
MARCH 5 – Hey, don’t let Hemsky’s disastrous play in Dallas cloud your judgment. Ottawa’s Hemsky trade was a hit. He gelled with Spezza and churned out 17 points in 20 games. It was Hemsky’s best stretch since 2010-11, even if it didn’t last long.
7. Sabres trade Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to Blues for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 third-round pick
FEB. 28 – This trade looks better for Buffalo by the day. Miller wasn’t the savior St. Louis hoped he’d be in the playoffs, and he left the Show Me State for Vancouver in free agency. Meanwhile, the Sabres turned Halak into a Michal Neuvirth deal, they landed a decent prospect in Carrier and one of the draft picks they acquired nets them another first-round selection in the dynamite 2015 draft class. General manager Tim Murray should land a useful building block for Stewart this season, too.
6. Ducks trade Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, a 2014 first-round pick (Jared McCann) and a 2014 third-round pick (flipped for Derek Dorsett) to Canucks for Ryan Kesler and a 2015 third-round pick
JUNE 27 – Given Kesler’s reported trade demands, the Canucks didn’t have significant leverage, so their yield here was impressive. Bonino is a poor man’s Kesler, capable of getting hot for stretches and manning a second line, McCann has plenty of potential as a first-round pick, and Dorsett and Sbisa are respectable depth pieces. The Ducks obviously made out great, too, acquiring the high-end No. 2 pivot they’d coveted last season. Kesler has formed a potent 1-2 punch up the middle with Ryan Getzlaf. Kesler is a big reason why the Ducks have a huge lead atop the Pacific Division.
5. Bruins trade Johnny Boychuk to Islanders for a 2015 second-round pick, a 2015 conditional third-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick / Blackhawks trade Nick Leddy to Islanders for T.J. Brennan, Kent Simpson, Anders Nilsson and Ville Pokka
OCT. 4 – The Islanders set the tone for their resurgence with a two-trade coup, acquiring blueliners Johnny Boychuk and Leddy on the same day. Garth Snow completely changed the face of his defense and Boychuk and Leddy, background players with their previous powerhouse franchises, have blossomed. The Isles have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL, but Boychuk and Leddy have been the key to their makeover.
4. Canucks trade Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony to Panthers for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias
March 4 – Much was made of then-Canucks GM Mike Gillis finally freeing Luongo and sending him back to Florida, where he could play on in relative obscurity. Lost in that narrative, which included Luongo’s famous palm tree tweet, was the fact Florida got a pretty good goalie. Luongo wasn’t finished. Now 35, he’s been one of the league’s better tenders, helping the Panthers compete for a playoff berth in the East. And hey, the Canucks could still make out OK on this one. They shed the last eight years of Luongo’s deal, even if it meant retaining 15 percent of his salary. And while Markstrom’s game really buckled when he arrived in Vancouver, he’s been spectacular with AHL Utica this season, so there’s hope for the former elite goalie prospect yet.
3. Blue Jackets trade Marian Gaborik to Kings for Matt Frattin, a 2014 second-round pick and a conditional 2014 third-round pick (later traded for a lower third-rounder that became Elvis Merzlikins)
MARCH 5 – It started as a perfect rental for GM Dean Lombardi. Gaborik was a huge contributor to the Kings’ second Stanley Cup, racking up 14 goals and 22 points in 26 playoff games, clicking beautifully on a line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. The bonus: Lombardi locked Gaborik up on a long-term deal in the summer. Seven years felt long, but the $4.875-million cap hit isn’t too shabby, and the contract has zero movement restrictions.
2. Penguins trade James Neal to Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling
JUNE 27 – Each side of this deal felt it got exactly what it wanted, and each side turned out to be right. David Poile’s Predators needed size, physicality and a pure goal scorer to fit new coach Peter Laviolette’s up-tempo system. Neal hasn’t matched his Pittsburgh production, but he’s been plenty useful on a deadly top line with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro. The change of scenery – well, Sidney Crosby – rendered Hornqvist roughly a point-per-game player in Steeltown before Hornqvist’s injury, while Spaling has provided plucky depth.
1. Lightning trade Martin St-Louis and a 2015 second-round pick to Rangers for Ryan Callahan, a 2014 first-round pick (traded for two second-rounders that became Domink Masin and Johnathan MacLeod ), a 2015 first-round pick and a 2015 seventh-round pick
MARCH 5 – This blockbuster has so many moving parts because every conditional element involved came to pass. The Rangers got a new heart-and-soul star in St-Louis, who helped them reach the final and won New York over as he battled through his mother’s death. Because they advanced to at least the Eastern Conference final, the 2014 second-rounder heading to Tampa became a first-rounder. Callahan showed enough last season upon arriving in Tampa that the Bolts re-signed him, and doing so meant they had to swap 2015 second- and seventh-rounders with the Rangers. Callahan has really bloomed this season as Steven Stamkos’ right winger.
Considering the sour mood surrounding the deal – from a jaded St-Louis asking his way out of town to Rangers GM Glen Sather and Ryan Callahan butting heads over Callahan’s next deal in New York – both sides have to feel fantastic about this deal now. OK, maybe the Lightning more so.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin