Another NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and whenever it passes, there’s the urge to judge which teams were winners and which ones were at the other end of the competitive spectrum. Of course, any hockey fan paying close attention from year-to-year understands that 99 percent of all trades have to be judged over the long-term to be judged fairly. So bear that in mind as we do our best to break down the teams that came away from this season’s deadline – including the days leading up to it, when many of the biggest deals took place – looking great, and which ones came away looking questionable or worse.
Arizona Coyotes: There were two types of winners on Deadline Day 2015 – the winners who are loading up for a long playoff run, and the winners who stripped down their roster as part of a long-term rebuild. The Coyotes are clearly part of the latter group, and GM Don Maloney did a ton of work that will quicken the franchise’s turnaround: he shook down Rangers counterpart Glen Sather for (among other things) a top prospect (Anthony Duclair) and first-round draft pick; he also landed Chicago’s first-rounder and a prospect for Antoine Vermette.
By the time 3 p.m. EST rolled around, the Coyotes’ NHL roster looked about as barren as the Arizona desert, but once they lose the grand majority of their 19 remaining games this season, they’re going to get a very good draft pick – perhaps one of phenoms Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel – and in a few years, this team could be a legitimate Cup threat. But to get to that stage, Maloney had to clear the decks and pull in as much in return as possible. Hard to argue he could’ve done any better.
Buffalo Sabres: Like the Coyotes, Buffalo is in the midst of a ground-up rebuild – and like Maloney, Sabres GM Tim Murray did everything in his power (short of putting holograms on the ice) to ensure his team has the best shot at Eichel or McDavid. In the most consequential of the deals he made Monday, Murray traded goalie Michal Neuvirth to the Isles for Chad Johnson and sent winger Chris Stewart to Minnesota for a second-round pick. In combination with his massive Tyler-Myers-for-Evander-Kane blockbuster and swapping of goalies Jhonas Enroth and Anders Lindback with the Stars in mid-February, Murray has swung a wrecking ball over his head and demolished the Sabres’ chances at remaining competitive for the rest of the season. At the same time, he’s stockpiled some impressive young players and a small mountain of draft opportunities and has all but assured itself of either McDavid or Eichel.
Murray’s willingness to make his team a punching bag until next season is the epitome of the phrase, “no pain, no gain”, and although the pain is self-inflicted in this case, Buffalo is on the verge of being home to some terrific talent for the next decade or longer. In the big picture, that’s anything but a loss.
Toronto Maple Leafs:The Leafs also have chosen a path that includes a drastic roster reshaping and years of patience, and if you had told any Toronto fan two weeks ago their favorite team’s trade deadline would include the dealing of underperforming winger David Clarkson, they wouldn’t have cared what else president Brendan Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis did. Nonis deserves all sorts of blame for signing Clarkson in the first place, but if we’re putting aside the blame game for a second and talking strictly about teams that are in undoubtedly better places after the deadline period, you have to include the Leafs. Management freeing itself from Clarkson’s contract by any legal means – and yes, taking on Nathan Horton’s contract knowing he may never play again was a legal tactic – means Shanahan & Co. are doing what they’re supposed to do and taking full advantage of Toronto’s overflowing coffers. They did so again Monday, taking on the salary of veteran Eric Brewer to help land a fifth-round draft pick from the Ducks.
The Leafs didn’t deal either captain Dion Phaneuf or star winger Phil Kessel, but there’s every likelihood at least one of them will be moved by the time the NHL draft takes place. Because the message Toronto reinforced at the deadline was unmistakable: it’s time for a fresh start. And that’s an encouraging sign if you’re a Toronto fan.
Chicago Blackhawks: Losing superstar winger Patrick Kane until May was a gut-punch to the Hawks, but GM Stan Bowman moved swiftly to use Kane’s cap space and add two experienced hands – Vermette and crafty defenseman Kimmo Timonen – to bolster and deepen Chicago’s attack. And to bring in those two rental players, Bowman didn’t have to part with a top prospect such as Teuvo Teravainen. That’s the way you address concerns of the present without draining your stockpile of young talent.
Detroit Red Wings: Speaking of organizations that know how to do things right; the Wings have surprised some this season by continuing to ice a highly competitive team, but they shouldn’t surprise anyone in the way they approached the trade deadline. GM Ken Holland was rumored to have interest in Phaneuf, but traded for former Devils blueliner Marek Zidlicky – and with winger Johan Franzen dealing with a concussion, Holland acquired veteran Erik Cole to step into his role. Detroit didn’t trade a first-rounder in either deal (instead dealing a second-rounder in the Cole transaction and a third-rounder for Zidlicky) and the prospects he sent to Dallas aren’t guaranteed to pan out at the NHL level. Holland has mitigated his risk and still comes away with playoff-tested contributors.
Boston Bruins:The Bruins are just two points ahead of the Panthers for the final wild-card berth in the East and need help with scoring and on the blueline, and the best they could come up with Monday was...a trade for veteran Max Talbot, a deal for former Lightning prospect Brett Connolly, and a minor-league swap to bring in prospect Zack Phillips. If that seems underwhelming, that’s because it is. Now, GM Peter Chiarelli should be credited for not panicking and dealing away assets for short-term solutions, but if Boston fails to make the playoffs because he didn’t do more for the team in the here and now, he may not be around to reap the benefits of that patience.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers had one asset everyone knew they were trading – veteran defenseman Jeff Petry – and were only able to convert it into a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder. Contrast that with what Philly was able to get for 39-year-old blueliner Timonen, and you have another reason to question Edmonton’s direction. And management/ownership’s continuing unwillingness to trade one of their core players after the core has proven incapable of winning remains hugely troubling. Edmonton will more than likely have a top-five pick in this summer’s draft, but nobody should feel reassured they’re going to get it, or the future, right.
New York Rangers: In one sense, the Rangers were winners at the deadline; certainly, in acquiring Yandle from Arizona, GM Glen Sather created one of the Eastern Conference’s deepest defense corps and provided the Blueshirts with veteran expertise and skill. But it came at a massive cost, and be honest: does the Yandle trade really make the Rangers the prohibitive favorite in the East? Hardly. The upside of the Yandle deal is apparent, but the downside seems more glaring. And considering Sather’s well-earned reputation for continually changing his roster, this latest shuffling seems less the product of a blueprint for success, and more a result of him throwing what he can at a wall and seeing what sticks.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are one point out of a playoff spot, but they made only a few small moves – dealing away James Sheppard, Tyler Kennedy, Freddie Hamilton and Andrew Desjardins in separate trades – and aren’t demonstrably better for it, at least not right now. GM Doug Wilson needs to be credited for keeping San Jose competitive, but it’s hard to see right now where this team is headed, and how they keep pace with the beasts of the West. This feels like cutting around the edges of a problem rather than getting to the heart of it.
Anaheim Ducks: While fellow Western powerhouses Chicago and Nashville and Los Angeles made impressive moves, the Ducks consummated six deals in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline, and none felt as if they would have as much impact as, say, Chicago made in landing Vermette. New Ducks Jiri Sekac, Tomas Fleischmann, Simon Despres and James Wisniewski are above-average players, but some interpret it as a bad sign when there’s this much roster turnover this late in the season, and Anaheim’s blueline is still not as good as that of the Blues or Blackhawks. The Ducks were one of the most active teams at the deadline, but volume isn’t always a good thing, or a guarantor of success.