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The top 10 NHL trades of 2018

Most of 2018's top blockbusters involved one team loading up and another team giving up. Which trades worked out the best for one or both sides?

In last year’s top-10 trade list, I tipped my cap to all the honest-to-goodness “hockey trades” that went down. Looking back on 2018, however, I see ‘The Year of the Seller.’ Most of the calendar year’s biggest blockbusters involved one team auctioning off a star with one or zero years left on his contract in exchange for a “rebuild kit” of picks and prospects. Some of the sellers look like they’ve already won their deals, while some of the buyers got steals, too, and in some cases, both sides benefited.

These are my top 10 trades of 2018. Honorable mention to the Nick Schmaltz/Dylan Strome/Brendan Perlini trade, which has paid immediate dividends for both teams involved but is a bit too fresh to properly evaluate.

10. Blues trade Paul Stastny to Jets for Erik Foley, a 2018 conditional first-round pick (traded to Maple Leafs; became Rasmus Sandin) and a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick

Winnipeg couldn’t re-sign Stastny as a UFA, but this rental deal was still totally worth it. The Jets' farm system and young core of NHL talent were already so elite that losing Foley and a first-round pick barely hurt them at all. For a few months, Stastny was a magical No. 2 center for the Jets, finding excellent chemistry with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine and helping the club reach the Western conference final. This deal was the perfect example of a calculated risk by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. He knew he wouldn’t get hurt even if Stastny walked in the summer. Meanwhile, the Blues used the first-rounder in a deal with the Maple Leafs and traded up to draft intriguing right wing prospect Dominik Bokk, so GM Doug Armstrong did fine on his end, too.

9. Sabres trade Evander Kane to Sharks for a 2019 conditional first-round pick, Danny O’Regan and a 2019 conditional fourth-round pick

Kane, undeniably talented but occasionally volatile in his teammate relationships, couldn’t have landed in a better spot than San Jose, which offered a dressing room full of respected, big-name veteran leaders. It thus wasn’t a huge surprise to see Kane flourish upon becoming a Shark, potting 13 goals in 26 games across the regular season and playoffs. He re-signed with the Sharks within weeks of their elimination. That said, a seven-year contract with a $7-million cap hit was a lot to live up to for a player with one 30-goal season and a history of injury problems. He hasn’t been nearly as effective so far in his first full campaign as a Shark, though there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

Small, shifty O’Regan is a name to watch as he toils with the Sabres’ farm club in Rochester, but the key to this deal was the conditional 2019 first-rounder, which got triggered when Kane re-signed with the Sharks. It’s one of three first-round picks on Buffalo’s slate for next June, though the Sharks will defer it to 2020 if they miss the playoffs this season. The win-now Sharks got a win-now piece, and the Sabres improved their future championship odds, so everybody walked away from this deal happy for now. We’ll see if Kane ends up justifying his price tag over the long term in San Jose.

8. Blackhawks trade Michal Kempny to Capitals for a 2018 third-round pick (later traded to Coyotes, then to Sharks; became Linus Karlsson)

Remember when the Blackhawks’ seemingly inconsequential trade-deadline rental of Michal Handzus became a key component of their 2013 Cup run? The Kempny deal reminded me of that for Washington. He never gelled in Chicago and appeared to be a depth addition for a Caps team relying on a few too many rookie blueliners. Even coach Barry Trotz later admitted he thought that's what Kempny would be, nothing more, the day Washington acquired him. But he quickly found a home on a pair with No. 1 blueliner John Carlson. Kempny brought stability that allowed Carlson more offensive freedom, and that duo was a vital piece of the Stanley Cup champs.

7. Sabres trade Ryan O’Reilly to Blues for Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick

The losing ways followed O’Reilly from Buffalo to St. Louis, but he’s hardly to blame. He’s been more or less what GM Doug Armstrong wanted when he gave up a large pile of assets: a legitimate No. 1/2 center who provides offense, shutdown skills and faceoff ability. O’Reilly plays more than 20 minutes a night, averages a point per game and wins more than 60 percent of his draws for the Blues. He’s not the problem during this disappointing season.

The Sabres landed a couple of seasoned, defensively responsible veteran forwards in Sobotka and Berglund, who have come in handier than expected on a team that suddenly has playoff aspirations, but the key to the deal for GM Jason Botterill was landing the big, athletic first-round forward prospect Thompson and piling on two more early-round draft selections. The way the Sabres are trending right now – ahead of schedule – they may be in a position to use one of their three first-rounders in a “buyer” trade approaching the deadline. Who knew that would even be an option this season?

6. Canadiens trade Max Pacioretty to Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick

The Habs were in danger of selling low on their captain ‘Patches’ after one of the worst seasons of his career, but they got a nice return for a player they admitted they had no intention of re-signing. Intelligent two-way pivot Suzuki, a 2017 first-rounder, is an A-grade prospect. The second-rounder is nice, too. Even Tatar is playing some of his best hockey in years since joining the Habs.

Pacioretty, whom Vegas extended for four years at a $7-million AAV, really struggled in October but sizzled in November. With Paul Stastny on the mend and almost ready to reclaim his spot as Pacioretty’s center, it’s not out of the question ‘Patches’ returns to his old 30-goal ways, making this deal a win for the Golden Knights, too.

5. Coyotes trade Max Domi to Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk

Ah, this was a delightfully old-school deal, with each team giving up on one promising talent in hopes of sparking the other’s career with a change of scenery. The trade has turned out particularly swimmingly for Montreal, as Domi is playing the best hockey of his life. He had 36 career goals over his first three seasons as a Coyote. He’s on pace for 36 in his first campaign as a Hab. Galchenyuk’s season started late as he recovered from a lower-body injury sustained in the pre-season, he’s cooled off after a hot start, and he’s suddenly banged up again, so Arizona is the early loser on this deal. But the Domi revival has been one of the young season’s best stories, vaulting this throwback trade into the top five.

4. Senators trade Erik Karlsson and Francis Perron to Sharks for Josh Norris, Chris Tierney, Rudolfs Balcers, Dylan DeMelo, a 2019 second-round pick, a 2019 or 2020 conditional first-round pick, a 2021 conditional first- or second-round pick and a 2022 conditional first-round pick

Sharks GM Doug Wilson snagged the best offensive defenseman of this generation without surrendering any of San Jose's most coveted, established young NHL talent, most notably Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, so the trade was a clear victory for Wilson from Day 1. The most fascinating wrinkle was that, because an eight-year extension isn’t legal until after the trade deadline in this case, Karlsson re-signing with the Sharks was not an immediate condition of the trade, and that likely brought his price down given he was technically being acquired on an expiring contract. It was a stroke of genius for the Sharks given how appealing of a destination San Jose is, as they got Karlsson at a rental price and then had a season to bet on themselves winning Karlsson over as a market.

Ottawa got some respectable warm bodies in center Tierney and blueliner DeMelo. Norris is a good prospect but, playing in the NCAA, he isn’t a shoo-in to sign with Ottawa. What Ottawa needs for this trade to be worthwhile is for some of the conditions to break their way. The Sharks have a loose grip on a playoff spot in the Western Conference right now. If they end up missing, the 2019 or 2020 first-rounder becomes a 2019 pick. If the Sharks re-sign Karlsson, the Sens will get a 2021 conditional second-rounder that becomes a first if San Jose reaches the Cup final in 2019. The most interesting tidbit: if Karlsson finishes 2018-19 on an Eastern Conference roster, the Sharks would have to fork over another first-round pick no later than 2022. That final condition seemed laughably unlikely before this season, but Karlsson hasn’t been a dream fit quite yet, and the Sharks aren’t shoo-in contenders, so it’s no longer a slam-dunk he re-signs. Imagine if Wilson and the Sharks decided to deal him. If so, the Sharks would want to find a Western Conference trade partner.

Odds are, Karlsson gets in a groove soon and the Sharks make the playoffs, but these scenarios are fun nonetheless, making this mammoth trade one of the year’s most exciting. Shortly after it happened, Wilson told me he felt he owed it to his players on long-term contracts to give them a chance at a Stanley Cup every year. It’s fun to see a GM adopt such a swashbuckling mentality.

3. Rangers trade Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Lightning for Vladislav Namestnikov, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, a 2018 first-round pick (Nils Lundkvist) and a 2019 conditional second-round pick

This is the type of deadline deal that makes you nod in agreement to both sides. The Lightning were loading up for a Stanley Cup run and seriously bolstered their lineup with top-four workhorse blueliner McDonagh and versatile swingman forward Miller, who wound up posting big numbers down the stretch on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. The Bolts came one win away from reaching the Cup final, re-signed both players over the summer and are the league’s most dominant team right now.

Meanwhile, the deal showed Rangers president Glen Sather and GM Jeff Gorton were serious when they published a letter pledging to their fan base that they wanted to rebuild with a commitment to youth. Namestnikov has been a bit of a bust, but the Rangers really improved their prospect depth with defenseman Hajek and center Howden, not to mention first-rounder Lundkvist. Meanwhile, the 2019 second-rounder becomes a first if Tampa wins the Cup this spring. It was a real changing-of-the-guard deal for the Rangers, proving rock bottom was over and that they were ready to start constructing a new roster foundation.

2. Hurricanes trade Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Flames for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox

Draft day always delivers a humdinger trade or three. The Hurricanes and Flames were oh-so splashy with this move. Lindholm is well on his way to career-best numbers playing on Calgary’s powerhouse first line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, while Hanifin has acquitted himself reasonably well with the most responsibility of his career after being sheltered in Carolina. Hamilton’s superficial numbers are down with the Canes, but he’s made his typical positive possession impact, while Ferland was posting Wayne Simmonds-type numbers for Carolina before a concussion slowed him down. It’s a pretty even deal so far, so Harvard star Fox may ultimately decide who wins this trade when he decides to turn pro – assuming he does sign with Carolina.

1. Hurricanes trade Jeff Skinner to Sabres for Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick and a 2020 sixth-round pick

It wasn’t the sexiest trade the day it happened. Carolina sold off pending UFA Skinner to stock the cupboard with B-grade prospect Pu and handful of picks. Fine. But did we underestimate how much Skinner, just 26 and a three-time 30-goal scorer, would click in Buffalo considering he got to play with his best linemate ever in Jack Eichel? In hindsight, of course Skinner went bananas on the scoresheet. It’s been fun to watch, and it’s always exciting to see a trade play such a major role in a team’s fortunes. The Sabres aren’t nearly as deadly and nearly as inspiring of a story in 2018-19 without that bold August move. Skinner looks like he’s pricing himself toward a $7-million AAV at minimum in his walk year, but the Sabres can afford him.

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