Larry Fisher The Hockey Writers
2020 NHL Trade Deadline: Fisher’s Winners & Losers
By my count, there were 30 deals on deadline day involving 55 players and 25 draft picks. That included 36 legitimate NHLers, plus 19 minor-leaguers or prospects on the move on Feb. 24.
Dating back to Feb. 5 — when Toronto acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from Los Angeles — there were exactly 50 trades leading up to the 2020 deadline. It sure felt like a busy month, with business picking up as per usual but even more so than anticipated.
Ironically, I posted a poll on Twitter setting the over/under at 30 trades for deadline day and the results were overwhelmingly in favour of taking the under, while I was in the minority in sensing the over potential. Turns out, we were all fit to be tied with that total of 30.
It was a sellers’ market in the early stages, but there were some bargain buys as time was running out. The prices were peculiar, with a couple of bottom-six centres fetching first-round picks, while a 30-goal winger and 60-point defenceman from last season were only worth second- and third-round picks, respectively. They are on pace for more modest totals this season, but the discrepancy in those returns was still puzzling.
I’m glad I didn’t attempt any trade predictions this year — avoiding a repeat of past failures — but I came away quite pleased with how my Big Board of Bait project served as something of a guideline to the deadline. For the record, 35 of the 130 players on my bait board were impacted — be it traded or signed. I will let you determine whether or not that should be considered a success.
When the dust settled from the flurry of February activity, I had declared 11 winners and five losers. Of my 11 winners, eight were buyers and three were sellers.
1) Carolina Hurricanes
If there could only be one winner, it would likely be Carolina. The Hurricanes landed two key players with term in Vincent Trocheck from Florida and Brady Skjei from one of their division and playoff rivals in the New York Rangers. Trocheck is signed for two more seasons at a very reasonable $4.75-million cap hit and Skjei has four seasons remaining at a slightly less attractive $5.25 million. Carolina also acquired pending free agent Sami Vatanen from New Jersey to add a little offence to the defence. Well played Don Waddell — getting Trocheck, Skjei and Vatanen without giving up too much.
2) Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland wasn’t sitting on his hands — getting a helping hand from his former team and understudy turned successor in Detroit’s Steve Yzerman, who sent Mike Green and Andreas Athanasiou to Edmonton in separate deals before the Oilers brought home Tyler Ennis from Ottawa. Ennis, an Edmonton native, can play up and down the lineup in replacing Sam Gagner’s presence as a versatile winger, but Athanasiou is the real prize as that aforementioned 30-goal man — now projected to flank Connor McDavid on the league’s fastest line going forward. Green is past his prime and has been injury prone in recent years but adds depth, experience and offensive ability to Edmonton’s blue line for the stretch run.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins
Jim Rutherford wasn’t resting on his laurels after landing Jason Zucker from Minnesota in a blockbuster trade earlier this month. The Penguins’ architect added five more forwards at the deadline, with Patrick Marleau and Conor Sheary being the two most notable. Sheary is returning to Pittsburgh and Marleau might be getting his best chance at a Stanley Cup. The other three were Evan Rodrigues, Riley Barber and Phil Varone as a trio of tweeners who could surprise in Mike Sullivan’s system — Rodrigues, in particular, could benefit from this fresh start. The Penguins are definitely deep up front now and should be fine on the back end once Brian Dumoulin and impressive rookie John Marino return from injuries.
4) Vegas Golden Knights
Kelly McCrimmon picked his spots in targeting Alec Martinez from Los Angeles, who has made an immediate impact for Vegas, before upgrading the Golden Knights’ goaltending in getting Robin Lehner from Chicago for a song. Vegas also acquired Nick Cousins from Montreal to offset the loss of Cody Eakin as a salary dump. All in all, the Golden Knights came out well ahead and appear to be hitting their stride as of late. Providing Lehner can spell Marc-Andre Fleury down the stretch — as a means of keeping the All-Star starter fresh for the playoffs — Vegas could run away with the Pacific Division from here on out.
5) Boston Bruins
Don Sweeney didn’t make any blockbusters per se but managed to pull off two sweet swaps with Anaheim in getting Ondrej Kase for David Backes and futures, then Nick Ritchie for Danton Heinen. Those deals with the Ducks didn’t hog the headlines outside of Boston but should make the Bruins that much more formidable come playoff time. Kase and Ritchie could certainly emerge as difference-makers.
6) Washington Capitals
Brian MacLellan landed another Russian sniper in Ilya Kovalchuk and bolstered the blue line with Brenden Dillon. Those moves should bode well for the Capitals’ championship aspirations, and even the acquisition of Daniel Sprong could be impactful for Washington’s future. Kovalchuk and Dillon were perfect targets for this team in the present, with the Capitals now looking as deep on paper as they did in capturing the Cup two years ago.
7) Winnipeg Jets
Kevin Cheveldayoff had been cap-strapped by the Dustin Byfuglien situation but made two low-cost depth moves that should pay dividends — getting Cody Eakin from Vegas and Dylan Demelo from Ottawa for mid-round picks. Addition without subtraction from the roster is always beneficial, but Eakin should be fired up for his homecoming as a Winnipegger and Demelo is definitely an upgrade for the Jets’ depleted defence.
8) Calgary Flames
Brad Treliving was outshone by his Alberta rival in Edmonton but still deserves a shout-out for getting Erik Gustafsson on the cheap from Chicago and further reinforcing Calgary’s defence with Derek Forbort from Los Angeles. Those deals were deemed necessary because of injuries to captain Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic and Juuso Valimaki. If the Flames get healthy, they will be extremely deep on the back end, but many expected Treliving to target another top-nine forward. There is suddenly a lot of firepower in the Pacific — with Edmonton getting Athanasiou, Vancouver getting Tyler Toffoli, and Arizona previously getting Taylor Hall — so it’ll be interesting to see how the Flames stack up offensively the rest of the way.
9) New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald did very well as a seller — perhaps well enough to remove the interim label from his title. New Jersey’s biggest trade was with Tampa Bay, receiving 2019 first-rounder Nolan Foote and Vancouver’s 2020 first-round pick for Blake Coleman. But Fitzgerald didn’t stop there in shipping Andy Greene to the Islanders for a 2021 second-round pick and defence prospect David Quenneville before sending Sami Vatanen to Carolina for NHL-ready forward prospect Janne Kuokkanen, serviceable defender Frederik Claesson and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. The Devils sold a bit low on Wayne Simmonds, only getting a fifth-round pick from Buffalo, while resisting the urge to part with Kyle Palmieri. For the record, I didn’t love the Taylor Hall trade back in December — prior to Ray Shero’s dismissal as GM — but Fitzgerald balanced it out by getting that coup for Coleman. And even the Hall return is looking decent in hindsight, having fetched a conditional 2020 first-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-round pick, 2015 first-rounder Nick Merkley — now in the midst of a productive call-up with the Devils — fellow forward prospect Nate Schnarr and defence prospect Kevin Bahl. That is a quality haul, albeit a quantity package.
10) Ottawa Senators
Pierre Dorion got full value for Jean-Gabriel Pageau and stockpiled additional draft picks for the Senators’ promising rebuild by moving along pending free agents Dylan Demelo, Vladislav Namestnikov and Tyler Ennis. In total, Ottawa received five draft picks — with the potential for a sixth, should the Islanders win the Stanley Cup this year. The five guaranteed picks include a conditional 2020 first-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick for Pageau, a 2020 third-round pick for Demelo, a 2021 fourth-round pick for Namestnikov, and a 2021 fifth-round pick for Ennis. Those were all solid deals for the Sens, who held on to fellow free agents Ron Hainsey, Mark Borowiecki, Mikkel Boedker and Craig Anderson, among other tradeable players such as Chris Tierney, but there should be no complaints over Dorion’s dealings to date this season.
11) Los Angeles Kings
Rob Blake also did relatively well as a seller, cashing in Tyler Toffoli for forward prospect Tyler Madden, depth forward Tim Schaller, a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick. That was a fair package from Vancouver, as was the return from Toronto for Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford, which consisted of California product Trevor Moore, a 2020 third-round pick and another conditional 2020 third-round pick. Los Angeles maximized Martinez’s value in getting a pair of second-round picks (2020 and 2021). That was a steep price for Vegas to pay but already seems like a win-win deal. The Kings turned Derek Forbort into a conditional 2021 fourth-round pick from Calgary but couldn’t flip Schaller despite him clearing waivers ahead of the deadline and surprisingly didn’t trade Trevor Lewis or Ben Hutton, while opting to re-sign Martin Frk for two seasons.
1) Chicago Blackhawks
Stan Bowman sold shockingly low on Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson. Lehner, with salary retained, only returned Malcolm Subban as a mediocre backup goaltender, Slava Demin as a middling defence prospect, and a 2020 second-round pick. Gustafsson, the 60-point defender from last season, commanded just a 2020 third-round pick. There wasn’t much of a market for goalies, but lesser defencemen were garnering far greater returns in the days leading up to the deadline. The going rate seemed to be a second-round pick, plus a sweetener. That was the case for pending free agents Andy Greene, Brenden Dillon and Marco Scandella, as well as Alec Martinez, who is signed through next season. Gustafsson is arguably better than those four — presumably more valuable — but wound up getting the same return as Dylan Demelo. Strangely, offensive defencemen weren’t as in demand this year, with Mike Green and Sami Vatanen also coming cheaper — both only warranting fourth-round picks, thus making more sense of this Gustafsson return. But still, Bowman had to do better for the Blackhawks.
2) New York Islanders
Lou Lamoriello grossly overpaid for Jean-Gabriel Pageau after previously overpaying for Andy Greene, while failing to put the finishing touches on a trade involving Zach Parise for Andrew Ladd. That reunion didn’t come to fruition, but Parise is past his prime and wouldn’t have put the Islanders over the top anyway. I wonder what that return would have looked like for Minnesota, considering Ladd’s negative value. Bill Guerin may have been asking for Ilya Sorokin, the next Russian goaltending sensation, or perhaps 2018 first-rounder Oliver Wahlstrom. Lamoriello probably did the right thing by passing on Parise, but he obviously didn’t have a fallback plan for a scoring winger and will likely regret giving up those picks for Pageau — not to mention signing Pageau to a six-year extension worth $30 million.
3) Florida Panthers
Dale Tallon’s hands were tied to some degree on the Vincent Trocheck trade, with Florida’s ownership ordering him to slash salary sooner than later — supposedly wanting to shave $10 million off the books for next season. That is Sergei Bobrovsky money! Regardless, the four-player return from Carolina was underwhelming in pending free agent Erik Haula, overachieving Lucas Wallmark, coveted NCAA free-agent signing Chase Priskie and 2017 second-rounder Eetu Luostarinen. Priskie is trending well as a rookie pro in the AHL, but he’ll need to be a stud to save that trade for the Panthers, who are worse on paper today for their playoff pursuit. That was the real blunder, with Florida otherwise nibbling around the edges by granting Denis Malgin’s trade request in sending him to Toronto for Mason Marchment, while also doing a minor deal with state rival Tampa Bay by getting Danick Martel for Anthony Greco in a swap of tweeners. Last and likely least, Florida acquired 26-year-old Swedish defenceman Emil Djuse from Dallas for a 2020 sixth-round pick. Alas, the big deal was a bad deal.
4) Colorado Avalanche
Joe Sakic wasn’t able to make a splash despite being armed with ample cap space and dangling Tyson Jost. It wasn’t meant to be, with Chris Kreider re-signing with the Rangers and Colorado unable to reel in any other big fish — settling for more of a minnow in Vladislav Namestnikov from Ottawa for a 2021 fourth-round pick. Namestnikov might pan out similar to fellow Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin, but he is no consolation for Kreider. The Avs’ only other move was adding insurance in net by getting Michael Hutchinson from Toronto for Calle Rosen, who had initially come to Colorado from Toronto as part of the Tyson Barrie for Nazem Kadri blockbuster. This will go down as a disappointingly quiet deadline for Sakic, who had been in the running for GM of the Year thanks to his offseason work.
5) Dallas Stars
Jim Nill accomplished nil at this year’s deadline. He couldn’t reunite the Joes after clearly getting up the hopes of Joe Thornton — and presumably of his old San Jose running mate Joe Pavelski as well. Thornton was willing and seemingly wanting to go to Dallas, but the Stars obviously didn’t meet the Sharks’ asking price. San Jose got a conditional 2021 third-round pick from Pittsburgh for Patrick Marleau — that can turn into a second-round selection if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup this year — so perhaps the ask was a second-rounder for Thornton? The onus was on Nill to get that deal done — especially with Thornton in his sights as a primary target — but the blame has to be shared by San Jose counterpart Doug Wilson for such a fitting trade eventually falling through. Dallas must have been fixated on Thornton because they didn’t get anybody else during an uneventful day that saw the Stars’ lone move amount to a 2020 sixth-round pick from Florida for European signing Emil Djuse. Can Dallas win by staying the course with this status-quo roster? Maybe, but Thornton certainly could have helped in that Cup quest.
Well, what do you think — do you agree with my trade deadline winners and losers? Any glaring omissions? Or honourable mentions? Feel free to weigh in by leaving a comment below.
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