The Winners and Losers of the NHL Trade Deadline

As of February 24 at 12:00 PST, the NHL’s busiest time of the year came to an end.

As expected, this trade deadline season was completely chaotic. All 31 teams got in on the action in some way, with the day of the deadline having a record 32 total transactions. Some teams were getting the final pieces for a potential Stanley Cup run. Others were trying to build for the future by selling off established assets. Regardless of the reasons, teams are hoping that what they came out of the deadline with will help them with their current goals.

While we won’t know the results of these trades until years down the road for the most part, it can be apparent right off the bat that some teams got exactly what they needed. There are teams that came in with a plan and executed it to perfection, and there are others that seemed to have no idea what they were doing. With this in mind, today’s post is dedicated to determining the immediate reactions to this year’s deadline activity.

First, I elected to skip players and primarily focus on teams. The reason for this is because it’s pretty easy to determine which players won and lost, so explaining their situations feels redundant to me. Secondly, my criteria on what makes a winner or loser is twofold: did the team get what they need, and whether they got it without sacrificing too much. Keep that in mind as you read through this post.

With that said, let’s get started

Loser #5-Colorado Avalanche

Is it wrong to say that I expected more out of the Avalanche this deadline? They were connected to every major trade chip on the market. They had the cap space to keep them around for a long time, and the assets necessary to pull off a trade. For a team with serious Cup aspirations, that sounds like a recipe for success at the deadline.

Instead, GM Joe Sakic didn’t go for the big fish. That doesn’t exactly mean he sat on his hands, mind you. He picked up Vladislav Namestnikov from Ottawa for a fourth-round pick, and gave back Calle Rosen to Toronto for a depth goaltender in Michael Hutchinson. Colorado’s dealing with a fair share of injuries, as contributors like Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert, and Philipp Grubauer are all on the shelf. It appears Sakic is fine with those being his additions instead.

Sakic has done a great job building up a potential juggernaut in the Western Conference. But for a team fighting to claim home-ice advantage in an extremely difficult division, this feels like a missed opportunity.

Winner #5-Washington Capitals

Washington’s trade deadline was a case of the rich getting richer. Already one of the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year, one would assume that the Capitals would stand pat and rely on their current roster to bring the championship back to the nation’s capital. Instead, GM Brian MacLellan chose to be bold and further solidify his team’s case.

Their first move was grabbing Brenden Dillon from San Jose for a couple of draft picks. Dillon shores up an already strong back end and will ensure that Tom Wilson is not the only pure source of physicality on the team. Secondly, the Capitals brought along Ilya Kovalchuk from Montreal for a third-round pick. It’s a risky play for the Caps, but if Kovalchuk can continue his solid form from Montreal, it gives the team another quality scoring option.

Dillon and Kovalchuk are adding to a loaded roster, and it’s evident from the wheeling and dealing that the Capitals fancy themselves as legitimate Cup contenders. They look the part of a much better team than before, and that can only mean trouble for the rest of the East.

Loser #4-Buffalo Sabres

Let’s do a little roleplaying, shall we? You’re the GM of the Buffalo Sabres. Your team’s playoff chances are on life support, with little chance that they can control their destiny. Even if you do make the playoffs, you are virtually guaranteed to get smashed by the class of your conference. The fanbase is growing more apathetic by the day, and ownership is disappointed about the team’s efforts.

Sounds like a situation where it’s best to rebuild and count on some incoming prospects, right? If your answer is yes, you are clearly not Jason Botterill.

His idea of what to do for this team is to get one of those wild card spots, no matter the cost. First, he trades a conditional fifth-rounder to New Jersey for an aging power forward in Wayne Simmonds. He will almost certainly be done with this team by the end of the season. Second, a reclamation project in Evan Rodrigues and rental in Conor Sheary turned into an intriguing young player from Pittsburgh in Dominik Kahun. Sounds good, but seriously? No draft picks? No interesting younger prospects? Refusing to trade assets like Michael Frolik and Colin Miller, all while watching Montreal get a better price for Marco Scandella than what you traded him away for?

This team and situation has turned into a cluster this year, and an ill-advised trade deadline only added to the mess that Botterill’s successor will be tasked to clean up. You really don’t think he’s coming back, do you?

Winner #4-Ottawa Senators

If you want to see a rebuilding team approach the deadline correctly, look no further than the Ottawa Senators. Sure, the on-ice results haven’t been good, but between the positive development of Anthony Duclair and keeping owner Eugene Melnyk away from any hot mics, this season hasn’t been a disaster for the Sens. For this, GM Pierre Dorion needs to be given his dues, and this deadline gave more hope for the future.

Trading Dylan DeMelo, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Tyler Ennis for mid-round picks between this year and next were basic moves. Nothing too fancy. But the biggest trade chip of all finally came down, and the price was better than Ottawa fans could have hoped. Jean-Gabriel Pageau was cashed in for a first-round pick, second-round pick, and a conditional third-round pick next year. With these trades, the Ottawa Senators have nine picks in the first three rounds of the draft this year, with two of them almost guaranteed to be lottery selections (that Erik Karlsson trade is still paying dividends for them).

Dorion tends to be fairly criticized from time to time, but the devil must be given his due some time. If these moves lead to a strong farm system that can carry the Senators back to relevance in a few years’ time, he may get a little bit of goodwill back.

Loser #3-Chicago Blackhawks

To be fair, Chicago’s trade deadline wasn’t as bad as it could have been. While the team was straddling the line between playoff hopeful and lottery team, I was worried Stan Bowman was going to go for it again and sell off future assets to win now. It didn’t come to that, but I still ended up feeling underwhelmed.

Erik Gustafsson should have been traded last year is the moral of this story. They could have convinced a team that they could net a strong offensive-minded defenseman and get a possible first-round pick out of the deal. Instead, a rough season capped his trade value, and the Calgary Flames managed to get him for only a third-round pick. Then there’s the Robin Lehner deal. It was evident that the Blackhawks were going to need to choose one goalie to keep into next season, and Lehner’s trade value was much higher than that of Corey Crawford. The issue I have is this: they could have gotten a lot more out of Vegas. A second round pick, a strictly backup goaltender in Malcolm Subban, and a project defenseman in Slava Demin might be a good haul for another player, but for a goaltender in his prime? The value seems to be a bit off there. Also, why didn’t Bowman decide to go after a Brandon Saad deal after seeing what Jason Zucker got for Minnesota?

Stan Bowman gave his trade partners sure things, and they gave him dart throws in return. It isn’t a good look for a GM whose goodwill with the fans has run out. Isn’t there a certain ex-player and quality GM who might have his services available this offseason?

Winner #3-Vegas Golden Knights

Give Vegas credit for always making the trade deadline interesting in their short history. Their deals have been relatively hit (Mark Stone) or miss (Tomas Tatar), but this year, they weren’t expected to make a big splash. Of course, as if paying homage to their home city, GM Kelly McCrimmon once again went gambling.

Their dealing got started by snagging Alec Martinez from a divisional rival in the Los Angeles Kings. The price of two second-round picks was a little steep, but in Martinez, the Knights get a solid two-way defenseman who can eat minutes and has plenty of playoff experience. The deal in itself was good, but the deal for Lehner is what puts Vegas here. The one caveat to a playoff run for Vegas has been if Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been the face of this team’s prior inconsistencies, can maintain a high level of play. With Lehner, that problem has an answer, and the team didn’t even have to give up a first-round pick or top prospect to get him. Adding Nick Cousins to counter a recent string of forward injuries was just the cherry on top.

Vegas had a decent list of needs to fill this trade deadline, and they somehow managed to check them all off without putting themselves in any clear danger. Now imagine if Lehner decides to stick around and be the team’s solution for life after Fleury. It’s not like three of the last four Cup winners changed starting goaltenders during the playoffs or anything. Nope. Not at all.

Loser #2-Tampa Bay Lightning

Really quick disclaimer before we go too far. It was a toss-up to me between the top two losers for who should go where, and there are arguments that each one did worse than the other. Ultimately, the reason why Tampa Bay is number 2 is simply because I don’t think they endangered themselves from losing their playoff spot. That being said…


I mean, if this price were for some combination of Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri, Matt Dumba, and Jonas Brodin, I would have gotten it somewhat. Instead, the Lightning thought it was a good idea to trade Nolan Foote (their first round pick this season) and their two first-round selections for two forwards who will ultimately be bottom-six fixtures for the team? No disrespect to the two players in question here, but they were valued way too much by a team that was clearly desperate to not have a repeat of last year. Vegas is too, but at least they traded second-round picks for overall better players.

Granted, all of this can be stomached easier with the Lightning raising the Cup, but even then, they need to ask this: Was it really worth it? The team may be better now than it was before, but the bill for these trades may end up biting this team for years to come.

Winner #2-Edmonton Oilers

After a lackluster final few years with Detroit, Ken Holland needed a fresh start in Edmonton. It’s only fair that he helped his former team and protege Steve Yzerman with their rebuild by taking some established assets from them in order to put his stamp on the Oilers.

Mike Green may have lost a step, but it does shore up the back end and frees them from an LTIR contract in Kyle Brodziak. Tyler Ennis also came at a cheap price for a reliable veteran. The real prize, however, came from a former rising star in Andreas Athanasiou. His price tag (Sam Gagner and a couple of second-round picks) was pretty steep, but young talent tends to boost the package. While his -45 rating is an eyesore, that can mostly be attributed to an awful Red Wings team. Whether he plays on a line with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, or both, that line just got even more dangerous.

With these moves, the Oilers are in position for a dogfight with Vegas and possibly Vancouver to see who can claim the Pacific division. Either way, Holland deserves praise for not only bringing two of the world’s best players back to the playoffs, but for making his team a tough out.

Loser #1-Florida Panthers

Ever since returning to the GM position for the Panthers, Dale Tallon has made a fair share of disastrous moves. The most notorious of them being handing Vegas two-thirds of their top line in the expansion draft. The Panthers made one big move this deadline, and while it’s not as bad, it might end up coming pretty close.

It was expected that the Panthers were going to trade a big player this deadline. Eyes were mostly on Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, both of whom are unrestricted free agents after this season. Instead, Vincent Trocheck was the guy that got sent off from Broward County. He may be coming off a down year, but top-six centers don’t come cheap. The Panthers will fix that awful defense of theirs with this one, right?

The package was as follows: a rental offensive-minded center in Erik Haula, a bottom-six center in Lucas Wallmark, a B+ prospect in Eetu Luostarainen, and a project defenseman in Chase Priskie. That’s it. And that was the only big trade the Panthers pulled off. No one to help keep Sergei Bobrovsky from having to stop quality chances. No impact players that will be with the team past this year. It’s arguably the biggest whiff of the trade deadline, and we haven’t even seen much of the impact yet.

If the Panthers fail to make the playoffs, Tallon is fired, and the fanbase goes back to their apathetic ways, look no further than this move right here as the catalyst. If you excuse me, it’s time to play Sweetness, cry, and prepare my argument for why the Panthers need to get out of Sunrise immediately. But before I do…

Winner #1-Carolina Hurricanes

I could have just listed the Trocheck trade from the Hurricanes’ perspective, end there, and it would be a good argument for the top spot. However, that would dismiss the other moves the team made to help them out.

With Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce both out with long-term injuries, the Canes needed a couple of quality defensemen to take their spots. Needless to say, they did just that. A first-round pick for Brady Skjei is a high price, but for a young defenseman with plenty of term left, it is a necessary cost. Sami Vatanen from New Jersey came at a much more reasonable price, that being a couple of extra prospects and a conditional fourth-round pick. And for those asking about a goaltender, Carolina’s defense is good enough that they don’t need to worry too much about that. They could probably slot a 42-year-old Zamboni driver in their net and still win.

The Hurricanes knew their situation. They will likely be facing some of the best teams in all of hockey this season, and they needed to make preparations. They did just that with their moves without giving up too much in return. It’s the kind of deadline that GMs dream of.


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