Winners and Losers of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline

Credit: Russian Machine Never Breaks

Well, we’ve made it past the trade deadline, and…did it feel slow to anybody else but me?

Sure, the deadline this season was always expected to be slower than normal. Canada still requires a week-long quarantine at minimum, making the acquisition of any players across the border more challenging. There’s also the flat cap preventing contenders from making big moves, and the upcoming expansion draft keeping most teams honest about their personnel decisions. Despite that, trade deadline day was nowhere near as busy as it normally is, with this tweet from Arizona Coyotes insider Craig Morgan perfectly encapsulating the feelings of many a hockey fan.

That said, there are some positives that can be taken away from the deadline. For newer hockey fans, this deadline day is the perfect primer for the insanity that it normally provides; the most explosive and unpredictable day of the season broken down in an easy-to-digest format. Also, while bigger pieces like Mattias Ekholm, Rickard Rakell, and Josh Manson are all remaining with their current teams, it didn’t stop deadline day and the preceding weekend to contain some surprising moves.

With that in mind, I’m bringing back a column from last season. In this post, I’ll break down the five teams that I think did the best work for themselves this deadline, as well as the five I think came up short in their goals. How did your favorite team do this deadline? Let’s find out.

Loser #5: Carolina Hurricanes: Let me preface this segment by saying this: I love the Hurricanes. I think they’re a strong team that solved their biggest issues in goaltending, and the depth has come up so strongly that they didn’t need to do anything drastic to help their chances. That being said, though, couldn’t they have stood to beef up the roster just a little?

Their major competitors in Tampa Bay and Florida also had needs, and they went out of their way to make major moves. Tampa had to convince Columbus and Detroit to eat some salary, but they got the player they were looking for in David Savard. Florida did pay a premium for a proven playoff performer in Sam Bennett, but the moves to acquire Brandon Montour and sign Nikita Gusev should all be helpful for them. What did the Hurricanes do? Give up on a former first-round pick in Haydn Fleury for a depth defenseman and late-round pick. I get that Fleury would have been a prime candidate to get picked up by Seattle in the Expansion Draft, but did they sell just a little too low?

The Hurricanes should still be fine for the postseason, and their performance thus far proves exactly that. I just wonder if they’ve missed a key opportunity to bolster their chances.

Winner #5: Toronto Maple Leafs: I could easily lambast the Maple Leafs for overpaying on rentals. Nick Foligno and David Rittich did fill needs, while Ben Hutton and Riley Nash will provide depth in the postseason, but the deadline day left the Leafs with only three picks in the upcoming draft. So how could they possibly be winners?

Let’s look back on what GM Kyle Dubas said weeks before the deadline. During a press conference, Dubas said that he would be willing to sell top prospects to acquire an impact player. Well, the deadline has now passed, and all of Toronto’s top prospects are still here. Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, Rodion Amirov, Timothy Liljegren, and others are still under the control of Toronto. It’s a good thing too: with players like Frederik Andersen and Zach Hyman likely heading to new teams in the offseason and the expansion draft taking another good player, those prospects will be tasked with filling in roles sooner rather than later.

With Toronto set to take advantage of what’s been a weak North Division, can anyone really blame them for making the necessary moves to do just that? The message to the rest of the league has been sent: Toronto is going all-in.

Loser #4: Philadelphia Flyers: With how the season has gone for the Flyers, it’s no surprise to see them sell off pieces at the deadline. My only question is this: did they sell off the right pieces?

They didn’t get much on Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson, but they were necessary moves to make. However, the major trade piece in Scott Laughton wasn’t traded, but rather extended for five years at $3 million AAV. It’s not that the extension was a bad idea but, for a team already loaded with contracts like James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, it was somewhat confusing. Compare it to the Los Angeles Kings for a moment: they also extended a potential trade piece in Alex Iafallo, but they did it while also shipping out Jeff Carter to make room. They likely wouldn’t have convinced a team to take a shot at JVR or Voracek but, if Philly really liked Laughton that much to extend him, would it have hurt to ask around for the interest in a close-to-expiring deal like Sean Couturier to make room?

This deadline was a weird one for the Flyers, and felt like a directionless array of moves for an equally-directionless team. Perhaps they don’t want to build a roster for Alain Vigneault, who is firmly on the hot seat at the moment.

Winner #4: New York Islanders: Yes, the Islanders did most of their heavy lifting prior to deadline day. That said, the Islanders came in to this stretch of the year with a serious need for offense after the injury to captain Anders Lee. After last season’s big acquisition for Jean-Gabriel Pageau made dividends, Lou Lamoriello made another bold move to bolster his team for the short term.

It was already a good move by the Islanders to acquire both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from divisional rival New Jersey, as both players have found immediate homes in the top six. However, it’s even better when looking at the price the Islanders had to pay. A first-round pick in a draft that’s not terribly deep on can’t-miss talent, a conditional mid-round pick for next year’s draft, and two B-tier prospects were all it took for Lamoriello to acquire the two forwards. It’s also worth noting that New Jersey is eating half of each player’s salary, so the fact the Islanders could get a discount on two key players is astonishing.

The Islanders have earned their reputation as a tough out in the postseason and a team that can break out on a deep run at a moment’s notice. Shrewd business like this only adds to that claim, and it should make Barry Trotz’s group a Cup sleeper once again.

Loser #3: Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers didn’t just make the losers side because of their deadline moves. Sure, they got a nice depth defenseman in Dmitry Kulikov, but it’s doubtful that that’s the type of move that will move the needle. What earns Edmonton their spot here is the comments made by GM Ken Holland regarding their moves.

I can understand why Holland would be passive, at least to an extent. At the same time, though, why wouldn’t the Oilers decide to go for it here? A Canadian team is guaranteed to go to at least the semifinals, and Toronto got better at the deadline, so what reason is there (going through Winnipeg and Toronto would be easier than having to meet a team like Vegas in the second round)? Maybe the better question is this: how do you feel about this if you’re Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl? You’ve had to carry this team on your back for the last few years, and help still isn’t coming when the chance is there for the taking? It’s unlikely McDavid would go out of his way to demand a trade, but the golden goose won’t remain content for too long if this keeps up.

With the situation shaping up favorably for them, the Oilers should have been one of the league’s big buyers. Instead, their passive dealings might come back to haunt them in a month’s time.

Winner #3: Boston Bruins: It seems the Bruins are always looking for something at the deadline, and last year gave them a mixed bag with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase trending in different directions. With injuries also affecting the roster, however, hunting for key players at the deadline was more important than ever. To me, at least, the Bruins managed to do just that.

The Bruins started their deadline moves by landing defenseman Mike Reilly from Ottawa for a third-round pick. Reilly is more known for his offensive capabilities than play in his own zone, but that’s a small price to pay for a team that’s seen its defensive corps be ravaged by injury. Where the Bruins made their deadline, however, was the move that brought Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to Beantown. It was a smart move to buy low on the former Hart Trophy winner, and the hope is that Hall’s play will improve by having real structure around him. It also helps that Curtis Lazar become the Bruin’s top fourth-line forward, replacing a struggling prospect in Anders Bjork that went the other way in the trade.

The Bruins acquired three impact players in the last couple of days, and they didn’t have to give up a first-round pick or an interesting prospect to do it. That’s a good trade deadline weekend in my eyes.

Loser #2: Winnipeg Jets: It’s unsurprising to know what the Jets needed at the deadline. They have a deep forward group and the best goaltender tandem in the North Division, so they just needed an impact defenseman to aid their chances of making it out, come playoff time. Needless to say, what they did just wasn’t enough to get excited over.

Of all of the pieces that were available on defense at the deadline, the Jets settled on Jordie Benn? A proven bottom-pairing option that provides no offensive upside and moves the needle even less than Kulikov did for Edmonton? What scared the Jets off from making the big move and landing either David Savard or Josh Manson? Even if the prices of those players were too high, the likes of Alex Goligoski, Jamie Oleksiak, and Ryan Murray would still be in play at just a slightly higher price than what the Jets paid for Benn.

For a team that needed (and was proven) to make a splash at the deadline, the Jets whiffed on this one. If they get victimized by Edmonton or Toronto in the postseason, remember this decision.

Winner #2: Detroit Red Wings: For the winners, we go from the buyers to the sellers. At first, the Red Wings were shaping up to be a big loser. Bobby Ryan was out for the season, no one bit on Jonathan Bernier or Marc Staal, and the only moves Steve Yzerman could make were minor moves on depth defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jon Merrill. It seemed like a tough weekend, but in the final minutes…the blockbuster came in.

While it’s hard to lose a key player like Anthony Mantha, his timeline no longer fit with the rebuilding Red Wings, so it made sense to move him. Besides, when the Capitals come knocking with the package they did, who says no? Jakub Vrana is another young scoring forward who compared favorably to Mantha as far as offensive stats go, Richard Panik is a solid, if unspectacular, bottom-six forward who should fill a spot for the Wings, plus a first-round pick in 2021 and second-round pick in 2022. With the picks they acquired, the Red Wings have 22 picks in the next two years to boost the farm system, with half of those picks coming in the first three rounds.

For a team in need of a clear rebuild, the Red Wings committed to their plan and stuck to it. The Yzerplan suddenly looks a lot more interesting heading into the offseason (maybe replace Jeff Blashill with a former Red Wing in Gerard Gallant?)

Loser #1: Buffalo Sabres: At this point, it just seems like twisting the knife to say the Sabres lost the deadline. Everything that could go wrong with Buffalo has in the most hilarious of fashions this season, and it makes me feel bad for Kevyn Adams in a way. Still, I can’t not rip into the Sabres for what they came out of their fire sale with.

Their big trades came in the form of Taylor Hall and Brandon Montour, and they came out with less on all of them. Sure, Hall and Montour are among the players struggling in Buffalo, but that doesn’t excuse what’s happened. The only things the Sabres came out of for Hall and Curtis Lazar was a declining prospect in Anders Bjork and a second-round pick, which didn’t seem close to enough. Montour got a third-round pick, which would be fine, if the Sabres didn’t need to give up a first-round pick and a once-prized prospect in Brendan Guhle to Anaheim. Looks like bad asset management when it comes down to it.

The Sabres were already packing it in for the season, but this deadline further added to the struggles the organization has faced. Frankly, it’s time for them to trade Jack Eichel and other core players and start over.

Winner #1: Columbus Blue Jackets: In a deadline where teams that looked like surefire sellers suddenly wandered into the playoff conversation (hi, Nashville and Arizona), it was a bit refreshing to see Columbus stay the course and sell. It turned out to be a good decision, as Jarmo Kekalainen came out of the deadline with the most impressive haul of any seller.

Trading captain Nick Foligno and a defensive stalwart like David Savard were tough moves to make, but necessary ones to kickstart a rebuild. As a result, both Foligno and Savard each drew more value than the Sabres got for Taylor Hall. The Jackets’ willingness to sell now has them sitting on three first-round picks for this year’s draft. It’s not an ideal draft to have those picks but, for a farm system that drops off after the top two or three prospects, it’s worth it.

The season may be an undisputed disappointment for the Blue Jackets, but at least they had something to cheer about at the deadline. Now the question is whether the Jackets want to try and build around the assets they got this season or go for a more full-fledged rebuild.