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.


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.