The trade deadline had a huge impact on a number of NHL rosters, but while some teams loaded up for a big playoff run, it comes at a cost.
The Pittsburgh Penguins undeniably improved their team by the widest margin this trade deadline season, but also at a far higher future cost than any of this year's other buyers like the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. On the flip side, the Buffalo Sabres got the most future value and did so while giving up less than half of the next top-two sellers, the Dallas Stars and the Calgary Flames.
The true "winners and losers" of the deadline will be revealed only in time, but right now we can get an idea of what each side obtained by examining the expected value of the prospects and draft picks exchanged for present players. And through that lens, it's clear that while the Penguins loaded up for a big playoff push, the price they paid was a very steep one.
To do that, every year we evaluate which teams improved themselves at the trade deadline the most by calculating each acquired player's Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) per game so far this season, and multiplying that by 20 games. This season that should cover the rest of the regular season and at least one round of the playoffs. GVT is measured in goals relative to replacement-level players, which represents the total number of goals a player either scores or prevents for a team relative to how a team would perform with, say, an average AHL call-up instead.
In these GVT terms, even a highly active team is unlikely to make changes that will result in much more than three goals down the stretch, which historically has equated to a single point in the standings, meaning that trade deadline moves are usually aimed primarily on the postseason. As such, we ignore the shootout portion of the player's GVT and ignore any depth players who are currently playing below replacement level. At this point we aren't looking at what these established players might do the following season, if they remain under contract or re-sign, only how they'll help their new teams down the stretch and into the early postseason. So, which teams improved the most with the playoffs on the horizon? And what did it cost them down the line?
By this measurement, the Penguins improved their team by 7.9 goals over the next 20 games, either scored or prevented, thanks to the combined offensive and defensive talents of veterans Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Douglas Murray.
Unfortunately there's a flip side to every coin, and we estimated the future value of the prospects and draft picks Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero gave up for these established veterans using the formula first developed by our own Iain Fyffe two years ago. While any given draft choice or prospect can be a real crapshoot, Fyffe worked out the average GVT of every player in history for each draft position to create his formula, giving us an idea of what any given prospect or draft pick is usually worth.
As for the Penguins, on average the five draft picks and four prospects they gave up will add up to 15.4 goals of future value. According to hockey's 3-1-1 rule, which states that every three goals results in approximately one point in the standings and is worth about a million dollars, the Penguins have given up over five points in the standings in future years, which could cost more than five million dollars to get back.
The Top Buyers
The Bruins took a slightly more conservative road than Pittsburgh, giving up only two prospects and two picks totaling seven goals in future value in order to pick up veterans Jaromir Jagr and Wade Redden, who may even help the Bruins break even on our GVT ledger should they advance to the conference finals. Similarly, the Canucks should break even, giving up just over five goals of future value (a pick and a prospect) to acquire Derek Roy from Dallas.
The St. Louis Blues significantly bolstered their defense with veterans Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester, while shedding unnecessary depth pieces Redden and Matt D'Agostini, but also gave up three picks, including a first rounder and two prospects.
The New York Rangers are one of the more interesting so-called buyers, a current playoff bubble team that traded away superstar Marian Gaborik, two prospects and some picks, but also acquired four NHLers in Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore.
The Washington Capitals, another playoff bubble team, surprisingly gave up touted prospect Filip Forsberg to acquire veteran Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators, and held on to players that were in considerable trade deadline demand, like Mike Ribeiro. While Caps fans groaned at giving up on a former first-round pick, the GVT scale tips in Washington's favor.
In perhaps the richest deal, the Minnesota Wild parted with two early picks and two strong prospects to acquire Jason Pominville from the Buffalo Sabres.
The Pominville trade by itself was almost enough for the Sabres to establish themselves as the top sellers, but they also dealt defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold to help accumulate almost 20 goals in future value -- excellent work by GM Darcy Regier. The Sabres took on some risky contracts when they decided to go for it a couple of years ago, and while it may take some time to unwind and reload, this may prove to have been an effective start.
In Jagr, Roy and Morrow, the Dallas Stars certainly gave up the most, but they got a good exchange in terms of future value, acquiring three picks and five prospects that should result in almost 15 goals, on average.
Like Dallas, another team that has fallen just short of a playoff berth for years and may have finally opted to reload is the Flames. GM Jay Feaster acquired two first round draft choices, one each for Iginla and Bouwmeester, along with a late pick for Blake Comeau and four prospects, earning slightly less return than the Stars for slightly less sacrifice.
The playoff-bound San Jose Sharks are the most interesting of the so-called sellers, converting unwanted and underused players like Michal Handzus, Clowe and Murray into almost as much as the Flames -- six draft picks. They also replaced the departed veterans with the cheaply acquired Scott Hannan from Nashville and Raffi Torres from Phoenix.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, who dealt away Rick Nash for some younger two-way players this offseason, were surprisingly not among the top sellers. In fact, they practically went the other direction in giving up on four young players, including goalie Steve Mason to the Philadelphia Flyers, and acquired underachieving superstar Gaborik, not to mention replacement-level veterans Comeau and goalie Michael Leighton. Fortunately, they did pick up three prospects, and upgraded a draft pick.
In the end it wasn't that busy of a trade deadline. The Penguins were the most improved, but at a potentially significant long-term cost, while their rival Bruins took a more conservative route, as did the Canucks. Among the sellers, the Sabres got excellent return on Pominville and their other veterans, while the Stars and Flames finally popped their bubbles to get some good future returns. The Sharks could be the most interesting, picking up significant long-term value while merely shuffling their depth lines.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.