While the leadup to the trade deadline is full of intrigue, as NHL GMs try to fix their teams before the final bells goes, the truth is that those same GMs were able to make trades all year long. Many are held back due to tricky salary cap considerations, but some were able to swing NHL trades even before Ryan Miller moved to St. Louis. The aim of this series is to examine the dealings of each team this season (including the odd waiver wire move), looking at how each has changed its complexion on the fly and how those changes have affected the organizational outlook, for good or bad.
NHL Players acquired since opening day: D Andrej Meszaros, D Corey Potter
NHL Players lost since opening day: None
Without much cap room to play with, even after placing first pairing defender Dennis Seidenberg on the Long Term Injured Reserve, the Bruins have played this season with little flexibility in terms of player movement. Rolling four lines that can all score and play in their own zone, and with a superstar netminder in Tuukka Rask, there was never any real thought that Boston would be involved in the trade deadline for the two types of players who were most commonly shuffled about – netminders and scoring wingers. The one area of weakness on the squad harkens back to the aforementioned Seidenberg, but there were few two way defenders available on the market.
Although Andrej Meszaros is no one’s definition of a front line defender, his advanced numbers do not suffer too much in comparison to the injured German’s. Both men are close to neutral in the possession driving game – notwithstanding the uncharacteristically bad season put up by Meszaros last year with the Flyers. At the cost of only a third round pick, the Bruins did well to fortify their one area of concern.
Corey Potter was a late waiver claim who has yet to dress for a game. An offensive defenseman, he will serve as insurance should catastrophe strike the bottom pairing.
Stronger or weaker – Stronger
NHL Players acquired since opening day: G Jaroslav Halak, G Michal Neuvirth, D Rostislav Klesla, C Zenon Konopka, LW Matt Moulson, RW Corey Tropp, RW Matt D’Agostini, RW Linus Omark, RW Chris Stewart, RW Torrey Mitchell, RW Cory Conacher
NHL Players lost since opening day: G Ryan Miller, G Jaroslav Halak, D Brayden McNabb, D Rostislav Klesla, C Cody McCormick, LW Steve Ott, LW Thomas Vanek, LW Matt Moulson, RW Linus Omark
Of the eleven new players added to the Sabres since the start of the season, four have already been jettisoned. Of the remaining seven, four were waiver pickups. No disrespect intended to Mr.’s Konopka, Tropp, D’Agostini and Conacher, but none of them project as future impact talents. To a man, they are fairly fungible third and fourth line (mostly fourth) talents. The new goalie, Neuvirth, has only once appeared in more than half of his team’s games and that was in 2010-11. His career save percentage of .911 is slightly below average, but it is worth checking him out to see if that number can rise given regular playing time. With one more year on his deal at a reasonable salary, the gamble is reasonable enough. Chris Stewart has shown that he can score at a high clip with his career shooting percentage right in line with Matt Moulson and not far off that of Thomas Vanek. When healthy he can be a disruptive power forward, if a little undisciplined.
It is no secret that the Sabres have executed a much needed facelift, tearing down what remained of a non-competitive squad and putting pieces in place for a stronger future. What the above list of NHL players in and out does not capture are the prospects and picks that have been accumulated over the past five months by Darcy Regier and Tim Murray. It is very possible that none of the NHL players brought in to the Sabres will still be in Buffalo when the team is back in the playoffs, but it is all but assured that none of the outbound assets would have been either. That future contender will, however, feature the likes of Hudson Fasching, William Carrier and whoever the extra first and second round picks turn out to be.
Stronger or weaker – Obviously they are weaker now and stronger later. But weaker now is barely even relative. The Sabres have gone from the worst team in the NHL to a weaker version of the worst team in the NHL.
Detroit Red Wings
NHL Players acquired since opening day: C David Legwand
NHL Players lost since opening day: RW Patrick Eaves
VUKOTA may have missed on Colorado, projecting another lottery finish for the Avalanche while they seem closer to earning home ice advantage in the first round. On the other hand, in what many considered its boldest prediction, VUKOTA is inching closer to nailing the Red Wings projection, having the Winged Wheel miss out on the postseason for the first time since 1989-90. False immodesty aside, VUKOTA did not realize that much of their struggles could be pinned to the health troubles facing Detroit’s two superstars, C Pavel Datsyuk and C/LW Henrik Zetterberg. Even without those two studs, the Red Wings are currently on the outside looking in by a mere two points. Had the offseason free agent swap of Valtteri Filppula out and Stephen Weiss in not been a complete flop, they would likely be in the top eight in the East. Likewise, had US Olympian Jimmy Howard not been experiencing his worst season since 2010-11 – back when the Wings still had Lidstrom to help – Detroit would be expected to continue their incredible playoff streak.
But here they are, on the outside looking in. In a last gasp attempt to right the ship, the Wings dealt with former division rivals Nashville to bring in Detroit-area native David Legwand to add a two way talent with veteran nous up the middle, which was essential considering Zetterberg is not expected to return in the regular season. Make no mistake – Legwand is a solid player; most teams would be happy to have him centering their second line. But he is no replacement for Zetterberg. The talented Swede is a far superior possession player as well as scorer. The trade for Legwand makes the Red Wings as they are right now stronger than they would have been without him, but not strong enough to make the playoffs, especially they will play most of their remaining games against teams that are far more likely to be playing past the middle of April.
Stronger or weaker – Considering the injuries that have depleted the roster, weaker
NHL Players acquired since opening day: G Roberto Luongo, G Dan Ellis, D Dylan Olsen, C Brandon Pirri, RW Jimmy Hayes
NHL Players lost since opening day: G Tim Thomas, G Jacob Markstrom, D Mike Weaver, C Marcel Goc, C Shawn Matthias, RW Kris Versteeg
All three of the position players brought in by Florida were acquired (in two separate deals) from the Chicago Blackhawks, the former employer of GM Dale Tallon. Two of the three – Olsen and Pirri – were drafted by the Hawks under Tallon’s stewardship. Like with Buffalo, the players surrendered – with one possible exception – were not going to be a part of the next competing Florida team. Unlike the Sabres, the acquired players are, in fact, potential contributors to a winning team in the near future.
Pirri has the upside of a second line center. Jimmy Hayes, at the least, is a cost controlled bottom six grinder with some scoring potential. Olsen has impressed most of all since coming over for Kris Versteeg, looking for all the world like a competent second pairing blueliner and pairing nicely with fellow novice Erik Gudbranson. Roberto Luongo needs no introduction and will likely man the crease in Miami until he retires, at which point the cap recapture penalty will be paid by his former employers in Vancouver.
Of the players leaving town, Thomas, Weaver and Goc were on expiring contracts. Versteeg was overpaid and underproducing and the return of Olsen and Hayes – bearing in mind that Florida agreed to pay part of the freight on Versteeg’s contract – more than justified the cost. Shawn Matthias has skills, but has yet to put them all together and produce at a level commensurate with a front-line player. The one possible exception mentioned above was the young goalie Markstrom, who was sent to Vancouver along with Matthias in the Luongo deal. Markstrom has struggled in his brief NHL cameos, but he has the youth, size, prospect pedigree and AHL numbers to suggest that an average or better NHL starter is still a distinct possibility. The Florida rebuild is ongoing, but with Luongo in tow, the ETA just became a lot closer.
Stronger or weaker – Stronger. A little stronger now, and much stronger going forward.
NHL Players acquired since opening day: G Devan Dubnyk, D Mike Weaver, LW Thomas Vanek, RW Dale Weise
NHL Players lost since opening day: D Raphael Diaz
Without doubt, Mike Weaver and Dale Weise are upgrades to Montreal’s backend depth, with the former being used as a 6/7 defenseman, while the latter adds muscle to the fourth line and grit to the press box. But you are not reading this section to learn about those guys are you? Outside of those minor upgrades, the Canadiens pulled off the steal of the deadline period in acquiring Vanek from the desperate Islanders for a mid-range prospect and a conditional second round pick. Vanek, currently eighth among active players in career shooting percentage, should fit in smoothly on a team that is increasingly reliant on the percentages being kind to them.
The Canadiens currently sit 24th in Fenwick close, but their 12th best PDO keeps them squarely in the playoff chase. That PDO was made up of a mix of an above average save percentage and a slightly below average shooting percentage. With Carey Price unavailable for the first few weeks after the Olympic break, the Habs saw their save percentage plummet without a corresponding rise to the shooting rate. Vanek will need his new teammates to help drive the possession game forward, but he will increase the likelihood that those possessions end in favorable red lights.
Stronger or weaker – Stronger
NHL Players acquired since opening day: D Alex Grant, RW Ales Hemsky
NHL Players lost since opening day: RW Cory Conacher
In what has been a very disappointing season for Ottawa, GM Bryan Murray has taken one last gamble in an attempt to reverse their fortunes for the stretch run, acquiring streaky winger Ales Hemsky from Edmonton in exchange for two mid-range draft picks. As much as his recent career was beset by injuries, the Czech Olympian can still produce at a top six level when healthy. His one goal and six assists in his first four games for the Sens is unlikely to be maintained over the stretch run, but it does show that chemistry will not be a problem, as he was slotted on the top line alongside Jason Spezza and fellow Czech native Milan Michalek.
Unfortunately, the Senators did not address what had been a porous defense at times this year. It is understandable that the team maintains faith with their goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, but the defense was and remains in need of an upgrade. No blueliner outside of former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson has more than 5 GVT and only five rearguards in total have even eclipsed 1 GVT. That didn’t stop Murray from re-signing Chris Philips and his 0.2 GVT to a two year extension, but it will stop Ottawa from making a return engagement with the postseason this year.
Stronger or Weaker – Stronger, but not strong enough
Tampa Bay Lightning
NHL Players acquired since opening day: D Mike Kostka, LW Jonathan Audy Marchessault, RW Ryan Callahan
NHL Players lost since opening day: D Matt Taormina, LW Dana Tyrell, RW Martin St. Louis
After the Lightning proved all naysayers wrong by not only surviving, but thriving during the prolonged absence of super sniper Steven Stamkos, they were forced into a major roster upheaval by trading their captain Martin St. Louis, who demanded a trade after being initially passed over for selection on the Canadian Olympic hockey team by Team Canada and Team Tampa GM Steve Yzerman. Despite being added to the roster as an injury replacement, St. Louis wanted out and he only wanted to go to Broadway. In spite of it all, Yzerman walked away with a solid haul for his former captain, bringing in heart-and-soul two way winger Ryan Callahan, another former captain, along with two high draft picks.
As much as Ranger fans loved Callahan, the numbers here speak for themselves. St. Louis is a former Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, the latter of which came last season. He is currently 14th among NHL forwards in GVT, and would be a fair bit higher if we removed the shootout component from the equation. Callahan, on the other hand, is increasingly injury prone, a pending UFA, and has less than one third the GVT of St. Louis this season. On a per ice-time basis, focusing only on five-on-five play, Callahan is less than 75% likely to put up points than the man he is replacing.
Faced with this all-encompassing distraction, Yzerman was unable to pursue other trade avenues that might have improved team defense. While the Lightning should still make the playoffs, this series of events makes them underdogs in terms of advancing past the first round. On the bright side, Stamkos is back.
Stronger or weaker – Weaker, through no fault of Steve Yzerman’s.
Toronto Maple Leafs
NHL Players acquired since opening day: D Tim Gleason, C Peter Holland
NHL Players lost since opening day: D Mark Fraser, D John-Michael Liles
The Maple Leafs were strangely quiet at the deadline, although there were rumors that they were in the Thomas Vanek sweepstakes until late in the game. It could be that already haven traded away this year’s second round draft choice diminished the package that they could offer to the Islanders, but either way, the Leafs enter the stretch drive with the same roster that has been in place since immediately following the Winter Classic, when they dealt seldom used blueliner John-Michael Liles to Carolina in exchange for the more rugged Tim Gleason. The trade was a strong one for GM Dave Nonis, as Gleason has been a regular contributor to a Leafs’ squad that has played solid hockey more often than not in the past two months while Liles looks effectively washed up. Gleason’s poor Corsi figures are still skewed by his poor first half with Carolina.
The only other trade of note pulled off by the Leafs this year was the deal that sent an AHL blueliner and a second rounder to Anaheim for young center Peter Holland. Holland has fluctuated between the third line, the press box, and the AHL since coming to Toronto, but he has been an upgrade over the Leafs’ alternative options and has shown some of the skills that had him selected in the middle of the first round four years ago.
Stronger or weaker – Stronger, but not by much.