While the lead up 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: F Marcel Goc, F Lee Stempniak, Taylor Pyatt
NHL players lost since opening day: F Dustin Jeffrey, Matt D’Agostini
From tape-to-tape, the Pittsburgh Penguins have struggled with depth at both forward and on defense. Even with the smart additions of Goc and Stempniak at the deadline, injuries have forced Pittsburgh to run through AHL player after AHL player on their bottom six and third pair. Players like Jeffrey and D’Agostini were not fits to fill out the roster, which has been carried by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But Pyatt is a larger version of D’Agostini – a player without enough offense to be a top six but not enough physical play or defensive skill to play bottom six.
Defensively, they have been left to fill the shoes off their No. 1 D-man Kris Letang, which has gone better than expected with rookie Olli Maata and not as well with highly-touted prospect Simon Despres. If the Pens are healthy, they can move depth players back into their rightful roles. If not, they may regret not making one or two more moves along the way.
New York Rangers:
NHL players acquired since opening day: F Martin St. Louis, D Kevin Klein, D Raphael Diaz, F Dan Carcillo
NHL players lost since opening day: F Ryan Callahan, D Michael Del Zotto, F Taylor Pyatt, F Brian Mashinter
As difficult as it must have been to move their captain and a once promising defensive prospect, the Rangers have improved their team since Day One and put themselves in position to compete for the Stanley Cup. As great as Callahan was at his role as a grinding top six forward, St. Louis’ offensive skill is a better fit for head coach Alain Vigneault – not to mention that the Rangers had struggled to score goals and put up power play points, an area where the former Lightning star will assist greatly.
If New York makes a deep run in the playoffs, their defensive depth will play a major role. The Rangers’ top two pairs are much appreciated, but the additions of solid stay-at-home D-man Klein and puck mover Diaz could give them an advantage as the games become more and more punishing.
NHL players acquired since opening day: D Andrew MacDonald, F Steve Downie
NHL players lost since opening day: F Max Talbot, D Andrej Meszaros
While huge off-season acquisition Vinny Lecavalier has been so-so at best and the Flyers’ trade for Steve Downie has not worked out as planned, Philadelphia has gotten hot at the right time. They are a safe bet to make the playoffs and should be considered a threat. Replacing Meszaros with MacDonald is a very mild upgrade, but it should give the Flyers an opportunity to play their new D-man against tough competition instead of Nicklas Grossmann (whether they do that or not is a different story, but they can.)
If the Flyers go deep into the playoffs, it will not be because of any players they acquired mid-season, it will be because of star forward Claude Giroux and the emergence of long-touted prospects Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. And goalie Steve Mason continuing to beat the odds on regression
Columbus Blue Jackets
NHL players added since opening day: F Corey Tropp,
NHL players lost since opening day: F Marian Gaborik
The Blue Jackets have come on strong in the second half of the season, seeing gains in Fenwick Close and getting their Vezina goalie Sergei Bobrovsky back between the pipes. They have not been forced to make many moves, but added depth to their four-line-deep club with the hard-working Tropp. Depth and the health of Nathan Horton allowed the Jackets to trade Gaborik at the deadline.
Struggles on the power play have caused some to question the Gaborik move, but the one-dimensional winger does not exactly fit into Columbus’s two-way player brigade led by hard-nosed forwards like Horton, Brandon Dubinsky and the undersized, yet hard working, Cam Atkinson. The group, which has come together throughout the year, has a good chance to compete in a weak Eastern Conference, especially when the games lock down into 5v5, puck possession matches in the post-season.
NHL players added since opening day: G Jaroslav Halak
NHL players lost since opening day: G Michael Neuvirth, F Martin Erat
When the Capitals acquired Halak from the Buffalo Sabres, it was questionable whether he could make a difference above what Braden Holtby or Neuvirth brought to the table. But the results have spoken and Halak has gotten hot since landing in the defensively-void D.C. In eight starts, he has a .929 save percentage and has gained points in six of eight starts. His most impressive game was a 43 save win over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
The only regret the Caps will have if they make the post-season was not adding another defenseman. Not that there were many on the market, but Florida’s Tom Gilbert was left with the Panthers as the deadline came and passed. It appears even with great goaltending and incredible play from Alex Ovechkin, Washington’s defense will not be strong enough to take them round after round.
New Jersey Devils
NHL players added since opening day: D Alexander Urbom, F Tuomo Ruutu
NHL players lost since opening day: F Andrei Loktionov
After going hog wild in free agency last off-season – signing the likes of Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr – the Devils stood still at the trade deadline and have relied entirely on their system to provide help when the injury bug struck. If New Jersey misses the playoffs by a few points, they will certainly be left wondering whether another addition here or trade there (especially – as hard as it is to say – at goalie) could have propped them up into a post-season spot.
The Devils also did very little to improve things long term. If they had decided the Cup was not a possibility, why were none of their aging players or UFA’s moved at the deadline? They will have to decide this off-season whether they want to take a step back to rebuild or continue to play the free agent market to compete. The latter will be harder to find success.
NHL players added since opening day: D John-Michael Liles, F Andrei Loktionov
NHL players lost since opening day: D Tim Gleason, Tuomo Ruutu
Like the Devils, the Hurricanes are at a crossroads. Several “win now” acquisitions over the past two seasons have not resulted in a post-season berth and Carolina will have to decide this off-season whether they want to keep rolling the dice on trades and free agent signings or throw chips in to the much-hyped 2015 draft.
While the ‘Canes did not go into fire sale mode at the deadline, their deal for Loktionov was one aimed at the future. At 23 years old, the young forward has not become a top-notch point producer, but he has posted strong puck possession statistics including a +3.3% Relative Corsi on one of the league’s best possession clubs. He has also added 14 even-strength points in 58 games and may produce more if given more than slivers of power play time.
New York Islanders
NHL players added since opening day: N/A
NHL players lost since opening day: F Matt Moulson, F Thomas Vanek, D Andrew MacDonald, F Peter Regin, F Pierre-Marc Bouchard
The Islanders took plenty of lumps from media and fans following the bizarre trade of Matt Moulson, then failure to pick up a first-round draft pick for either Vanek or MacDonald. Some bad luck in the market, rather than bad GM’ing, may have cost them at the deadline, but the house of cards began to tip when they dealt Moulson and a first for Vanek. Now the Islanders are left with the difficult decision of giving Buffalo this year’s potentially top five pick or letting the Sabres have next year’s first – which could ultimately be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
As bad as it all sounds, the Islanders still have a solid – if not very good – core of prospects and young players. They might be wise to let Buffalo have the pick this season, stay at the bottom next year, then end up with a tremendous group of young players who will lead them into the next generation.
Matthew Coller is Managing Editor of Hockey Prospectus. He is the long-time host of Hockey Prospectus Radio, producer of the Howard Simon Show on Buffalo’s WGR550 and their Rochester Amerks reporter, and a multi-sport play-by-play announcer.
Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewWGR.