It’s still way too early to see who came out winners and losers, especially given all the draft picks involved, but for now, we can take a look at who did what right, and who did what wrong. With a dry market and many teams still in the playoff hunt, for a second consecutive year, we had a very slow trade deadline.
Nashville Predators. Nashville was almost forced to go all-in at the deadline and show that they are true contenders and no longer low-budget teams. Failing to do so would likely mean losing soon-to-be free agents D Shea Weber (summer of 2013) and D Ryan Suter (July 1 UFA), the two cornerstone players of their franchise. They went out and acquired D Hal Gill, F Andrei Kostitsyn, F Paul Gaustad and a 4th-round draft pick. There are risks in their acquisitions, namely Kostitsyn, and they did give up a lot in a 1st-rounder, two 2nd-rounders and two prospects, but as I said, they were essentially forced to in order to salvage the bigger picture. Given that the team won their first playoff series last year, and sit 6th in the NHL standings, it looks like a solid move for GM David Poile–even if it doesn’t pay off with a Stanley Cup this year, they may have convinced Weber and Suter to stay. Poile also tried to acquire Blue Jackets’ F Rick Nash at the deadline. Despite their chances of landing him being slim to none, it had to be music to the ears of Weber and Suter. Overall, Nashville improved in a number of areas, and appear to be the biggest winner of the trade deadline.
Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks window to win is right now. They saw how Bruins’ F Milan Lucic abused their team during the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and did a good job in acquiring F Zack Kassian from the Sabres. The Canucks came within one win of the Cup last year, and they lead the NHL in points this season–getting Kassian ensures what should be another very deep playoff run. Their parting gift was talented rookie F Cody Hodgson, who should develop into a very good player. The 22-year-old went 10th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft, and has a very bright future ahead of him. He was buried at centre in one of the league’s deepest teams, so requesting a trade was the best move for his career, even if it meant potentially missing out on this year’s Cup run. That said, Kassian is a gritty, strong, aggressive winger that addresses a glaring need on their roster, and the addition of D Marc-Andre Gragnani adds some defensive depth. F Sami Pahlsson also moves from the league’s worst team (Columbus) to the league’s best. Pahlsson was a key cog in the Ducks’ 2007 Cup win, and could enjoy a rejuvenation of sorts.
Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres auctioned off F Paul Gaustad and eventually got the 1st-round pick (and an additional 4th-rounder) they desired. GM Darcy Regier did well to stick to his guns and keep his eye on the prize. In acquiring Hodgson and D Alexander Sulzer, they add two solid prospects who should bloom into solid NHLers.
Columbus Blue Jackets. Good job by GM Rick Howson to not sell his top asset short for what he could get. F Rick Nash submitted a list of teams he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause for, and while the Jackets shopped him around the league, nothing came in that was near what their asking price was. Wisely, they held off, and Nash’s return price will surely be met when he’s (likely) moved at the Entry Draft in late-June. For now, Columbus will keep his $7.8M salary, and if Nash truly does want to move, may need to expand his trade list in order to get out of town faster. Aside from Nash, the Jackets shed F Jeff Carter’s enormous contract and acquired young D Jack Johnson and a 1st-rounder from the Kings. He also got D Taylor Ellington and two 4th-round picks for pending UFA Pahlsson, and a 2nd and 5th-rounder and replaceable G Curtis McElhinney and F Antoine Vermette (3-years/$3.75M AAV). Overall, a good job by Howson to rebuild some assets, although he may not be around long enough to see them prosper.
Tampa Bay Lightning. GM Steve Yzerman addressed a big hole in their roster (lack of defensive depth) and added D Keith Aulie, D Brian Lee and D Mike Commodore, as well as 1st, 2nd and 4th-round picks. While Commodore is merely a rental player, Aulie (22) and Lee (24) are solid, young players with good potential that can help bolster the Bolts’ blueline in the coming years.
Notables: Bruins (veteran forwards), Blackhawks (defensive help) all improved at the deadline.
Rick Nash. After so much beating around the bush, Nash finally requested a trade from the team, despite “loving” Columbus. That said, as a 27-year-old entering his prime, it makes no sense for him to waste his best years on a rebuilding team. For now, things will be awkward, as he captains a team he has no desire to play for.
Toronto Maple Leafs. The on-the-bubble Buds needed a top-six forward and a starting goalie, but did nothing at this year’s deadline, other than a few minor league deals. Toronto’s in a bad spot right now–not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to secure a lottery pick. The team needed a change somewhere, a breath of fresh air, and everything remained still. Well, that’s not entirely true–after much criticism, head coach Ron Wilson was also fired.
Washington Capitals. See: Maple Leafs. A team that needed change got nothing. They’re fighting for a playoff spot after being predicted as a Stanley Cup contender. Granted, the team had to replace Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter this season, and nothing has improved on that front, but the Caps had some good assets with expiring contracts. F Alex Semin, D Roman Hamrlik, F Mike Knuble. All three were highly sought-after on the market, and Washington failed to capitalize.
St. Louis Blues. Essentially every playoff team bettered themselves at the deadline and addressed holes in their roster, while the Blues stood pat and did nothing. They did acquire G Ben Bishop for a 2nd-rounder, but he won’t have an impact on their playoff run this year. The team needed another scorer, and failed to secure one at the deadline.