Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The year in trades: How many of last season's deals actually worked out?

I miss trades. The NHL used to be a league filled with them, from small deals to major blockbusters. At any given time, there always seemed to be at least one major star on the verge of moving, sometimes several, and occasionally they’d all get swapped for each other. For a fan, it was all great fun.

But over the years, things began to change. The salary cap, among other factors, made player-for-player deals less common, and in recent years the midseason trade market had almost dried up completely. There were still plenty of minor deals, and even occasional blockbusters during the offseason, but once the season started we were lucky to get a handful of moves involving anyone the typical fan had ever heard of.

And then came the 2013-14 season, and the trade market was suddenly … well, not busy. But it was at least marginally active, with several big names being moved and even a few old-fashioned midseason blockbusters. Was there hope? Had the art of the deal finally returned?

It’s too early to tell. But the NHL has a well-established reputation as a copycat league, where owners and GMs of the also-rans continually look at what the winners are up to and yell “Let’s start doing that!” So if we want to know whether this year’s trade market was a blip or a trend, we have to start with this question: “Did any of those deals actually work out?”

So let’s find out. Here are 10 of the biggest trades that went down during the 2013-14 season, and whether they turned out to be worth it in hindsight.

Thomas Vanek, Version 1

The deal: On October 27, the Sabres sent Vanek to the Islanders for Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in either 2014 or 2015 (the Islanders chose to give up the 2015 pick), and a 2015 second-rounder. Buffalo retained some of Vanek’s salary.

At the time: Vanek was a pending free agent and seemed unlikely to want to re-sign with a Sabres team that was well into a scorched-earth rebuild. But while seeing him traded wasn’t a surprise, the destination was — the Islanders were a borderline playoff team at best, and they gave up a good player and two high picks to acquire a guy they didn’t even know if they could sign long term.

In hindsight: A disaster. Vanek played well enough, but the Islanders’ season tanked and they couldn’t work out an extension despite offering him far more money than he’d eventually wind up getting. The Islanders ended up having to cut their losses by trading him at the deadline, getting back far less than they paid for him (see below). Meanwhile, the Sabres traded (then later re-signed) Moulson and now own the Islanders’ top pick in a 2015 draft that could be one of the best in years.

Teachable moment: Don’t jump the gun on a rebuild. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff round since 1993, so you can understand some impatience, but they weren’t ready to make this sort of deal. In a way, you have to admire New York GM Garth Snow’s willingness to get aggressive when going after star players, but this move was too much too soon.

Ben Scrivens

The deal: On January 15, the Oilers acquired Scrivens from the Kings for a third-round pick.

At the time: The Kings had one goalie too many, because of the emergence of rookie Martin Jones. The Oilers had too few, because of them being the Oilers. So they added some relatively cheap depth.

In hindsight: It didn’t take long for Scrivens to have an impact — just two weeks after the trade, he put on one of the best goaltending performances in recent history. He also played well enough to allow the Oilers to completely change course in net. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, they’d traded away Ilya Bryzgalov and Devan Dubnyk and added Viktor Fasth. Heading into next season, Oilers fans may actually feel good about their goaltending for the first time in years.

Teachable moment: There are always goaltending bargains available. The depth of players at the position has never been better, so if you need an upgrade in net you can usually find one without paying a fortune. Why yes, that was ironic foreshadowing for our next entry thanks for noticing.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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