Yesterday was the NHL’s trade deadline day. If you’re not familiar with it, deadline day is the one date on the hockey calendar when fans from around the world come together, gather around their TV and computer screens, and spend hours talking about all the trades that were made over the previous week that resulted in nobody who’s any damn good being left for the final day.
So yeah, yesterday may have been a bit of a bust. But if so, it was largely because the league’s GMs had been so busy over the previous week. Before we turn our attention to the stretch drive, let’s hand out some awards for this year’s deadline maneuvering. We’ll define our cutoff for a “deadline” deal at the last seven days, which works out pretty well — after a week or so without any moves at all, the trades started up again on February 24 and continued at a pretty steady pace right through yesterday.
Biggest Trade: The Rangers and Coyotes Pull Off a Blockbuster
While yesterday saw 24 deals come in before the deadline, none was bigger than Sunday’s trade between the Rangers and Coyotes. That one saw New York acquire Keith Yandle along with Chris Summers and a fourth-rounder, with John Moore, prospect Anthony Duclair, a 2016 first, and a 2015 second going to Arizona.
Yandle is a top-pairing defenseman. He’s also signed through next year, and with the Coyotes agreeing to eat half his salary, he’ll represent phenomenal value for the Rangers’ tight cap situation. But the price was high, costing the Rangers an excellent prospect in Duclair and yet another first-rounder to add to the long list they’ve traded away in recent years. In a league where everyone always seems to be hedging for the future, the Rangers are going all in on the short term.
And you know what … I like it. This team went to the Cup final last year, and could have won it with a little more puck luck. The Eastern Conference remains wide open. They have a pair of aging star forwards in Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. And maybe most importantly, they have a generational franchise goalie who turned 33 yesterday. Goalies age in unpredictable ways, and maybe Henrik Lundqvist is a Hasek type who’ll be good forever. But maybe he’ll be like most guys, which would mean he has only a few elite-level years left. And if so, now’s the time for his team to swing hard for the fences.
If the Rangers don’t win a Cup over the next two years, it’s possible we’ll all look back on this deal and call it a disaster. That’s the gamble. But there’s such a thing as a smart gamble, and I think the Rangers made one here.
Most Surprising Theme: All of Those First-Round Picks
It’s a mantra that has been beaten into fans’ heads over recent years: In the salary cap world, you win by building through the draft. Trading is hard. Free agency is awful. You need to hold on to your picks, draft well, and then turn those prospects into serviceable NHLers who can fill out your lineup on cheap entry-level and bridge deals. The days of flipping first-rounders for rentals was supposed to be over. It had to be.
And yet when the deadline appeared on the horizon, NHL GMs started tossing first-round picks around just like they used to do in the good old days. Going back to the David Perron deal on January 2, eight teams included first-round picks in trades. That development was especially surprising given how deep this year’s draft is expected to be.
None of those picks is likely to be a lottery pick — in fact, teams like the Kings and Rangers have now taken to lottery-protecting their choices. That’s been standard practice in the NBA for years, but it’s a relatively new tactic in the NHL, one that could make first-round deals even more common in years to come.
Draft picks outside the top five or 10 may be somewhat overrated these days, and the drop-off down to the end of the round is steep, but it was still surprising to see a quarter of the league moving their top picks, often for short-term rentals. If the trend continues, it will be good news for next year’s sellers.
Most Perplexingly Quiet Team: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are hanging in the playoff picture by a thread, they’re just coming off a depressingly cold stretch of games, and their CEO has made it clear that failure is not an option. And yet when the dust had cleared on Monday afternoon, all GM Peter Chiarelli had managed to do was add Brett Connolly, who didn’t come cheap, and swap depth guy Jordan Caron for depth guy Maxime Talbot.
There’s no doubt that the Bruins were in on bigger deals, and sometimes there’s just not a fit no matter how much you may want to find one. Maybe Chiarelli deserves credit here for refusing to make a panic deal that would hurt the team in the long term just to save his job right now. Or maybe he just played his cards wrong. Without tapping his phones, we don’t know. But the Bruins were expected to be right in the middle of things, and instead they mostly stayed nailed to the bench.