Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trade deadline winners and losers

The NHL Trade Deadline was today. You may have heard about it. We posted a few articles about the topic over the last month, and there was even some TV coverage.

In all, we had 19 deals today and 35 in total over the last week. Now that the 3:00 ET deadline has come and gone and any trade-call stragglers have been wrapped up, we can get to the good part: Immediately slapping “winner” and “loser” labels on everything, even though we have no idea how any of it will turn out.

Let’s get started. We’ll lead off with the biggest deal of the week.

Winner: Washington Capitals

The league's best team landed the deadline's biggest addition. And they did it without giving up quite as much as we thought they might. That's a pretty clear win.

No, Kevin Shattenkirk didn't exactly come cheap, costing the Capitals this year's first, a decent young player in Zach Sanford and maybe a second. That's not nothing.

But it's also not an unbearable price for a Stanley Cup favourite. And that's especially true if, as rumoured, Metro rivals like the Penguins and Rangers had interest. Brian MacLellan has sent a clear signal that his team is all-in on a Cup this year.

That might feel like an uncomfortable position for nervous Caps fans who've been burned by hope before. But for a franchise that's still seeking their first title, swinging for the fences seems like the right play. And MacLellan didn’t even have to overpay to do it.

Loser: St. Louis Blues

The flip side of the Shattenkirk deal is the team that gave him up.

Armstrong has since hinted that the market for Shattenkirk just didn't materialize the way he hoped it would, and the fact that the deal went down two days before the deadline suggests that was the case. That's partly on him – this is where a GM needs to be actively shopping, not just listening – but at a certain point there's only so much you can do. If everyone knows a guy is available and only one team was willing to pay up, you take what you can get, right?

Well, maybe. The other option is to keep the player and hope you can go on a playoff run of your own. Instead, Armstrong basically folded his hand, making it clear that he doesn't view the Blues as real contenders (a stance that was backed up by the Blues not making any other moves). That's a tough call for a GM to make, and sometimes accepting reality is the smart play. But in this case, you'd like to think that any sort of concession-style trade of a star would have also included a bidding war somewhere along the line.

But before we close the book on Shattenkirk, let's look at one more angle.

Loser: Henrik Lundqvist's window

The Rangers had been linked to Shattenkirk, but ended up watching him head to a division rival while getting a cheaper blueliner in Brendan Smith. In the long term, that makes perfect sense. It's still widely assumed that Shattenkirk lands in New York as a free agent, so the Rangers will probably wind up with the player they want and hold onto their first-round pick in the process. Solid work.

And yet...

In 2005, the Rangers got a gift from the hockey gods when a sixth-round pick from five years earlier arrived and almost immediately established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the world. That's Lundqvist, of course, and he's done everything the Rangers could have asked over the last decade-plus. But he turns 35 tomorrow, last season was the first time in his career he finished outside the top six in Vezina voting, and he struggled through much of this year's first half.

He's been better since, posting a .928 save percentage in February to help the Rangers to a 9-4 month, one that firmly reestablished them as legitimate Cup contenders. Still, when the dust cleared, it was the Capitals who walked away with the deadline's biggest prize. We don't know if the Rangers were even bidding — to hear Armstrong tell it, not many teams were — but they had the picks and cap space to make the move. They chose not to, and a team that the Rangers may have to go through to get back to the Cup final stepped up instead.

And again, that probably makes sense, especially if they sign Shattenkirk in July. But Lundqvist only has so many playoff runs left him as an elite goaltender, and one more of them is likely to slip by while the Rangers refocus on the long game.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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