Friday, February 17, 2023

Which team can make the best current roster of players they traded away?

We all love trades. Trade are the best. There’s no better feeling than finding out that your favorite team has made a big deal.

Well, unless they trade away somebody good.

That’s the problem with the trading game – most teams have this weird thing where they want to get something back in return. In today’s NHL, that’s often just cap space, or some draft pick you’ll forget all about. But occasionally, teams still trade away actual NHL talent. And sometimes, that talent ends up looking pretty good in their new home.

So today, let’s see which team can make the best starting lineup out of guys that they’ve traded away. We’re talking current NHL talent – the three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie that your team traded and might wish you had back right now. We’re only counting the trades that put a player on his current team, so the Oilers can’t claim Taylor Hall, for example. We’re not counting draft picks that turned into players, and we’re not looking at free agents or waivers or anything else. Just those player trades, please.

It's harder than you’d think to build full six-man lineups for most teams. Hard, but not impossible, and they don’t pay me to do the easy stuff. Let’s go through a few teams and see what we can come up with.

Buffalo Sabres

Let’s start with the obvious: Rebuilding teams are going to be our prime target here, because those are the teams that are trading established players away. And no team has been rebuilding longer than the Sabres. As soon as I had the concept for this post, I knew the Sabres would be my first stop.

And sure enough, there’s a ton of talent to work with. Too much, in fact, at least up front. We can start with Jack Eichel, who went to Vegas in last year’s blockbuster. We can also use Sam Reinhart. And for our third spot, we can have our pick of either Taylor Hall or Ryan O’Reilly, with Marcus Foligno available as depth. That’s about as good as we’re likely to get for a forward group.

The blueline isn’t quite as strong, but still has some options. The Sabres fleeced the Flyers into taking Rasmus Ristolainen a few summers ago, and we could pair him with Brandon Montour. Not exactly a Norris-worthy pairing, but not bad, and with five players down our Sabres lineup is in great shape.

That’s where it falls apart though, as I don’t think there are any active NHL goalies who were traded to the current team by the Sabres. We could argue over Jonas Johansson, who was traded from Buffalo to Colorado but recently had a brief waiver stop in Arizona, but he’s only played one game this year. The big miss is Linus Ullmark, a former Sabre who’ll probably win the Vezina but was a free agent, not a trade.

So somewhat surprisingly, the Sabres aren’t going to run away with this. Let’s check in on another rebuild to see if we can do better.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Hawks haven’t been at this as long as the Sabres have, but Kyle Davidson has made up for lost time over the last year or two. And unlike Buffalo, we have a clearcut goaltending option in Marc-Andre Fleury, dealt to the Wild last season.

Up front, we don't even need to wait on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, because we can lean on last year’s draft sell-off to start with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. And we can find a solid third option if we reach back to 2018 for the Nick Schmaltz trade. Sorry Brandon Hagel, we’ll keep you on speed dial.

The blueline is OK, with Adam Boqvist and Nikita Zadorov. That makes Chicago our first entry with a legitimate six-man group, and it’s a solid one that might get even better very soon. It doesn't feel unbeatable, though, so let’s check in on one more rebuild.

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