The intensity of the NHL season hits a fever pitch on a few select days on the calendar. The NHL Trade Deadline is one of those days. Far too often the trade deadline is hyped up with hours of coverage on Canadian sports networks, but by hour four the panel is half asleep, drunk, or discussing a 4th liner who’s going to play 12 minutes a night. None of which makes for riveting television. This year however there were a few wildcards and a few teams with some actual talent looking to unload like Ottawa, the New York Rangers and to a lesser extent the Montreal Canadiens.
Recent history has shown that deadline deals, especially the big ones like Kevin Shattenkirk don’t always pan out for the team acquiring the player. An interesting line of thinking though is that inside the locker room, players view the GM’s actions heading to a deadline as sort of a barometer on the teams season to date. If the team is in a good playoff position or a rather unexpected one, the team feels like they should be rewarded with adding at the deadline rather than subtracting. Meanwhile if a team is underachieving, there doesn’t seem to be any issue pulling the plug as we are seeing in New York.
Just take a look at where some teams stand before deadline day. The New Jersey Devils are in an unexpected playoff position. Although they are 4 points behind the Penguins for a playoff spot in the Metro, they are comfortably in the first wild card spot and hold a seven point lead over the Islanders for a birth in the playoffs. The Boston Bruins were expected to be a playoff bubble team just like they’ve been the last few seasons, but with 82 points they have the 3rd best record in the eastern conference. Unfortunately for them the two teams with more points happen to be in the Atlantic Division as well. Move over to Vegas and the Golden Knights, who have the league’s second best record. Expected to be deadline sellers when they inked their roster over the summer, they continue on an incredible ride for an expansion team, that won’t end in selling off pending UFA’s while they coast to game 82.
On the flip side, some teams have been forced to take a hard look in the mirror at who they really are. The Montreal Canadiens have been out of the playoff race for months, and rumors have swirled that they are listening on guys like Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. The same holds true for the Edmonton Oilers, who right now look like Connor McDavid - Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of replacement level players. Truly horrific roster management by Chiarelli and company. The Rangers correctly assessed their situation a few weeks ago and have admirably made some shrewd moves as they look at an actual rebuild.
So how much will any of these deals matter? In the grand scheme probably not a whole lot, but whats the fun of admitting that one marginal player added with 20 or so games to go wont matter much come playoff time? Remember the Pens won the Cup last year without Letang, and the Preds of course didn’t have RyJo or Fiala at their disposal. Since it’s fun and perceptually meaningful at least, let’s look at the deadline deals that at least have the chance to move the needle a bit as we approach another edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs; and what it could mean if the Predators face any of these teams in the playoffs.
The first deal of any significance took place on Thursday with the Devils nabbing Michael Grabner from the New York Rangers. The book on Grabner is pretty simple; he’s all speed and goal scoring. He has 50 goals and 12 assists over the last two seasons. GM Ray Shero has been pretty open about trying to make the Devils a faster team. Grabner gives New Jersey another legitimate speed threat to go along with Taylor Hall and Miles Wood. He can also kill penalties which adds another dangerous element on the PK.
It’s unlikely the Devils will make the Stanley Cup Final, but if they can land the first wild card spot they will get to stay in the Metro for the first two rounds which will improve their chances. If they do make it to the final against the Preds, he’s just another in a speed option who can burn you if you make a mistake, but overall he’s a middle six guy with one particular skill.
The big trade was made Friday when the Penguins added Derick Brassard from Ottawa. Whether or not you believe the Golden Knights helped facilitate this trade to keep Brassard away from Winnipeg, in the end the Penguins have center depth unrivaled by the rest of the league. After their early season slumber the Pens are 17-5-1 since the calendar flipped to 2018. They will likely win the Metro and have a bye into the Eastern Conference finals where they will face whichever team runs the Tampa-Boston-Toronto gauntlet.
Pittsburgh is in a good position to reach the Cup finals once again, and if they face the Preds for the second straight spring, Brassard would likely be used more in a shut down role against the JOFA line. I don’t think anyone is looking forward to facing the Penguins right now or in the playoffs.
Sometime in the early hours Sunday morning, the Bruins completed a trade with the Rangers to bring in Rick Nash. The aging winger is a UFA at seasons end, and might actually make his way back to New York in June. For the balance of this year though, Nash will don the unusual looking black and yellow of the Bruins; where he will likely slot in on the second line with David Krejci. The move does give the team some flexibility though if they want to shuffle the deck a bit with their top line by sliding Pastrnak to Krejci’s wing if the need arises. Nash will take the departed Ryan Spooner’s position on the power-play as well.
If the Bruins run the Toronto-Tampa-Pittsburgh murderers row, let’s hope they are a bit worn down in the process at least. Adding Nash gives Boston some secondary scoring just in case the Bergeron line hits some speed bumps in the playoffs.
The other Sunday deal of any meaning saw the Maple Leafs land Tomas Plekanec from Montreal. At first blush I wasn’t impressed with the deal. I didn’t think Plekanec was worth a 2nd round pick, with his 11 even strength goals in his last 138 games and all, but looking deeper at the numbers, Plekanec was a positive possession player on a not so good Habs team, carries a positive expected goal ratio and was one of Montreal’s best forwards in relative possession even though he was saddled with the team’s defensive zone draws. Plekanec adds a nice defensive element to the bottom end of Toronto’s lineup, and could push Dominic Moore out of the lineup and or Tyler Bozak to an even lesser role. The Leafs troubles all season have been in preventing the opponent from prime scoring opportunities. Freddie Andersen has been terrific in net which is keeping Toronto’s defense afloat. Adding Plekanec will throw Freddie a bone as the arms race in the Atlantic ramps up.
Toronto has a tough path to the finals, but if they make it the Preds will face a team who can really push the tempo anytime they want, presuming Mike Babcock doesn’t play Leo Komarov 16 minutes a night in the final. If the Leafs try to turn defensive when the meaningful games start they may not get out of the first round. If they play to their strengths they will be one tough out. Plekanec just serves to shore up the defense, maybe giving Babcock the confidence to let the kids run wild.
On the surface I’m not sold at all on this Hartman trade, especially given the cost. Hartman has a positive effect on his teammates in terms of possession, splitting most of the season pretty equally between either Kane and Schmaltz or Sharp and DeBrincat. His expected goal numbers however are negative at 5 on 5 and he plays an up-tempo brand of hockey. He is cost controlled going into next year as a RFA, but it’s clear that Chicago valued him as well and wouldn’t let him go without a first round pick. According to Chicago beat writers he’s a blend of physical with skill. It’s tough to see where he slots into the lineup unless he’s a 3rd line addition that bumps Jarnkrok down. He gives the team the option of sitting Austin Watson in the playoffs against a team that doesn’t face punch all that much. He can add a bit of speed to the bottom of the lineup, but this seems like a summer deal to me, and one that doesn’t warrant a 1st round pick. Hopefully Pfeffer sees something here than I’m missing.
I noted yesterday that the bottom has fallen out of the St. Louis Blues over the last 20 games or so. This hasn’t looked like a playoff team for a while and it’s probably the prudent move for them to be sellers. Moving out Paul Stastny who’s a UFA at seasons end is a wise decision. His offensive production has dropped since his final year in Colorado, but he’s shown that he can center skilled players, namely Vladimir Taransenko. His fancy stats are good too. He has the best relative possession rate among Blues forwards and is a positive in expected goal differential.
After Winnipeg struck out on Brassard, they moved on to Plekanec who was plucked away from them too by the Leafs. Landing Stastny is a pretty good consolation prize, and is probably a better option for them than Plekanec would have been. Winnipeg is more dangerous now then they were yesterday. Stastny will slot in on the third line which moves Andrew Copp to the 4th and Matt Hendricks to the pressbox. Any of Winnipeg’s top-nine wingers are dangerous, regardless of who he plays with, he makes the lineup better.
If the rest of the season holds true to form this will be your second round matchup, and I’m not looking forward to it. Winnipeg has been building a deep and talented roster for years, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s is beginning to reap the reward of being patient with his team.
Although Buffalo fans are underwhelmed at the return; now they pull for the Sharks to miss the playoffs and for Kane to resign. The conditional pick they receive becomes a 1st rounder of Kane signs with San Jose. As much as Kane gets dragged for his defensive play he has one of the highest relative possession numbers on the team. He’s a volume shooter in his own right, had the highest expected goals mark of any Buffalo forward, yes even Jack Eichel, and can push the pace of the game. The Sharks know their Thornton-Pavelski-Burns window is closing and want one more kick at the can. This also gives the Sharks a bunch of roster flexibility in deployment, and at age 26, the Sharks will get more useful years out of Kane if he does resign.
This doesn’t do much for the Preds. The Pacific Division is still wide open and there is a chance the Sharks could slip into the wild card to potentially face the Preds, it does however make them a bit more potent on offense with a pure shooter in play.
Checking over the data, I just don’t see much here to get excited about. When rumors circled that the Preds had interest in Tatar I was hoping they wouldn’t give more than a 2nd round pick. To land three picks for Tatar is a good deal for the Wings to finally get into rebuild mode. Yes, Vegas does have a slew of picks to play with, but there were better uses of those picks than Tatar. He doesn’t really tilt the balance of power in any meaningful way. He will probably slot in a third line role for now and provide some longer term stability once the future of James Neal and David Perron is settled.
This is the biggest deal of the day. I’m sure the entire hockey world wonders how close the Lightning were to landing Erik Karlsson. I’m sure they waited until the last minute to pull off the deal to land McDonagh. The veteran blue liner has long been considered one of the better all around defenders in hockey, this year’s numbers aside. It was a tough go of it for everyone in New York.
Because he shoots left handed, the Lightning didn’t really solve their problems on the right side. Presumably this transaction forces Sustr out of the lineup. Hopefully for McDonagh, Coach Cooper doesn’t pair him with Dan Girardi again. He’s carried that carcass around the ice long enough.
The Bolts are clearly in win now mode and send out a few quality future along with Vladdy Namestnikov. If the Bolts make the Cup final, which they are the odds on favorite to do, the addition of McDonagh will make them a bit more sound in their own end.
I’ve never been a big fan of Maroon, and his on-ice results are driven by riding shotgun to Connor McDavid. He hasn’t been awful away from McDavid, in facts he’s been pretty decent, but that notion is what kills his value. He’s a serviceable player who will give the Devils some meat to their speed. It’s likely he fits in a middle-six role with the Devils.
I think there are seven team with a realistic chance at the Cup. We’ve seen some surprises throughout the year, but as the dust settles on deadline day, whoever emerges from the Atlantic will either be battle tested and ready to get to the final, or there will be worn down and easy pickings for the Pens in the Eastern Conference Finals. I think your favorites in the east are Tampa, Pittsburgh, Boston and Toronto in that order.
Out west the Predators and Jets have positioned themselves at the top of the pack. Although they’ve been getting it done all year long, I cant pick the Golden Knights over either of those teams. Dallas will be dangerous come playoff time and I think Calgary is better than their results. I think the winner of the second round series between Nashville and Winnipeg makes the Cup Final against the winner of Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Although the Golden Knights made a furious final hour push, we’re going to have to wait until the summer for a Karlsson trade, that poor bastard.
Whats clear from the Predators standpoint is that the strength of the western conference is in their own division. They along with the Jets are the cream of the crop. Let’s hope they get a Pacific Division opponent in the first round like Calgary or Los Angeles, Anaheim or San Jose; make quick work of them and get ready for a hell of a series against Winnipeg.
Poile learned from last years playoff run just how much depth matters. Adding Ryan Hartman and Mike Fisher to the lineup, along with the presumptive arrival of Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville is uniquely suited, maybe better than any other team in the west to withstand injuries. They legitimately have 15 forwards who could serve a purpose come playoff time; but first, the Preds need to focus on winning the Central, to set themselves on the ideal path for the Cup!