Following another difficult loss to an American team, the Toronto Maple Leafs are getting a hard lesson in what they missed by playing games exclusively in Canada last season.
Basically, trade deadline day in the NHL Monday started with a rookie GM getting pennies on the dollar for a former Hart Trophy winner and ended with two veteran GMs making a blockbuster hockey deal that nobody saw coming. In the 15 hours that bookended those two deals, there were a bevy of inconsequential moves involving players that likely won’t have much of an impact and draft picks that will probably never play in the best league in the world.
That, of course, isn’t exactly true. Who knows? Perhaps Jeff Carter will provide the Pittsburgh Penguins with the championship pedigree and industrious play that will lead them to one more Stanley Cup. Or maybe Sam Bennett will respond so well to being out of the fishbowl in Calgary that he’ll deliver to the Florida Panthers what he seemed unable to deliver to the Flames.
But there’s no denying it was a rather strange trade deadline day. With the combination of a flat cap, a pandemic and most GMs getting their work done early, the fireworks were at a minimum. But then again, it’s often those under-the-radar trades that end up being the ones that work out the best. And yes, I’m looking at you, Carl Soderberg.
With that in mind, we present the annual Winners and Losers Trade Deadline List (which include deals that were made in the week leading up to the final day):
WINNER – JULIEN BRISEBOIS
The Tampa Bay Lightning GM came away with one of the crown jewels of the trade deadline in defenseman David Savard and cemented his reputation as a managerial genius. It seemed like this deadline was all about adding to keep up with Tampa, then Tampa goes out and gets one of the most sought-after players in the pool. And they did it in the midst of a salary cap crunch, with BriseBois paving the way for future three-way deals that lessen the cap burden. Brilliant. And getting Nikita Kucherov back for the playoffs gives the Bolts the best deadline acquisition of them all. BriseBois’ next move might be to make sure that party boat is available for a day in late July.
LOSER – KEVYN ADAMS
When you type ‘Loser’ followed by a guy’s name, it seems pretty harsh, which it is in this case. It is not the Buffalo Sabres’ GM’s fault that Taylor Hall has spent the past three years spectacularly underachieving. It is not Adams’ fault that there were a finite number of teams to which he could deal Hall, which was a provision of Hall’s contract that the player earned. The reason why Kevyn Adams made such an underwhelming deal is because that was the best one he could make. If there would have been a better deal out there for Hall, Adams would have made it.
WINNER – DETROIT RED WINGS
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that, at some point this season, GM Steve Yzerman looked at his team and made the determination that Anthony Mantha was not going to be a part of the long-term solution in Detroit. Last time he did something like that, he dealt Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens and it worked out pretty well. Getting an arbitration-eligible Jakub Vrana (a player who has been almost as productive as Mantha), a useful depth guy in Richard Panik and a first- and second-round pick was one of those moves that Yzerman made because he’s comfortable in his skin and he doesn’t really pay much heed to what others think. You might be surprised to learn that Vrana is actually younger than Mantha.
LOSER – WINNIPEG JETS
Your trusty correspondent has already gone on the record saying the Jets have the best and deepest forward corps in the NHL. Judging by Connor Hellebuyck’s trophy case, they also have the best goalie. What this team needed was help on defense. We’ll never know whether they did, but how the Jets could not have made an all-out effort to get David Savard is beyond comprehension. This team was screaming out for someone like him, or Jamie Oleksiak, or Alex Goligoski. The Jets ended up with Jordie Benn, which was a decent pick-up, but they needed to do more.
WINNER – ANTHONY MANTHA
For the first five full seasons of his NHL career, Anthony Mantha has been a part of a losing culture where he has displayed equal amounts of brilliance and maddening inconsistency. The past season-and-a-half have been a struggle for both him and the Red Wings. But now he goes to a Capitals team that has a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. And what makes it even better for him is he won’t face the pressure he faced in Detroit to be the man. The Capitals have plenty of really big, really talented wingers behind whom Mantha can play and find his niche.
LOSER – EDMONTON OILERS
Again, ‘Loser’ is a harsh, but relative term. The Oilers did supplement their blueline corps by getting Dmitri Kulikov, but a top-six forward would have been a welcome addition on a team that everyone in hockey knows is top-heavy. They would be more difficult to stop if they had some options and secondary scoring in their lineup to take some of the heat of Nos. 97 and 29. When asked how close he was to getting some secondary scoring at the deadline, GM Ken Holland indicated he was not terribly close. “Money was tight, assets were tight,” Holland said. “I felt the priority was to get a little deeper on the back end.”
WINNER – TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. Yes, the Maple Leafs overpaid for Nick Foligno, the same way the Tampa Bay Lightning overpaid for Barclay Goodrow last season. And we all know how that turned out. GM Kyle Dubas, with a plethora of picks and prospects and one of the league’s top teams, pushed his chips to the middle of the table and declared the Leafs are in it to win it. And you win with players such as Foligno, selfless guys who can play anywhere in the lineup and fill any role asked of them. You could argue that with this roster, in this division, the Maple Leafs haven’t been this close to winning the Stanley Cup since they last won it in 1967.
LOSER – CAROLINA HURRICANES
Again, ‘Loser’ is a relative term. In terms of points percentage, the Hurricanes are the top team in the Central Division and the second-best team in the NHL. Perhaps they looked at where they are and what they have and decided they didn’t really need to make any upgrades. But the Lightning and Panthers were in pretty much the same situation and both teams went out and made very bold moves to improve their rosters. The Hurricanes are a triumph of the collective at forward, but they have just one player among the league’s top 25 scorers. They might look back and rue the fact they didn’t add more offense.