It’s not easy to look at the trades made at the 2008 NHL trade deadline and accurately predict which teams emerged as winners or losers.
On the face of things, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks all appear as big winners for their respective acquisitions of Marian Hossa, Brad Richards and Brian Campbell, and perhaps in the short term they are.
Still, there are variables which could have unforeseen consequences for these clubs.
The Penguins gave up a huge return for Hossa in forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft pick, while the Sharks parted with promising young right winger Steve Bernier and a first-round pick for Campbell.
What makes these acquisitions risky for the Penguins and Sharks is Hossa and Campbell are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, and haven’t yet indicated a willingness to re-sign with their new teams.
The Penguins and Sharks will likely try to sign them to contract extensions prior to July 1, but there’s no certainty either player will do so.
If Hossa and Campbell can play as well for their new clubs as they have in the past - and thus help Pittsburgh and San Jose advance to the Stanley Cup final - it’ll be seen as worth the risk, even if they subsequently opt for free agency.
But if they struggle or fail to lift their new teams past at least the second round of the playoffs, and then bolt for the UFA market, the Penguins and Sharks become deadline day losers, having gambled away too much on too little.
The Stars acquisition of Richards and goaltender Johan Holmqvist from the Tampa Bay Lightning for goaltender Mike Smith and forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern appears beneficial for both clubs.
Richards provides the Stars with a significant offensive boost and Holmqvist should settle comfortably into the role of Marty Turco’s backup.
The Lightning hope Smith will emerge as the starting goalie they’ve lacked since the 2003-04 season, while Jokinen and Halpern will provide much-needed depth to the Bolts’ forward lines.
Still, there’s a risk factor for both teams. Richards had a great debut with the Stars (five assists), but does carry an expensive $7.8 million cap hit for three more seasons and if he struggles again down the road it could prove a costly mistake.
Given Richards’ playmaking skills and his previous proven ability as an elite player, that risk doesn’t appear as likely.
The Lightning is taking the bigger chance in expecting Smith to succeed where Holmqvist, Sean Burke, Marc Denis and John Grahame failed before him. Smith benefited from a strong defense in Dallas and will have his work cut out for him with the struggling Lightning.
If he doesn’t work out, his $950K salary for next season means he won’t be as costly a mistake as Denis and his $2.867 million per season.
The easiest pick for short-term winner is the Washington Capitals, who got what should be a significant boost to their playoff hopes this season with the acquisitions of goalie Cristobal Huet and forwards Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke.
Huet joined the Capitals with a better record than incumbent starter Olaf Kolzig, plus the presence of the affable Frenchman, with a shutout in his debut as a Capital, seems to have pushed Kolzig to elevate his game.
Fedorov and Cooke, meanwhile, provide valuable experience and leadership for a young Capitals team lacking both.
GM George McPhee paid very little (Matt Pettinger, college prospect, Theo Ruth, and a 2009 second-round pick) to land these three, so even if he fails to re-sign Huet, Fedorov and Cooke this summer, he didn’t gut his club’s future for a quick fix.
Speaking of Huet, his trade to the Capitals by the Montreal Canadiens for that aforementioned second round pick is the most puzzling move of the deadline.
Huet’s free agent status and inconsistency in recent weeks were factors, but still didn’t justify moving an experienced goalie so late in the season and for such a low return.
GM Bob Gainey defied all convention with this move, particularly in placing his trust in rookie Carey Price as his starter and the equally inexperienced Jaroslav Halak (16 NHL appearances last season) as his goaltending tandem the rest of the way.
Price has played well since the trade and if he can keep it up Gainey will look like a genius, but if the youngster wilts under the pressure, the Habs GM will be second-guessed all summer.
The biggest loser, sadly, has to be the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose interim GM Cliff Fletcher was restricted, by circumstances beyond his control, in overhauling the roster.
Fletcher’s predecessor, John Ferguson, had signed Mats Sundin, Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker, Pavel Kubina and Bryan McCabe to contracts with no-movement clauses, which none of the five were willing to waive when asked to do so.
The inability of the Leafs to move at least one or two of these players didn’t have an adverse impact upon the trade market leading up to the deadline. It did, however, have a significant impact on Fletcher’s attempts to dump salary and bring in a return of prospects and draft picks upon which to rebuild.
Two players expected to be shopped at the deadline, Florida’s Olli Jokinen and Calgary’s Alex Tanguay, remained with their current teams, giving rumormongers something to talk about from now until the June entry draft.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.