The Top Five NHL Trades of 2020

The ripple effect of the pandemic dramatically reduced trading in 2020, but a few swaps still stood out as difference makers. Who made the top moves of the calendar year?
Author:
Publish date:
USATSI_14879797

No article summarizing anything to do with 2020 can turn out normally. Not even something as benign as my annual top 10 NHL trades of the calendar year. The revenues lost from the COVID-19 pandemic flattened the salary cap, tightened teams’ purse strings and slowed down trade negotiations.

The 2019 calendar year featured 127 trades. The 2020 calendar year has 71 with nine days to go. Less hockey meant less motivation to make moves – and GMs were likely more reluctant to make players uproot their families during these trying times.

With a smaller catalogue to choose from, my top 10 trades list shrinks to a top five for 2020. Which swaps made the biggest impacts – or project to down the road?

5. Senators trade Jonathan Gruden and a 2020 second-round pick (Joel Blomqvist) to Penguins for Matt Murray

We start with the trades that make the cut for the “splash” rather than the yet-to-exist results on the ice. Acquiring Murray was symbolic for a Senators franchise that had taken a wrecking ball to its core during the previous few seasons as part of a scorched-earth rebuild. Out went Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, among others. Acquiring a two-time Stanley Cup winner in his prime to tend goal and immediately extending him with a four-year, $25-million contract signalled a reversal of course. After the Sens continued to load up their prospect pool, nabbing Tim Stuetzle and Jake Sanderson at third and fifth overall in the 2020 draft, GM Pierre Dorion was confident he’d assembled a critical mass of youth. It was time to start adding veterans. He struck the Murray deal on day 2 of the draft to anchor the crease, and Ottawa kept the momentum going by signing a first-line right winger in Evgenii Dadonov a week later.

The Penguins had to bet on one of Murray and Tristan Jarry in net. They went with Jarry, who had the far superior 2019-20 performance but carries a much smaller sample size of NHL success, and shipped out Murray as a cap casualty so they could pad their barren pipeline with a draft pick and prospect. Ottawa is betting on Murray, 26, to rediscover his game after a terrible season. As the Penguins improved defensively and Murray got less busy in net last season, his play slipped, so perhaps a weaker defensive team will get him into a better rhythm as he sees more rubber.

4. Canadiens trade Max Domi and a 2020 third-round pick (Samuel Knazko) to Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson

It was 2020’s No. 1 “hockey trade,” and it happened to involve two extremely close friends. After delivering a career year in Montreal in 2018-19, Domi fell out of favor in 2019-20, ending up as low as the fourth line during the post-season, passed on the depth chart by young centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Still, at 25 and with a 5-on-5 shot rate continuing to rise, he was an excellent reclamation-project target for a team needing a No. 2 center. Enter the Blue Jackets, who will deploy Domi in that role behind Pierre-Luc Dubois. If the inconsistent Domi, who thrives off emotion, can strike up a strong relationship with hard-nosed coach John Tortorella, Domi should be a hit in Columbus. The Jackets have grit in spades but needed a skill upgrade. Domi helps there.

The Habs, meanwhile, had a center surplus and wanted to get stronger on the wings, so they brought in the heavy forechecker Anderson. They handed him a double-take contract extension at a $5-5-million AAV across seven years, evidently projecting he’ll be the power forward who sniped 27 goals in 2018-19 rather than the guy who scored one goal and had season-ending shoulder surgery in 2019-20.

This trade arguably carries the most hype heading into 2020-21. If Domi flourishes and/or Anderson struggles early, the complaints about his big contract will pile up quickly.

3. Senators trade Jean-Gabriel Pageau to Islanders for a 2020 conditional first-round pick (Ridly Greig), a 2020 second-round pick (traded to Toronto; became Roni Hirvonen) and a 2022 conditional third-round pick

Pageau’s tenacious, infectious two-way game and disruptive scoring ability on the penalty kill make him the type of player suited to play on a contender every year. It feels like a waste of his talents otherwise. So it was nice to see him join the Islanders as a deadline piece in the midst of his career year, which yielded 26 goals in 67 games. He was no rental, either. The Islanders inked their new third-line center to a six-year, $30-million contract the day they acquired him. Leading into the pandemic shutdown, the trade started out as a bust, with Pageau managing two points in seven games, all of which were Islander losses. But once the bubble tournament began in the summer, Pageau was a force. He contributed eight goals in 22 games during the Isles’ run to the Eastern Conference final, winning more than 55 per cent of his faceoffs along the way. At 28, he’s a major part of the team’s win-now plans going forward.

The Senators realized Pageau would be past his prime by the time they’re contenders again, so they cashed out the chip since he was a pending UFA. They used the Isles’ first-round pick on a young man whose game resembles Pageau’s, oddly enough. Greig is considered a feisty if undersized two-way center who will never get outworked on the ice.

2. Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights for Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin and a 2020 secound-round pick (Drew Commesso)

The best trades don’t always have to pay out both sides equally. At least in the short to medium term, the Golden Knights won big here. They got exactly what they wanted in the Lehner trade: a huge, talented, in-his-prime netminder to play 1A to Marc-Andre Fleury’s 1B. Lehner took charge by winning his first three starts heading into the shutdown and seized the No. 1 job with his play during the round-robin when the bubble tournament opened. For the playoffs overall: a 1.99 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and four shutouts. Across the past two seasons, among 69 goalies who have played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5, Lehner ranks fifth in goals saved above average per 60 minutes. He’s a star. Vegas knows it and gave him the long-term deal he deserved a year earlier: five years, $25 million.

1. Devils trade Blake Coleman to Lightning for Nolan Foote and a 2020 first-round pick (Shakir Mukhamadullin)

An ideal buyer-seller trade result helps the buyer win a championship and the seller set up future contention. I love what the Coleman trade, along with the Barclay Goodrow trade, represented for Lightning GM Julien BriseBois. He knew it was Stanley Cup or bust after his team flopped during its record-tying 62-win season a year earlier. He was willing to overpay for two players unlikely to toil among the top six forwards because he knew they brought the elements Tampa badly lacked the season prior.

Coleman can play center or wing, delivers a heavy-hitting game reminiscent of a young Ryan Callahan and kills penalties. Coleman contributed five goals, 13 points and a jaw-dropping 126 hits in 25 games to help Tampa win the 2020 Stanley Cup. Coleman, Goodrow and Anthony Cirelli led Lightning forwards in shorthanded minutes for the post-season – on a unit that killed penalties at an 86.1-percent rate. Not only did Coleman provide all the services Tampa desperately craved, but he also wasn’t even a rental. He has another season left on his contract at the bargain price of $1.8 million.

The Devils made out great on the trade, too. Coleman is a fantastic complementary piece for a contender but, with his middle-six skill set, he’s not a foundational player. Now 29, he’s as good as he’s ever going to be. The Devils secured a power winger in Foote who was ranked as the game’s 28th-best prospect by our Future Watch scouting panel, and they used Tampa’s (Vancouver’s) first-round pick on an intriguing project in Mukhamadullin, a towering blueliner with a heavy shot and good mobility. 

TOP HEADLINES

Belarus
Play

The Right Call: Belarus Loses Worlds

It's official: the IIHF is changing hosts for the 2021 World Championship due to safety concerns in the European nation.

USATSI_15444061
Play

Five small-sample-size stats that already matter in 2020-21

Less than a week into the season, most stats don't carry much weight yet. But a few exceptions carry instantly important implications.

LeafsJets

A Lone Power Play Chance By Maple Leafs Sent a Message to the North Division

Although the Toronto Maple Leafs have issues they need to address, their lone power play in a win over the Winnipeg Jets should act as a warning to the rest of the North Division.