Typically, the NHL trade deadline is in March; this year is no different, with March 4 the do-or-deal date.
But it’s also typical for teams to pull off a few trades in the weeks leading up to the deadline, as clubs try to get ahead before the madness takes over. Carolina, for example, brought in veteran center Doug Weight about a month before the deadline in 2006 and the crafty playmaker helped the Hurricanes go on to Stanley Cup glory.
This season, the Montreal Canadiens kicked off the unofficial start to the trade frenzy when they obtained defenseman Mathieu Schneider - a Habs draft pick way back in 1987 - from Atlanta on Feb. 16. There were other NHL trades, of course, before and after the Schneider move, but the timing of that deal – and the fact he’s one of the most significant players to be dealt this season – defines it as the trade that woke up the rest of the league’s GMs.
Schneider, brought in to help the power play and stabilize the dressing room, cost Montreal a second- and third-round draft pick. That’s a hefty price tag for a rental player who turns 40 in June, but if Schneider re-ignites the power play and helps the Habs settle down, GM Bob Gainey will be more than satisfied. As for Don Waddell, it’s somewhat curious he pulled the trigger – conventional wisdom says to wait until the last possible moment so as to encourage teams to outbid each other – but the Thrashers GM was able to realize a couple of decent draft picks; surely, he wasn’t going to get much more than that.
In the 10 days since the Schneider trade, there have been two more notable deals and one minor swap, and several players have switched teams via waivers. The Ottawa Senators, hoping for a miraculous turnaround, acquired center Mike Comrie and defenseman Chris Campoli from the Islanders on Feb. 20 in exchange for veteran Dean McAmmond and San Jose’s first round pick in June (somewhere in the No. 25-30 range). On Feb. 26, the Pittsburgh Penguins sent defenseman Ryan Whitney, under contract for four more seasons at $4 million per, to Anaheim for winger Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi.
Both deals tell a story. The Sens, it seems, still believe they can make the playoffs despite a forgettable first 50 games of the season. And it’s a trade down memory lane for Comrie; Ottawa also acquired him midway through 2006-07 and he went along for the ride to the Stanley Cup final. Meantime, Campoli should help the Sens address their need for a puck-moving blueliner who can man the point on the power play.
For the Isles, it’s “Everything must go!” as the sorry franchise’s perpetual rebuilding process approaches its 25th birthday (which, it should be noted, is older than many of the players on the Islanders roster). The draft pick, which was San Jose’s, will be no higher 28th overall and is interesting in that it helps set the stage for future trade negotiations.
With Comrie and McAmmond both set for unrestricted free agency this summer, the deal is almost Campoli-for-a late-first-round-pick (OK, not quite, because Comrie is worth more than McAmmond, even as a two-month rental.) So Campoli, at 24 years old and under contract for $633,333 next season, is (almost) worth a late first round pick, while Schneider, at 39 and a UFA on July 1, cost a second- and a third-rounder.
Whitney, meanwhile, cost Anaheim a top-two-line winger in Kunitz and a solid prospect in Tangradi (the big Ontario League left winger, drafted 42nd overall in 2007, was the Ducks’ second-highest rated prospect and ranked No. 46 overall in THN’s Future Watch 2009). But what’s interesting is what this trade means, for both the Ducks and the Penguins.
For starters, it frees up some money for the salary-capped Penguins and opens the door for Kris Letang and (eventually) Alex Goligoski to handle puck-rushing duties – along with veteran Sergei Gonchar, of course. And in Kunitz, Pittsburgh gets another player to audition on Sidney Crosby’s wing; the Miroslav Satan experiment, at this point, can safely be called a failure. If Kunitz doesn’t jive with Crosby, who knows, maybe Tangradi gets a crack in training camp next season.
As well, it’s a sure indicator that Anaheim plans to move either Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer – maybe even both – by Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. (ET). Are you listening, NHL GMs? Two of the best defensemen in the world (OK, maybe not based on their performance this season, but they’re still Pronger-Niedermayer) are up for grabs, and whichever team lands one of these guys will take a gigantic step towards Cup contention. Of course, such moves would surely cripple Anaheim’s chances this season, but the incoming assets might help set up the Ducks for a decade of Stanley-chasing.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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