Pittsburgh Penguins (Daniel Winnik), Winnipeg Jets (Jiri Tlusty) and Los Angeles Kings (Andrej Sekera) all make key trades in the NHL's pre-deadline rush.
No, Wednesday was not the NHL's trade deadline, but a trio of deals sure made it feel that way.
In the day's first action, the Maple Leafs shipped versatile forward Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh in exchange for minor leaguer Zach Sill, a fourth-round pick in 2015 and a second-rounder in 2016. Toronto also retained half of Winnik's remaining $1.3 million pro-rated salary in the deal.
Winnik is a solid add for the Pens. A big-bodied winger who can play all three forward positions, he always seems to be on the right side of the puck. He's a streaky scorer, but he led Toronto in even-strength assists this season, suggesting he's worthy of an audition alongside Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin. But if his offense dries up or the chemistry's not there, Winnik can rely on his defensive smarts and penalty killing skills to fit into a depth role. And he comes at a decent value.
Pens GM Jim Rutherford held on to his second rounder in 2015—critical for a team that had already dealt its first-, third- and now fourth-rounder—and thanks to Toronto's salary retention he left himself enough room under the cap to make at least one more deal, likely for a defenseman.
It's a decent but risky transaction for the Leafs. Sill, a pending unrestricted free agent, is an entertaining albeit marginal player but they managed to stockpile two picks, including that 2016 second rounder. No doubt GM Dave Nonis would have preferred that pick to be in this year's draft, but the fourth makes up for having to wait. There's no guarantee they get an NHL player with either of those selections but in terms of the market, this was about as good a return as the Leafs could expect.
Tlusty, headed for unrestricted free agency in the summer, fills a need on the wing for a Jets team that recently dealt Evander Kane to the Sabres, lost Mathieu Perreault for the season and currently has Blake Wheeler on the sidelines.
The former first-round selection by the Leafs is a frustratingly streaky scorer (23 points in 52 games this season), and that could see him bouncing from the second to the third line. But he's an excellent possession driver (54% on a bad Carolina team) and a solid defensive player, so he'll bring something to the table even when he's not lighting the lamp.
Tlusty is not a sexy add, but he's a proven NHL player and he's familiar with Paul Maurice (he spent three seasons under Winnipeg's coach in Carolina). That suggests he's a player Maurice understands and trusts.
The 'Canes, engaging in a rebuild of their own, had to settle for a couple of draft assets. Sure, both are mid-round crapshoots, but GM Ron Francis probably maxed out the return on a player he was unlikely to re-sign this summer.
The day's third deal was the real head-turner: the Kings sent a first-round pick (2015 if they make the playoffs, 2016 if they don't) and prospect Roland McKeown to the Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Andrej Sekera.
It's a bold strike for the defending champs. In a league where virtually every playoff-bound team was looking to add blueline help, the Kings grabbed the player that topped virtually every wish list. The 28-year-old pending UFA is the prototypical puck moving defender, a smooth skater who distributes the biscuit efficiently and reads the play well without a lot of flash. He keeps it simple, but it's his ability to limit mistakes that makes him such an ideal fit for Darryl Sutter's system.
A left-handed shot, Sekera could fit onto the top pair alongside Drew Doughty, allowing aging veteran Robyn Regehr to slide down to the third pair and move Brayden MacNabb into a depth role. This makes a team tha tis currently on a eight-game winning streak look nearly invincible heading into the home stretch.
The rewards aren't so imminent for Francis, but this is a big win for the Hurricanes as well. Depending on how the Kings finish the season, this pick could land somewhere in the 18-22 range. That's a very valuable asset in a draft that offers some very compelling talent deep into the first round.
Adding McKeown is a huge plus. The 50th pick in last summer's draft, the 19-year-old blueliner was originally tabbed as a likely first rounder. Currently the captain of the Kingston Frontenacs, he's a strong skater with solid offensive instincts who projects as a two-way player. He could eventually slot onto Carolina's second pair.
All things considered, that's a solid day for the rookie GM. It's also a good day for other teams looking to sell off defenders like Edmonton (Jeff Petry), Columbus (James Wisniewski) and Phoenix (Zbynek Michalek). Based on what we saw on Wednesday, they could be in for some very aggressive returns as well.