The 2014 NHL Trade Deadline

 

Canucks centre Ryan Kesler

Canucks centre Ryan Kesler

The NHL trade deadline is a day where mistakes are made. For Jets fans, our franchise forefathers provided a dramatic example of how deadline-day deals gone wrong can change the course of the franchise – for the worse.

Back in 2007, the Atlanta Thrashers were riding a high. They had a dynamic top-line which included superstar forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, they had a franchise goalie in Kari Lehtonen, and they were poised to make their first ever playoff appearance. With a single-minded focus on achieving playoff berth, General Manager Don Waddell made two ill-advised moves that set the team back, and ultimately, helped cost him his job.

On February 24th, 2007, Waddell traded 21-year-old defenceman Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia in exchange for 34-year-old veteran blueliner Alexei Zhitnik. The next day, he traded  Glen Metropolit and three draft picks in exchange for former all-star power forward, and then-current eating champion, Keith Tkachuk. In the very short-term, the move worked out, as Zhitnik and Tkatchuk helped Atlanta clinch the weak South-East division. But the Thrashers weren’t able to savour their achevement,  as they promptly lost in 4 straight games to the 6th seeded New York Rangers. Tkachuk would return to the Blues as a Free Agent the next year, while Zhitnik would play one more, largely unproductive season with the Thrashers and go home to play out his career in Russia. Meanwhile, Braydon Coburn would go on to become a very good, top-4 defenceman in Philadelphia, while the draft picks given up for 22 games worth of Keith Tkachuk could have been used to select players like Max Pacioretty, David Perron, and Derek Stepan. (Though there’s no guarantee that the Thrashers would have been smart enough to make any of those picks).

Now that isn’t to say that the trade deadline can’t be used intelligently by savvy GM’s. In 2006, the Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes made a few good moves, bringing in veteran forwards Mark Recchi and Doug Weight to fill the void left by Erik Cole, who missed several months with a broken neck. And in 2009, the cup-winning Pittsburgh brought in some linemates for Sydney Crosby, adding forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.  Boston brought in Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, who helped them win the Cup in 2011, while Los Angeles made a splash in 2012, bringing in sniper Jeff Carter in a blockbuster deal which sent Jack Johnson to Columbus.

However, in the last 8 years, those are the only four teams which made major moves at the deadline and succeeded in their quest for the cup. The other winning teams made only minor moves – if they made moves at all – while the other 5 or 10 teams ( per year!), who loaded up at the deadline, came away with nothing.

Now I understand when a team at the top of the league looks across at their major rival and tailors their moves towards that match-up. Pittsburgh knew their competition in the East last year was in Boston (as it is this year), and went out and got Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Doug Murray – three big veterans who they felt would help them match-up against the ‘Big Bad Bruins’. While I think they did a poor job identifying their needs – they needed a top-4 d-man and some help in net far more than they needed forwards – at least they were a true contender that was going for it all. What I really can’t understand – or accept – is when a team mortgages the future when they aren’t good enough to compete now, like the Thrashers did in 2007, and the Islanders did this year with the Thomas Vanek deal. (I don’t know if Garth Snow should be trusted to run a Bantam A3 team.)

This year, if I were a team not located in Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, or San Jose, I wouldn’t part with an asset higher than a 4th round pick, assuming the return is a rental player. While I could see a few other teams making a nice run, I don’t think any other teams have a shot to go all the way and win the cup, including the 1st place Anaheim Ducks. Let’s take a look at some of the players that should be available between now and Wednesday.

Top 20 Players Available – 2014 Trade Deadline

(20) Ryan Smyth – LW – Edmonton

After another disappointing season, the Edmonton Oilers are once again in sell-off mode. And while he isn’t the player he once was, Ryan Smyth could still be a veteran leader on a team that needs some forward depth in the bottom of their lineup. He won’t fetch much – maybe a 5th round pick – but hopefully he’ll get another shot to win the cup on a contending team.  

(19) Tom Gilbert – D – Florida

An underrated puck-moving defenceman, Gilbert will never be confused with a playoff warrior. On good teams, he’s a #5 defenceman, but if you need a right-handed defenceman to help your powerplay – like the New York Rangers, or the Boston Bruins – this is your man. His contract expires after this season, so he should come cheap at the deadline. He also looks a bit like Tom Petty, if that helps any.

(18) Marcel Goc – C – Florida

Once the most highly touted German-born player of all-time, Marcel Goc has turned into a reliable 3rd line centre who can fill in on the 2nd line in a pinch. He has a very reasonable cap hit at $1.7M (only $100,000 more than Jets 4th line centre, Jim Slater), and would be a nice addition for any team looking to bolster their depth down the middle. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made his way back to San Jose, the place where he began his career back in 2003.  

(17) Martin Erat – LW – Washington 

Martin Erat has been on the trade block for months. After an ill-fated trade deadline deal last year where the Capitals gave up their top prospect – Filip Forsberg – in order to pry Erat out of Nashville, Erat has struggled in Washington, and desperately wants out. But with so many teams up against the Salary Cap, and Erat’s $4.5M cap hit, the Caps have been unable to deal him thus far. For nearly a decade in Nashville, Erat was a solid 50-point scorer who could easily have reached 60 on a more offensive team. While those days me be behind him, he could still provide offensive depth, especially on the power play, where he likes to set up on the right half-wall and look for cross-seam passes. I’m sure there will be a taker by Wednesday, though Washington may have to retain part of his salary. This may be one of the last deals George McPhee makes as Caps GM, as his contract is set to expire at year’s end, and it’s unlikely to be renewed.   

(16) Lee Stempniak – RW – Calgary 

One of the more underrated wingers in the NHL, Stempniak was once a pretty good goal scorer in his St. Louis days, scoring 27 goals in 06-07, and 28 in 09-10. Since then, he’s been floating between a 2nd and 3rd line option, while becoming a fairly reliable, all-around player. A free agent in July, Stempniak won’t be highly sought after on Wednesday, but for a 3rd or 4th round pick, someone will be getting a good player, who’s just 30 years old. Anyone could be in the mix since the asking price isn’t high; Pittsburgh would be a fit.    

(15) Chris Phillips – D – Ottawa 

Drafted 1st overall in 1996, this franchise stalwart remains in Ottawa to this day, but those days might be numbered. With his contract up in July, Phillips’ agent is currently in negotiations with Sens GM Bryan Murray, and word on the street is he’ll be probably be traded if an extension isn’t reached by Wednesday. At 35 years of age, Phillips is that grizzled veteran defenceman who can provide depth for a contending team, and step into the top-4 if an injury takes place. Boston is the best bet to land Phillips if he becomes available, but Pittsburgh and San Jose would also make sense based on recent injuries to their blueline (Letang and Martin in Pit; Stuart in San Jose).  

(14) Brad Boyes  – RW – Florida 

Once a 40-goal scorer with the St. Louis Blues (07-08), Boyes’ stock has really dropped in the last few years. He struggled to get a contract this past off-season, with Florida’s measly 1-year, $1M being the best offer, or perhaps the only one. The investment has been a great one, as Boyes leads the offensively starved Panthers with 17 goals. He could fit in on almost any team’s second line and provide the kind of scoring depth that every team needs going into the playoffs. With the injury to Pascal Dupuis earlier the year, he’d be a great fit alongside Sydney Crosby in Pittsburgh, and it might only take a 3rd round pick to get him.

 

(13) Jaromir Jagr – RW – New Jersey 

The ageless wonder, Jagr continues to score and an age-defying pace, with 19 goals and 52 points through 62 games this season. At 41, he may not have a lot left in his legs after an 82-game season plus an Olympic appearance, but I’m sure there’s someone out there willing to take a chance. There’s always chatter about him going back to his roots in Pittsburgh, but a more likely option might be the Flyers, who loved the way he complemented Claude Giroux in his breakout season in 11-12. He’s a Free Agent after this season, so it won’t take a huge offer to get him should Lou Lamoriello choose to listen – a 2nd rounder may get it done.  

(12) Ales Hemsky – RW – Edmonton 

Since 2002, Ales Hemsky has known nothing beyond the copper and blue of the Edmonton Oilers. Highly touted coming out of junior, this puck magician burst out in 2006 with a 77 point season, helping the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup final where they lost in a tremendous 7 game series to Carolina. While he was normally around a point-per-game in the years that followed, he suffered a number of injuries, especially to his shoulder, and was replaced as the top-line right winger when Jordan Eberle emerged a few years ago. In the last year of his contract, it looks like Hemsky will be traded by Wednesday. Boston has been mentioned in years past because of his familiarity with fellow Czech player David Krejci, but I think the Bruins are more interested in adding to their defence after losing the vastly underrated Dennis Seidenberg for the rest of the year. Again, Pittsburgh could be a fit given the hole on the right side, but the asking price has to be right. A 3rd round pick would be a good gamble for this former impact player – he probably would have fetched a 1st round pick a few years ago.   

(11) Chris Stewart – RW – Buffalo  

You may be thinking, “didn’t Chris Stewart just get traded to Buffalo?” Yes, he certainly did. But shortly after the trade was made, Pierre Lebrun reported that the Sabres aren’t done, and may be looking to shop Stewart leading up to the deadline. I don’t blame Sabres GM Tim Murray, as Stewart is known for his heavily inconsistent play, and that’s not the kind of influence you want on the young players that will be coming in droves to Buffalo as they begin their rebuild in earnest. At his best, Stewart is a physical power forward with good hands and a nice scoring touch. He has already scored 28 goals twice, and is just 26 years old, but he has a tendency to take every second year off. With another year left on his contract worth $4.15M, the market for him may not be the top contending teams, as most of them are pressed for cap space. Montreal would be an interesting option, given their seemingly endless search to find players with size, although that normally ends in them adding more tiny players like Brian Gionta, David Desharnais, Danny Briere, and Brenden Gallagher.   

(10) David Legwand – C – Nashville 

After 14 years in a Nashville uni, it looks like the Predators will finally be parting with David Legwand. The 2nd overall pick in 1998, he was drafted immediately after Vinny Lecavalier, and never lived up the draft-day hype. That said, he has carved out a very good career for himself as a two-way, 2nd line centre, and would be a great addition for a lot of teams. With the Preds more or less out of playoff contention, and Legwand’s contract up this summer, he should be shopped hard leading up to Wednesday’s deadline. If Kesler truly is in play, whoever loses out on him might look to Legwand, so long as they believe they can sign him in the off-season. (Unlike Legwand, Kesler isn’t a rental). I don’t think he’ll quite garner a 1st round pick, but maybe a package of a 2nd rounder, and a decent prospect.  

(9) Matt Moulson – LW – Buffalo 

It’s been an interesting year for Matt Moulson. After several productive seasons with the Islanders alongside friend and linemate John Tavares, he was banished to Buffalo (along with a few high draft picks), in exchange for Thomas Vanek. As a pending free agent, it looks like he’ll be finding yet another NHL home in a few days. Underappreciated for a few years in Long Island, he has suddenly found a lot of love in hockey media circles, widely praised for his soft hands and his nose for the net. He’d be a nice addition to any team’s top-6, and one of  the potential suitors includes his former team, the Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings actually signed Moulson out of college in 2006, but after a few years split between the AHL and the NHL, they pronounced him a *tweener and let him walk, where he made his way to the Islanders and scored 30 goals three years in a row. Oops. 

*A tweener is a player who is too good for the AHL (or other non-NHL leagues), but who can’t make an impact in the NHL.  

(8) Christian Ehrhoff – D – Buffalo 

This puck moving defenceman is an interesting option for a number of reasons. Ehrhoff signed a 10-year, $40M deal with Buffalo in 2011, which was heavily front-loaded, with $13M in bonuses paid out in the first two years of the deal. That means that while the cap hit on the deal is $4M per year, the last seven years only amount to $18M, or ~ $2.5M per year. It’s pretty hard to get a solid puck-moving for $4M a year, nevermind $2.5M, so Ehrhoff will certainly peak the curiosity of a number of teams, depending on the asking price. He proved to be quite dangerous on the powerplay in Vancouver, where he scored 14 goals in back-to-back seasons. Given his lack of success in Buffalo, I don’t know if anyone will pony up a 1st round pick for him, but a 2nd rounder and a prospect would seem reasonable. Given that Ehrhoff isn’t a rental, the market for him won’t be limited to contending teams. That said, the Sabres may wait till the off-season to move him.  

(7) Marek Zidlicky – D – New Jersey 

Marek Zidlicky is one of the more underrated defencemen of his generation. For years, this puck-moving d-man played in defence-first systems in Nashville and Minnesota, and still managed to put up 40-to-50 points a year. At 37 years young, he continues to carry the mail, playing over 21 minutes a game and scoring 29 points through 59 games. Teams in the market for an experienced defenceman who can contribute in every zone need look no further. With New Jersey still technically in the playoff race, there’s no guarantee he’ll be shopped, but that could change very quickly as the Devils face a tall task, needing to climb over 4 teams to claim the last spot. As a playoff rental, he shouldn’t break the bank either – the asking price is probably a 2nd round pick plus another late pick or prospect. 

(6) Andrew MacDonald – D – New York I 

Andrew MacDonald is gonna get paid this off-season; the only question is who’s writing the cheque. Playing over 25-minutes per game, he’s been one of the lone bright spots on an Islanders team that looks poised to collect another lottery pick in this year’s draft. While he probably isn’t a top-two defenceman on a better team, MacDonald is a smart, polished defenceman with sneaky offensive ability who would fit in any team’s top-4. And best of all, at age 27, his best years are still ahead of him. It will take a 1st round pick to pry him away, and the team giving up that pick may want some assurance that he’ll be amenable to a contract extension in his new home. A lot of teams will have Garth Snow on speed dial between now and Wednesday.  

(5) Marian Gaborik – RW – Columbus 

With his lack of recent success, it’s easy to forget that Marian Gaborik is a three-time 40-goal scorer in the NHL. He’s already played 13 seasons in the NHL despite being only 31, and has scored almost 350 goals in his career. But the years have not been kind to Gaborik’s body, as he has missed large stretches due to injury, especially since 08-09. His brief time in Columbus has been a bust, but he’s only two years removed from his last 40-goal season, and there’s always the hope that a player with his abundance of speed and scoring ability could recapture some of his former greatness. I’m sure the Blue Jackets would be happy to mitigate some of the loss they took on this trade – which sent former 1st round picks Derick Brassard  and John Moore to New York at last year’s deadline. There a number of interesting fits for Gaborik which all come with their issues – LA and Pittsburgh could certainly use some scoring off the wing, but they’d have trouble squeezing his $7.5M salary under the cap. He’d be an intriguing fit in Vancouver with the Sedins, but the Canucks may be going into a rebuild and might not want a rental player.  Detroit could use a proven scorer to go along with their young guns, but they tend to hoard their draft picks and refuse to make mistakes at the deadline. Ultimately, Jarmo Kekalainen may decide to keep Gaborik if he can’t get a good return, particularly since the Jackets are battling for their second playoff berth in franchise history.  

(4) Mike Cammalleri – LW – Calgary 

With all the talk about Callahan, Kesler, and Vanek, Mike Cammalleri might be the most underrated player on trade deadline day. A two-time 80-point scorer, Cammalleri has also been money come playoff time, with 17 goals and 32 points in 32 career playoff games. Still only 31 years old, Cammalleri is akin to a poor man’s Marty St. Louis – an undersized sniper who makes the most of his small frame. There’s talk of him landing in Los Angeles – the place where he began his career – but the Flames would need to retain part of his salary to make that work, as LA is close to the cap ceiling.  

(3) Ryan Callahan – RW – New York R 

When the news came out a few weeks ago that Rangers GM Glen Sather was allowing Callahan’s agent to contact other teams about a possible sign-and-trade arrangement, a lot of people began to speculate. Early word was that he was headed to St. Louis, making the Blues an even more formidable playoff adversary. Then the rumour was that he was headed to Tampa Bay for Marty St. Louis, which caused an incredulous Phil Esposito – once the GM of both the Rangers and Lightning, just about lose his mind. (If you haven’t heard the sound bite, it’s hilarious). The only reason the Rangers captain is on the block is due to his reportedly outrageous contract demands, rumoured to be 6-7 years, and $6.5-$7M per year. I’m sure 30 NHL teams would love to have Callahan for 4 years at $5M, but with his abrasive, injury inducing style of play, and his limited offensive ability, a long-term deal at nearly $7M is more of a joke. Sather is playing hardball with the Callahan camp, insisting that he’ll be dealt if an extension isn’t reached by Wednesday. The only problem is that no one is going to give up a king’s ransom for Callahan if they can’t sign him too, and who wants to sign a guy asking for almost $2M more than he’s worth? I have a feeling Callahan will end up staying in New York for a deal similar to Dan Girardi, who signed last week for 6 years, $5.5M per.

(2) Thomas Vanek – LW – New York I 

It’s time for Garth Snow to undo some of the damage he’s caused this franchise, which most recently included his massive bumbling of this year’s Vanek deal, where he gave up a potentially signable Matt Moulson, along with 1st and 2nd round draft picks. With Vanek spurning the Islanders contract offer, and the team descending to the depths of the Metropolitan division, it has only furthered the perception that Garth Snow is ill-suited to run this team. To make matters worse, it is widely rumoured that Vanek’s preferred destination is Minnesota, the place where he played college hockey. If that’s true, then the Wild aren’t likely to give up a bevy of picks in order to acquire a player whom they can sign for nothing come July, and the rest of the league won’t want to give up significant assets for a rental player whose heart is elsewhere. Despite all that, I’m sure the Isles will get a 1st rounder for Vanek, even as a rental, but that’s not a huge return for a player of his caliber.  

(1) Ryan Kesler – C – Vancouver 

Things are starting to get ugly in Vancouver. After five straight division titles, and years of perennial contention, the Canucks look like they won’t even reach the post-season this year. And with a dearth of talented youngsters in the system, the rebuild has to begin in earnest. Fortunately, there is no better piece to dangle than Ryan Kesler – a rugged, talented, and playoff-tested performer who comes second only to Patrice Bergeron for the moniker of “best second line centre” in the league. With two years left on a very reasonable deal which pays him $5M per year, Kesler will command a hefty return – a promising young roster player to fill his role on the 2nd line, along with a 1st round draft pick and some other picks to pad the deal. The most persistent rumours have him going to Pittsburgh, with Brandon Sutter going the other way, or to Columbus, because he played college hockey at Ohio State. The Columbus rumour is laughable, as Ryan Johansen is mentioned as part of the deal, but there’s no chance that Columbus will give up on Johansen, who looks to be a bona fide 1st line centre. However, if the Canucks were okay with Brandon Dubinsky or Artem Anisimov, then the Blue Jackets would be happy to oblige them. The major sticking point is that Kesler has a full no-trade clause, so he controls where he ends up. Chances are he’ll be looking to go to a contender, and many of those teams are currently strapped for cap space. As a result, this deal might have to wait till the off-season. 

 

Other Players Under Discussion 

Martin St. Louis – RW – Tampa Bay 

Tampa looks like a sure-fire playoff team, and with Steven Stamkos’ return imminent, trading St. Louis would be akin to giving up on the playoff run. If there truly is resentment behind the scenes between Yzerman and St. Louis, a deal will come in the off-season.  

Andrei Markov – D – Montreal 

I don’t think this long-time Canadien is going anywhere. He’s a pillar of the Montreal defence along with P.K Subban, and with the Habs near the top of the Eastern Conference, trading Markov would take the wind out of their sails. That said, if they can’t re-sign him in the off-season, they might deal his rights before July 1. 

Paul Stastny- C – Colorado 

With Stastny’s contract up in July, and Matt Duchene and Nate Mackinnon entrenched as the top-2 centres for the next decade, many people don’t see an extension coming for Paul Stastny. That said, unless the return is huge, they’ll keep him for the playoff run. Plus, with a mountain of cap space in the off-season, they might decide to keep him anyway. 

Tyler Myers – D – Buffalo

 Back in 2010, everything was coming up Myers, as the 19-year-old rearguard won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie. But since then, things have gone downhill both for Myers and the Sabres, as a steadily weakening team demanded more from a green, 20-something d-man, while providing him none of the supports needed to grow and refine his game. Still just 24, the smooth skating, 6’8 behemoth would be a giant pick-up (PI), for a team looking for a potential top-pairing defender (note: every team is looking for a potential top-pairing defender). Colorado has been mentioned as a natural fit, with their abundance of talented young forwards and lack of defenders, but don’t think that Duchene, Landeskog, or Mackinnon would be included in such a deal. Perhaps Ryan O’Reilly could be a part of the mix though. Again, this type of deal is more likely to happen at the NHL Entry Draft in late June, rather than at the trade deadline.   

Cam Ward – G – Carolina 

With the exception of Roberto Luongo, no goaltender needs a change of scenery more than Cam Ward. The 2006 Conn Smythe winning goaltender has really fallen from grace in the past few years, as injuries have ravaged his career, and a lack of post-season play has probably taken a mental toll as well. But with two years left at $6.3M, it’s hard to imagine many teams having great interest, particularly at the deadline. Perhaps the market will widen in the off-season, as teams re-evaluate their needs, and more importantly, their budget.  

Martin Brodeur – G – New Jersey 

Colour me surprised if Brodeur moves at the deadline. He’s played in New Jersey since 1993, and there aren’t many teams looking for a starting goalie. I really can’t see Lou Lamoriello trading Brodeur for a draft pick if he’s going to that team as a back-up. On the other hand, with Cory Schneider entrenched as the current and future Devils’ starter, trading Brodeur would give him the out he needs to look for another opportunity in the off-season, without looking like the bad guy who walks away from his long-time home. (Unlike Mats Sundin, who refused a trade out of Toronto and then walked away the next year via free agency.)

 

Blame it on the Bug

How the injury bug took a bite out of the Canucks Stanley Cup hopes

Anytime a good team loses in the playoffs, they’re hesitant to use the “I” word – injuries. The traditional hockey media has permanently associated the word “injury” with another term – “excuse”. The implication is that even when a team incurs a series of costly injuries, they’re not allowed to “use injuries as an excuse”. And I don’t fully understand why. Firstly, the only reason one would use an ‘excuse’ is when there’s some kind of positive consequence to be derived, i.e “my dog ate my homework” is supposed to keep you out of the detention you could receive for not doing your homework. When a coach, GM, or player admits that their team were suffering through some injuries, it doesn’t make any difference – they’ve already lost, and there isn’t very much to gain from making such a statement.

That’s why in this case I’d prefer to use the term explanation. Is there a good explanation for why the President’s Trophy winning team, who was dominant all season long in the league’s toughest conference, was outscored 21-4 in the last five games of the Stanley Cup Final? Continue reading