Fizzle Over Flash: Buyers Opt For Restraint At NHL Trade Deadline
On Monday, March 2nd, at 3pm (EST), business closed on the National Hockey League's busiest trade deadline day in five years, solidifying 24 deals around 43 players and 21 draft picks – but ultimately resulting in more fizzle than flash.
The dead calm on deadline day was produced in part by a handful of general managers who had already inked prominent deals in the weeks leading up to the deadline, eager to get out ahead of the pack, effecting an atmosphere of anti–climax on March 2nd that sports networks did their best to hype for fans. Despite the absence of marquee moves, deadline day divided the league into buyers and sellers, causing multiple roster ripples – the effects of which won't be clear until the post–season.
The biggest buyer on trade deadline day was the Anaheim Ducks, the team that many experts have blue–ribboned as the deadline's top winner. The Ducks bolstered their blueline by acquiring James Wisniewski (pictured above in 2009-10, the last time he played for the Ducks) from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forwards Rene Bourque and William Karlsson (plus draft picks); and Simon Despres from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Ben Lovejoy (plus draft picks). The moves are expected to right the forward–favouring lean of the Ducks' roster, providing veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin with some much–needed support. The Ducks also added some defensive depth by dealing defenceman Eric Brewer to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the much younger blueliner Korbinian Holzer. The Ducks made some significant pre–deadline moves as well, trading the under–achieving Dany Heatley (right–wing) to the Florida Panthers for Tomas Fleischmann (left–wing) on February 28th. Heatley, a former fifty–goal–scorer, failed to live up to lofty expectations in Anaheim, and with an offensive corps that already includes Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, and Andrew Cogliano, the Ducks could afford to cash in their chips on Heatley. On 24th February, the Ducks dealt grinder Devante Smith–Pelly (left–wing) to the Montreal Canadiens for fleet–skated Jiri Sekac (right–wing), a Czech prospect who is projected to add more speed and unpredictability to the Ducks' attack.
The Minnesota Wild are also going for broke this year, establishing themselves as another big buyer at the trade deadline. The Wild got the ball rolling way back on 14th January, dealing with their ongoing goalie uncertainty by picking up Devan Dubnyk from the Phoenix Coyotes for a third–round pick. After a disappointing tenure with the Edmonton Oilers and a so–so term with the Coyotes, Dubnyk was quick to establish himself as the Wild's number–one backstop, compiling a remarkable record of eighteen wins and only four losses since signing with the club. The Wild know that if Dubnyk falters or succumbs to injury down the stretch, their backup, Niklas Backstrom, a former Vezina Trophy finalist, has the skill set and experience to man the pipes in Dubnyk's absence. On 24th February, the Wild started bolstering their skaters by trading with the Panthers, picking up left–winger Sean Bergenheim for a third–round pick. Bergenheim is a depth player, having amassed eighteen points in thirty–nine games with the Panthers before being shipped to St Paul. The Wild also traded for veteran defender Jordan Leopold, dealing Justin Falk to the Blue Jackets in return, a move that is expected to add secondary support to the team's primary blueline presence, Ryan Suter. The Wild finished off their roster renovations by swapping a second–round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for right–winger Chris Stewart, a big–bodied power–forward viewed by Wild GM Chuck Fletcher as a step in adding grit to the team – without sacrificing too much secondary scoring. Many expected Stewart to end up with the Boston Bruins, citing him as a perfect prototype of the Beantown model, but GM Peter Chiarelli clearly felt that the cost of adding Stewart to the Bruins' roster was too dear.
St Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks & Boston Bruins
Others teams to establish themselves as buyers – albeit budget–wary ones – included the St Louis Blues, the Montreal Canadiens, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Bruins. The Blues strengthened their middle by acquiring veteran centreman Olli Jokinen from the Maple Leafs for Joakim Lindstrom and a conditional sixth–round pick, and German centreman Marcel Goc from the Penguins (on 27th January) for Maxim Lapierre. The Blues also made one of the minor splashes on deadline day by trading for defenceman Zbynek Michalek, sending centreman Maxim Letunov to the Coyotes in return. The Blues, who currently hold the seventh spot in NHL standings, only four points behind the league–leading Ducks, hope that Michalek will push their already–imposing defence corps – a la Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman, and Ian Cole – over the top and make the team a true Cup contender.
Speaking of Lord Stanley's highly coveted mug, the Canadiens gave themselves the best chance of returning it to the Great White North – since they themselves won it back in 1993 – by adding forwards Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn (from the Sabres for picks), and defenceman Jeff Petry (from the Oilers for picks). None of the picks – examined individually – have the sizzle to make the team an instant Cup–favourite, but taken collectively, they might pack enough punch to dispel the nagging criticism that the Canadiens, who presently sit second overall, are playing beyond their paygrade.
The Blackhawks, always contenders, sought to lengthen their run of dominance by participating in the Coyotes' fire sale, picking up centreman Antoine Vermette for defender Klas Dahlbeck. The Blackhawks further boosted their middle by trading for Andrew Desjardins, sending winger Ben Smith to the San Jose Sharks to uphold their end of the deal. A few days before the deadline, the Blackhawks acquired defenceman Kimmo Timonen from the Philadelphia Flyers. Pushing nearly forty years of age, Timonen will add an additional leadership voice to the Blackhawks' dressing room, and his point–every–other–game offensive output is expected to buttress the squad's secondary scoring. The Blackhawks, sitting in ninth spot overall with eighty–four points, have the rare luxury of a young roster with plenty of experience thanks to their recent Cup wins in 2010 and 2013. Can they beat the Los Angeles Kings in the race to become the only team to win three Stanley Cups in the same decade for the first time since the Oilers championship era of the 1980s? The Blackhawks' moves on trade deadline day – although understated in scope – are more likely to help than hinder their chances.