It’s safe to say the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline was an entertaining one. A flurry of late deals saw a significant number of big names change teams as contenders stockpile for the stretch run as the sellers fill their cupboards with picks and prospects for the future.
The toughest thing about declaring winners and losers at a trade deadline, draft or in free agency is that there are so many levels on which a deal can be judged. The New York Rangers are a better team today with Martin St. Louis, but the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely be the true winners of the deal as they picked up at least one first round pick that could become two.
Now, if the Rangers were to win the Cup the point would be moot. The Rangers would have accomplished what they set out to do by making this trade. That’s what is so fascinating about the deadline. You have winners and losers once the dust settles, but six months later the tables are turned and those losers are suddenly reaping the benefits of the trade they made at the previous deadline.
This year’s deadline produced a number of big trades and a handful of teams distinguished themselves when all was said and done on Wednesday.
Montreal Canadiens – The Habs needed to find additional scoring to bolster their top-six heading into the stretch run. If they hoped to compete with teams like Boston and Pittsburgh, additional offense was going to be key. They added a major piece for a low price, acquiring Thomas Vanek from the Islanders for just a second round pick and a prospect. It was not only a trade that addressed Montreal’s immediate need with the most coveted player on the trade block. Paying the minimal price they did to the Islanders makes this that much more of a great move.
St. Louis Blues – The Blues only made one trade, but it was a big one. They acquired Ryan Miller, who is expected to put them over the top in net along with some added grit and character in Steve Ott. They paid quite a bit for the pair, sending the Sabres a handful of pieces that included picks and players. However, the Blues unloaded Chris Stewart who never quite found his game in St. Louis and Jaroslav Halak, a goalie who didn’t pan out the way they expected when he was signed as a free agent. This trade should give the Blues the final pieces to make a serious push for the Cup, now they just need to find their way out of the ultra-talented Western Conference.
Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres are winners simply because of the way Tim Murray stocked his cupboards for the future. He unloaded five unrestricted free agents for players with term on their contracts and additional picks and prospects. The Sabres hold four first round picks in the next two drafts and that has the potential to grow to five if the Blues make the Conference Finals or re-sign Miller prior to the draft (a condition in the Miller trade). Buffalo is well positioned for a high pick in the 2014 draft and they hold two picks in what’s expected to be a deep draft in 2015. While they’re lurking near the bottom of the league today, these moves set them up well for the future.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Good on Steve Yzerman for unloading a headache and getting an impressive return for him. Clearly Martin St. Louis didn’t want to remain in Tampa and Yzerman was able to snag a first and second round pick with a trick set of conditions that could see another first round pick added to the stockpile. Ryan Callahan is a nice addition but I’d be very surprised if he chooses to re-sign in Tampa. The one thing the Bolts missed on was replacing some of St. Louis’ scoring with another addition. That could serve as a challenge for the rest of this season.
Minnesota Wild – Much in the way Montreal addressed their needs by paying a relatively low price, Minnesota did the same. Giving up two second round picks for Matt Moulson and only a fourth to bolster their goaltending depth with Ilya Bryzgalov was a nice way to manage the deadline for Chuck Fletcher. Byrzgalov represents a slight gamble compared to some of the other goaltenders on the market, but it was such a low price that he managed to avoid overpaying for a rental in net.
New York Islanders – This is an easy one. Garth Snow waited until the 11th hour to move Thomas Vanek and didn’t wind up with the value many expected him to fetch. In fact, he didn’t even get the same value he paid for the sniper. In the end, he turned Matt Moulson, a conditional (2014 or 2015) first round pick and a 2015 second round pick into a 2014 second round pick and Sebastian Collberg. Not a good end to the trade season for Snow and the Islanders.
Vancouver Canucks – Mike Gillis keeps finding new and interesting ways to surprise the hockey world. After blinking first at last year’s draft, he traded Cory Schneider for a first round pick in hopes of ending his team’s goaltending circus once and for all. Less than a year later Roberto Luongo is out the door for a relatively minimal return from the Florida Panthers. It’s an ugly situation in Vancouver that’s bound to get worse as they’ve gone from Western Conference contender to a team in retooling mode overnight.
Colorado Avalanche – They’re a borderline addition to this end of the list as they could have easily stood pat and moved forward with the team they have built. However, they decided to ship a second round pick to Calgary for Reto Berra, a goaltender who has upside but clearly hasn’t settled into the NHL game just yet. It’s a steep price to pay for a backup goaltender when other positions could have provided the Avs a bigger impact this season.