If you’re into marathon live TV events, Sunday night’s endless Oscars broadcast may have proven a lovely segue into Monday morning/afternoon’s National Hockey League trade deadline coverage – for those of us in Canada, anyway. Due to some big moves earlier in the week, we limped our way toward Monday’s 3pm ET deadline on NHL trades, making for empty, empty hours of TV programming. The most captivating moment Monday might have been when TSN’s hockey broadcast team took to firing a t-shirt cannon at a number of staff members gathered off-camera. It for SportsCentre co-host Jennifer Hedger.
Still, those few major moves might allow us to guess at some possible winners and losers out of all this. Let’s review them.
New York Rangers
The trade: Carolina send captain Eric Staal to New York in exchange for Aleksi Saarela and two second-round draft picks.
While not necessarily a foregone conclusion, Eric Staal’s move to the came as little surprise when it happened pn Saturday. Staal was due to be a free agent at the end of this season (at the end of a seven-year $55.75m deal), and the Carolina Hurricanes, whom he captained and for whom he has played for 12 seasons, had a decision to make: as a team far from guaranteed a playoff berth but not yet entirely out of the running, what’s to be done with a franchise player like Staal? Do you trade him, free up some money, and start thinking about next year? Or do you keep him, and hope a final push for the playoffs pays off? Keep in mind: Staal’s numbers of late have been rather modest – he’s managed only five points in his last 15 games.
So how is this a win for the Rangers? Once again, they’re a post-season contender, however, any route to the conference final will probably go through the Washington Capitals. The Capitals are good – very good – and while the Rangers have bested the Caps before in the post-season, this year Washington are formidable. They hold the top spot in the conference, a comfortable 18 points ahead of their closest rivals, the Rangers and Panthers. Staal, though not as fresh as he was, helps the Rangers up the middle and has proven playoff experience. The Rangers are known for going long in series, and if that happens again, Staal’s experience and leadership could count for a lot. And though he hasn’t done so recently, he can score. To only give up a couple of second-round picks down the road and a guy currently playing in Finland, the Rangers have grabbed a great asset in the short term.
The trade: Panthers acquire forward Jiri Hudler from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a second-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2018
Hudler was to be an unrestricted free agent as he ended a four-year contract with the Flames, so he was considered trade bait going into the deadline. The Flames moved him to Florida Saturday, and the Panthers will try to use his experience to help their young team make a good run into the playoffs (his role in helping Calgary linemates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau hone their skills will not have gone unnoticed). The Panthers are currently atop the Atlantic division, but only just above their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hudler’s point production has declined this year from last, when he was tied for eighth in scoring with 76 points. He also picked up the Lady Byng trophy last year, which is awarded for sportsmanship. Which is to say that when he’s on, he can be a good asset. Florida gave up very little for a player who can help them when they need it most. The Panthers have made the playoffs only once since 2001. They might as well try their best to make this (probable) trip a good one. Giving up two draft picks seems a good price to pay to help make that happen.
Toronto Maple Leafs/San Jose Sharks
The trade: Goaltender James Reimer and forward Jeremy Morin to the in exchange for goaltender Alex Stalock, forward Ben Smith, and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2018.
Declaring the Leafs winners hasn’t happened in a while, but at least when it comes to personnel moves, there’s a trend developing. Earlier, the Leafs off-loaded captain and , Dion Phaneuf, to the Ottawa Senators, to the delight of Leafs fans who’d tired of him, and to the mild dismay of Sens fans who now have a former, expensive, Leaf on their team. Getting rid of James Reimer isn’t quite as big as that deal, but it’s significant in at least one way: at least the day-to-day goaltender fidgeting in Toronto is over – for now. Reimer leaves behind Jonathan Bernier to fill in (presumably) full-time as the Leafs decide whether (or how) to make best use of some of their more promising goaltending prospects as they dive-bomb out of the season and into the draft lottery.
The Leafs aren’t the only ones who get to breathe some fresh air, however. Reimer’s move to San Jose will mean that, though he’ll be a backup for Martin Jones, he’ll get more time and experience on a playoff-bound team. And for all the Leafs failings, Reimer’s numbers aren’t that bad. He’s posted a .918 save percentage (though his goals-against average is a bleak 2.49) over 32 games so far this season. One assumes with a better team in front of him, he may improve. Having a clearer idea of his role in San Jose might help too, mentally. Also, in California, fewer people will likely attack his wife for no good reason. And it’s sunnier and warmer. Maybe Reimer is the winner, here.
The trade: Winnipeg trades captain Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Marko Dano, a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a conditional draft pick in 2018.
Oh, man. Everyone is basically crying in Winnipeg. Needless to say, Ladd was a big part of the Jets organization, having arrived as its captain when the franchise moved from Atlanta, and been not only a major leader in point totals, but on the ice, too. Prior to his stint in Winnipeg, however, Ladd was a Blackhawk, and helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010. But while this is a nice homecoming for Ladd in the city where he achieved such great success, his departure leaves a giant hole in the Jets lineup and, apparently, in their hearts.
CBC News Jets’ 22-year old centreman Mark Scheifele’s “voice cracked more than once as he talked about Ladd being a major influence on his career”. Chris Thorburn said, “he’s a guy that’s a great person, a great player, but most importantly, he’s a great friend – not just to me but to everyone here.” And head coach Paul Maurice said Ladd was “a hell of a captain for us.” Ah, geez.
Anyway, with the Jets mired in the basement of the West, sandwiched between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers – a position to living in a single room above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley – Winnipeg has perhaps admitted with this move that it needs a (minor?) dreaded rebuild. Or, at the very least, that it will be a mopey finish to 2016.
Pittsburgh Penguins (probably?)
The trade: Pittsburgh acquires defenceman Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2016.
What on earth happened here? Justin Schultz came to Edmonton sporting high praise – the highest, actually. After bringing Schultz aboard in Edmonton, former Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish virtually guaranteed Schultz would be the best defenceman in the league: “I think that Justin has Norris trophy potential and I don’t think there are too many people who disagree with me in that regard,” . And while hindsight might be 20/20, and we could be doing some revisionist history if we claimed anyone really felt much differently, it is surprising just how badly Schultz bottomed-out in Edmonton – to the point where, in recent weeks, Oilers fans took to in their own building. Ouch.
And while Schultz might get a fresh start in Pittsburgh, he has a lot to overcome, even if it’s just in perception. On Monday afternoon on TSN, Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons said: “In my opinion, Justin Schultz was the worst player in the this season.” Simmons granted that Schultz may improve in the next few years, but at that point it was very faint praise indeed. As another TSN pundit pointed out: If you can’t make it as a defenceman in Edmonton, how can you have a chance anywhere else?
So, what are Pittsburgh thinking here? Well, Schultz did have promise. In his 34 games of a protracted American Hockey League season in 2012-13, he posted 48 points, and he managed 33 points in the 2013-14 season with the Oilers. Can he improve? Maybe. Might it take time? Maybe. Why Pittsburgh might be looking for a long-term defensive project right now is anyone’s guess. One can only assume they don’t see it that way.
The trade: There wasn’t one – .
OTHER NOTABLE MOVES
Bruins add depth: The Bruins picked up forward Lee Stempniak from the New Jersey Devils Monday in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2016, and a second-round draft pick in 2017. They also added defenceman John-Michael Liles from the Hurricanes in exchange for forward Anthony Camara and two draft picks. The Bruins are looking to hang on to their current playoff berth – they sit third overall in the Atlantic division – and shore up some talent to take them into the playoffs. Sempniak has become a bit of a journeyman (this will be his sixth team in three seasons), but can still score. Combined, these trades are for depth, which is something the Bruins are short on at the moment.
Sabres trade with Anaheim Ducks: The Buffalo Sabres sent forward Jamie McGinn to the Ducks at the last minute Monday in exchange for, uh, not a lot? In return, the Ducks offered a conditional draft pick – either a third-round pick in 2016, or if the Ducks make the conference finals (and McGinn has played in more than half those playoff games), a second-round pick in 2017. McGinn had back surgery in 2014, but had rebounded recently and has picked up 27 points this year. Anaheim benefits here with a strong forward, the kind they usually enjoy. The Ducks started the season terribly, but have hit a stride of late, and now sit second in the Pacific division, having gone 9-0-1 in their last 10. McGinn will be a good addition.
Calgary picks up a goaltender (sort of): Fresh off losing goaltender Karri Ramo for the remainder of the season, the Calgary Flames dealt forward David Jones to the Minnesota Wild Monday in exchange for goaltender Niklas Backstrom and a sixth-round draft pick in 2016. But, will Backstrom actually play for Calgary, or was this a move to free up some space on the bench in Calgary and acquire another pick this year? Backstrom hasn’t played all year in Minnesota, so there’s reason to think he won’t in Calgary, either. It appears this move was the Wild taking Jones (who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season) on loan as they try to shore up a playoff spot.