Many have lamented the lost art of the NHL trade in the salary cap era, but 2011 was a sign that wheeling and/or dealing remain valuable ways to build a hockey team, either long or short-term, as well as a prime source of entertainment.
It was a year that saw Tomas Kaberle get traded twice, once for a hefty return, and once for Jaroslav Spacek. A year that saw Dustin Penner get traded to Los Angeles for a top prospect (Colton Teubert), a 1st, and a 3rd, only to arrive Dustin Penner.
And yet, in what was a very good 12 months for NHL transactions, none of these moves cracked our list of the 10 biggest trades of 2011. For those deals, my good friends, you must read onward and ever upward.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins trade Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. (February 21)
It was no secret that Ray Shero was after a winger for Sidney Crosby, and many felt that he had found it when he pried prized power winger James Neal from the Stars. Neal had put up three 20-goal seasons to start his career, and while Stars fans were quick to point out his flaws on the way out, he was a big-time prospect.
Incredibly, Shero also managed to get Matt Niskanen out of the deal.
But the Stars didn't get completely fleeced. They cleared cap space, presumably to sign Brad Richards (although then they didn't), and addressed an area of weakness on the blueline in Goligoski, who saw top-pairing minutes right away. He looks to be a staple on Dallas's back end going forward.
9. Chicago Blackhawks trade Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Rotislav Olesz. (June 24)
As the Blackhawks entered the summer of 2011, Brian Campbell still had five years remaining on a contact that paid him just over $7 million annually. Many felt that it had been a nutty contract in the first place, and two years in, it was beginning to look unmovable. Then Dale Tallon, the man that had negotiated it in the first place, agreed to take it.
It was the first in what would be a blockbuster summer for the Panthers, who used Campbell's acquisition to announce that they were willing to spend money to win and wound up dropping over $22 million in single-season cap money.
Thus far, the spending has paid off. The Panthers have gone from the basement to the top of the Southeast Division and as of this writing, they're four points out of top spot in the NHL. Furthermore, Campbell suddenly looks a little more worthy of that big contract. He's second in the NHL in defensive scoring, third in icetime per game, and has staked Florida to a top 10 powerplay for the first time in the post-lockout era.
8. New York Islanders trade Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ty Wishart (January 1)
It didn't seem like a blockbuster trade when it was made, but the Lightning's acquisition of 76-year-old Dwayne Roloson turned out to be huge. Roloson shored up Tampa's goaltending situation in a hurry, not only leading them back to the playoffs after three seasons without, but leading them to within a game of a Stanley Cup Final berth.
Rollie's not looking so great these days, but six months ago, he was the answer to their largest problem.
7. Calgary Flames trade Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik, and a 2nd round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. (June 25)
After years of watching talent develop in Buffalo only get snapped up by teams with deeper pockets, Sabres fans were delighted when new owner Terry Pegula cut the ribbon on Pegulavilla by agreeing to take on a year of Ales Kotalik at $3 million and two years of Regehr at $4 million.
It was the precursor to a very spendy summer, as the Sabres enticed Christian Ehrhoff to sign at the same rate as Regehr (for a decade! yay!), and gave $27 million to Ville Leino over 6 years.
Meanwhile, the Flames gleefully dumped salary, seemingly admitting that they were going to start rebuilding. And then they didn't.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs trade Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. (February 9)
Brian Burke has come under fire for some of his moves since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it's hard to fault him in the slightest for managing to unload Francois Beauchemin with a year left on a contract worth $3.8 million annually just prior to the 2010-11 trade deadline.
His return wasn't too bad, either: Burke was able to bring back a young defenseman that he himself drafted in Gardiner and, in Lupul, the right winger that would become the staple of one of the league's top lines.
At the time, it didn't seem like much, but Burke turned a rapidly depreciating asset with an ugly cap hit into core pieces, which is incredible.
5. Minnesota Wild trade Brent Burns and a 2nd round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a 1st round pick. (June 24)
Burns was the biggest name to change addresses at the 2011 entry draft. The best blueliner in the history of the Minnesota Wild joined San Jose's back end in exchange for Setoguchi, prospect Coyle, and San Jose's 1st.
After a second straight loss in the Western Conference Finals, it was clear that the Sharks needed a little help on on the backend. Burns gave San Jose two big-minute guys and rounded out a formidable top four with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray.
Minnesota, meanwhile, hitched their wagon to a young defense corps of unknowns, and while some (including myself) criticized them for thinning out the back end, they've done plenty fine for themselves to date. Plus Coyle looks like he could be all right. Four days ago it was announced that, after he returns from playing for Team USA in the IIHF World Hockey Championship, he'll be leaving Boston University to join the Saint John Sea Dogs.
4. Philadelphia Flyers trade Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a 1st round pick, and a 3rd round pick. (June 23)
There had been rumblings of a Jeff Carter trade for some time, but the signing of his 11-year, $58 million contract in November of 2010 seemed to signal the end of that. Not to mention the no-trade clause that kicked in after 2011-12, the first year of the deal.
But, after another disappointing postseason, crazy old Paul Holmgren decided that he'd rather not pay Carter all that money, moving Carter to Columbus for a package of picks and prospect Voracek. It was a surprise to everybody, most notably Carter, who took his sweet time in responding to the news, and even then only seemed to accept it begrudgingly.
It was the beginning of a great summer for the Blue Jackets, who finally had a center to play with star winger Rick Nash, and used the contract as proof that they were serious about winning, thereby convincing James Wisniewski to sign long-term.
3. Minnesota Wild trade Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks for Dany Heatley. (July 3)
Only two weeks after the Sharks and Wild had collaborated on a blockbuster deal, they got right back on the phone, agreeing to swap Heatley and Havlat in a straight one-for-one swap.
For the Sharks, they got out from under a contract that was beginning to look like an albatross, what with Heatley's production falling off. And for the Wild, they brought in their second top-flight sniper in two weeks, signalling to their disgruntled fanbase that they were seeing about building a more potent team.
Thus far, the trade has worked out a little better for Minnesota than San Jose. Heatley's points are down, but the Wild are winning and he's been a major contributor. Meanwhile, Havlat's storied injury problems have descended into dark comedy territory.
2. St. Louis Blues trade Erik Johnson, Jay McClement, and a 1st round pick to the Colorado Avalanche for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, and a 2nd round pick. (February 19)
In terms of sheer value changing sides, this has to be the biggest trade of the year. Three former 1st rounders in Shattenkirk, Stewart, and 1st overall pick Johnson, and one future 1st rounder (which turned out to be Duncan Siemens). And McClement was no slouch either.
So who won? It was hard to say Colorado, especially when St. Louis gained budding power winger Stewart, who was coming off a 28-goal season, and Shattenkirk, who had put up 26 points in 46 games in his rookie season. Paul Stastny's dad, Peter, certainly didn't like the deal:
"This young team was ready to challenge, almost, for a Stanley Cup this season," Stastny told Kelly Chase of KMOX after the trade. "They were so good. All they needed was some more chemistry, and some synergies. Instead, they destroyed the team. I mean, that was a one-way deal. Mr. Armstrong will look like a genius. I don't know what they were thinking in the Colorado organization. I should not have said this, but I'm so, so mad what they've done to this team. They've moved the team about two to three years back again."
But there can't be a clear winner just yet, especially since all of the pieces remain so raw. In the meantime, let's just marvel at the guts it took to make this deal on both sides.
1. Philadelphia Flyers trade Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, and a 2nd round pick. (June 23)
If the Stewart-Johnson trade wins for sheer value, the trade that sent Flyers' captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings mere moments after Jeff Carter had gone to Columbus wins for jaw-droppability. This was a stunner.
There had been rumblings of problems within the locker room and Richards' captaincy had been widely criticized, but one assumed that Paul Holmgren was either going to address these issues quietly or move one piece. Instead, he flushed out the locker room in dramatic fashion, clearing the capspace to sign Ilya Bryzgalov (and Jaromir Jagr, unexpectedly) by moving two staples of the the Flyers' core -- one of whom was the captain -- in an afternoon.
For prospects and picks.
It was crazy. And even crazier, three months into the season, it appears to have worked. The Flyers are incredibly good now and they're looking good for the future too.