Now that was a trade deadline.
The NHL reshaped itself in the days, hours and minutes before 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday despite the tight salary cap and standings.
… Tim Thomas, Jaroslav Halak, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ales Hemsky, Chris Stewart and Steve Ott …
The real winners and losers won’t be known for months and years, of course. There were so many trades we won’t hit them all. But here are our biggest knee-jerk reactions after the most intense period of personnel shuffling this league has had in recent memory.
WINNER: TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
This could have been a disaster. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman served as the executive director of Team Canada and initially didn’t put Martin St-Louis on the roster for the second straight Olympics. St-Louis wanted out even after Yzerman made him an injury replacement for Steven Stamkos, even after coming home from Sochi with a gold medal.
Yzerman ended up trading his captain – the NHL’s reigning scoring champion, who ranks eighth in scoring this season despite playing without Stamkos for months. In the short term, that is a blow to a team in the thick of the wide-open Eastern Conference. But in the long term, this might be for the best, and under the circumstances, Yzerman got a hell of a return.
[NHL Trade Tracker: Deal-by-deal details & analysis]
St-Louis is 38. He wanted to go to only one team: the New York Rangers. Still, Yzerman snagged a first-round pick in 2015 and a second-round pick this year – and if the Rangers reach the conference final, that second-rounder becomes a first-rounder. Yzerman also rented Ryan Callahan, who fills a hole at right wing at least for the rest of the season. If he signs Callahan, the Lightning will swap its second-rounder in 2015 for the Rangers’ seventh-rounder.
Meanwhile, Stamkos is ready to return from his fractured tibia. He was great with St-Louis on his wing. But St-Louis helped the Bolts win without Stamkos, and now Stamkos will have to help them win without St-Louis.
WINNER: NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers avoided overpaying for Callahan and made a major upgrade in St-Louis. They came close to signing Callahan to an extension – agreeing on a six-year term, with a $500,000 gap per year between them. But Callahan’s hard-charging, shot-blocking style makes him an injury risk, and he isn’t a high-end offensive force like St-Louis, who reunites with former Tampa Bay teammate Brad Richards and boosts the top six.
[Related: Rangers, Lightning swap captains in blockbuster deal]
GM Glen Sather paid a high price. But St-Louis is signed through next season at a $5.625 million cap hit and has more good hockey in him, and the Rangers have a shorter-term outlook. Their backbone is the game’s best goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, but he’s 32 and hasn’t had enough goal support. The Rangers rank 19th in the NHL in offense at 2.55 goals per game.
LOSER: RYAN CALLAHAN
Callahan originally asked the Rangers for a seven-year deal for crazy money; the Rangers opened by offering him a five-year deal worth less. The Rangers upped their offer to six years, $36 million. Callahan came down to six years, $39 million. He thought they would reach a deal. Most people thought they would reach a deal. But Callahan gambled and lost, and now he’s in Tampa Bay. If he hits the open market, he might find that he isn’t as valuable to others as he was to the Rangers. Will anyone give him six years and $36 million, let alone more?
LOSER: VANCOUVER CANUCKS
GM Mike Gillis did what no one thought he could do: He traded Roberto Luongo’s albatross contract. The Canucks didn’t have to buy out Luongo. They actually got something in return. They have flexibility going forward.
But this was a debacle in the big picture. Less than a year ago, Gillis had Luongo and Cory Schneider – one of the best goaltenders in the game and one of the top up-and-coming goaltenders in the game. Now he has neither. He traded Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth overall pick at last year’s draft, which turned into prospect Bo Horvat, and traded Luongo and non-prospect Steven Anthony to the Florida Panthers for goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias. His goaltenders are now Markstrom and Eddie Lack, who have played 68 regular-season and zero playoff games combined. Yikes. Markstrom once was a top prospect but fell out of favor in Florida. Lack looks like the real deal, but who knows?
Gillis did not trade Ryan Kesler at the deadline, either. That might be fine. Kesler is signed for two more seasons at a cap-friendly hit of $5 million, and Gillis had every right and reason to hold out for a significant return. Ownership might have gotten in the way, too. But Kesler wants out and has control with a no-trade clause, and it remains to be seen whether this was a missed opportunity. Will Gillis be able to get more this summer than he could have gotten from, say, the Pittsburgh Penguins now? Will Gillis even be the GM this summer?
LOSER: NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Garth Snow looks bad. The Isles GM began the season with Matt Moulson, a winger who had chemistry and a friendship with captain John Tavares. Moulson was in the last year of his contract. Snow traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for another winger in the last year of his contract, Thomas Vanek, along with first- and second-round picks.
[More: Canadiens pull off shocker, win Thomas Vanek sweepstakes]
The Islanders fell out of contention and had no hope of signing Vanek to an extension. Snow waited until the last minute to sell Vanek in a buyer’s market and got a weak return from the Montreal Canadiens – less than the Sabres got for flipping Moulson to the Minnesota Wild. The Isles picked up prospect Sebastian Collberg, a 20-year-old playing in Sweden. If Montreal makes the playoffs, the Islanders will receive the Habs’ second-round pick this year in exchange for a fifth-rounder. If Montreal misses, the Isles don’t get the second-rounder. The Sabres traded Moulson and Cody McCormick to the Wild for Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks.
Snow did get a good return for rental defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the Philadelphia Flyers – Matt Mangene, a third-round pick this year and a second-rounder next year.
WINNER: MONTREAL CANADIENS
Vanek was just what the Habs needed. They have struggled to score at even strength, ranking 22nd in the NHL, and Vanek has scored 15 of his 21 goals this season at evens. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, too, and this is a small team. Though Vanek might not stay after this season, GM Marc Bergevin did not pay too much for the best rental on the market.
WINNER: MINNESOTA WILD
GM Chuck Fletcher made smart moves. He needed help in goal, with Niklas Backstrom about to be shut down for the season and Josh Harding dealing with multiple sclerosis, but he didn’t need a starter because of the emergence of Darcy Kuemper. He looked at a lot of options and landed veteran Ilya Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers for only a fourth-round pick.
[Also: Wild go back to Buffalo, acquire Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick]
Torrey Mitchell wanted out. So Fletcher sent him and a couple of draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for Moulson, who brings scoring help, and McCormick, who brings grit. The Wild are a better team today as they head toward a playoff berth, and the best part? They might get even better. Fletcher didn’t land Vanek now, but Vanek is widely believed to favor Minnesota in free agency.
LOSER: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The Penguins addressed one of their weaknesses: the bottom six. They acquired center Marcel Goc from the Florida Panthers and winger Lee Stempniak from the Calgary Flames. Goc is a solid three-zone player. Stempniak can play on the third line – or on the right wing with Sidney Crosby, with Pascal Dupuis out for the season and Beau Bennett injured, too.
But the Penguins were unable to land Kesler from the Canucks – disappointing, even if GM Ray Shero was wise to hold on to prized defense prospect Derrick Pouliot. They didn’t add a high-profile winger. They didn’t add to a defense that is thin with Kris Letang recovering from a stroke and Paul Martin from a broken hand. The Pens needed more. Expect them to take another run at Kesler in the summer.
LOSER: LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings badly needed offense. They rank 27th in the NHL at 2.32 goals per game. They acquired winger Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a decent price – Matt Frattin, a second-round pick and a conditional third-rounder. GM Dean Lombardi loathes rentals and likes that Gaborik might be interested in staying beyond this season.
[Photo gallery: NHL players joining new teams]
But was Gaborik the best option, especially with the likes of Vanek, Moulson and Cammalleri also available? Gaborik didn’t last under defense-minded coach John Tortorella with the Rangers and now joins defense-minded coach Darryl Sutter in L.A. He was the Jackets’ big deadline acquisition last year, but didn’t make much of an impact, got hurt and was shipped out this year. At his best, he has speed and a great shot. At his worst, he is injured or invisible.
LOSER: ANAHEIM DUCKS
The Ducks are atop the league standings. They have a chance to win in the playoffs. They got off to a good start before the deadline, picking up defenseman Stephane Robidas from the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round pick and shipping goaltender Viktor Fasth to the Edmonton Oilers for third- and fifth-round picks. Robidas should add a much-needed veteran presence when he returns from a broken leg. Fasth was caught in a logjam.
But then the Ducks gave away Dustin Penner for a fourth-round pick and didn’t fill the hole on the wing. Say what you want about Penner and pancakes. The guy looked great at his best with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry this season, and he has come up big in the playoffs in the past, winning Cups with both Anaheim and L.A. This would look a lot better had the Ducks landed Vanek, Moulson, Cammalleri, Kesler, or somebody else.
WINNER: ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Blues were a hard team to play against already, and then they got even harder to play against by renting goaltender Ryan Miller and agitator Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres. They paid a high price, giving up goaltender Jaroslav Halak (a rental), forward Chris Stewart (one year left), a prospect, a first-round pick and a third-rounder. As GM Doug Armstrong said, Miller was only a slight upgrade over Halak statistically. But this is a team built to win tight games in the playoffs, and that slight upgrade could be the difference. The Blues have not been to the final since 1970 and have never won the Cup. It was time to be bold.
WINNER: BUFFALO SABRES
Pat LaFontaine resigned abruptly as president of hockey operations over the weekend, apparently after a power struggle, making the Sabres look even more laughable than they were already. But LaFontaine hired Tim Murray as GM, and Murray is off to an excellent start.
Murray parted with pending unrestricted free agents Miller, Ott, Moulson and McCormick. He acquired a rental in Halak and flipped him for Michal Neuvirth, who has one year left on his contract. He claimed Cory Conacher on waivers and acquired Stewart, Mitchell, a prospect and multiple draft picks – a first-rounder, two second-rounders and a conditional third-rounder.
[Nick Cotsonika: Turbulent saga finally ends for Roberto Luongo, Canucks]
Former GM Darcy Regier already started the teardown and added prospects and picks. Now Murray has to take all those assets and start rebuilding the team, and with LaFontaine gone, he should have the full authority to do it.
WINNER: WASHINGTON CAPITALS
GM George McPhee made several moves. In the end, here is what is important: He got rid of Martin Erat, a perimeter player who wanted out. He added Penner, a big body who goes to the net at his best. He upgraded in goal, swapping unhappy backup Neuvirth for Halak – yes, the same Halak who upset the Caps in the 2010 playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. It will be interesting to see what this means for Braden Holtby. The best news? Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ first-round pick in 2010, is reportedly on his way to Washington from Russia.
LOSER: DETROIT RED WINGS
GM Ken Holland is careful with his assets. They are precious, because the Red Wings are trying to sustain their success without the benefit of high draft picks. He was unable to pry Kesler from the Canucks or land a puck-moving defenseman.
Holland did acquire David Legwand, shipping Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and a third-round pick to the Nashville Predators. Eaves wanted to go elsewhere to play more in the last year of his contract. Jarnkrok reportedly wants to go back to Sweden. Still, a third-rounder for Legwand, a 33-year-old rental?
[More: Kings obtain Marian Gaborik from Blue Jackets]
What choice did Holland have? He needed a center with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss all ailing from various injuries. Legwand, an original Predator, is declining. But he still can play a strong defensive game and will have to fill in as the No. 1 center for a while.
LOSER: MARTIN BRODEUR
Brodeur wanted out of New Jersey, even though he has spent his entire career with the Devils and won three Stanley Cups with them. He made that abundantly clear by talking about a potential trade constantly in public, even letting it be known Wednesday morning that he wants to play next season. It was message to GM Lou Lamoriello that he should try to get something for him now.
But Brodeur watched several other goalies go to new teams while he stayed put. He has won 684 games, more than any other goaltender in NHL history, and his competitive drive is what made him great. It doesn’t matter. He’s 41. He had a .901 save percentage last season and has an .899 save percentage this season. No one wants him as a starter anymore. There isn’t a market for him as a backup, either. He might not like it behind Cory Schneider, and he might want to play next season. But as hard as it is to admit, it might be time to hang ’em up. He can be a Devils icon for life. There is still time to go out with grace.