Breaking Down the Biggest Deals on NHL Deadline Day (and the Ones That Didn’t Happen)

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The NHL’s trade deadline passed Wednesday, and as always, it was capped off by a hectic few days. There were 20 deals made yesterday, and a total of 33 in the week leading up to the deadline.

Some teams, like the Sabres, were very busy. Others, like the Maple Leafs, were … uh, not especially busy. And some teams probably wish they’d just sat the whole thing out.

Here are 10 thoughts on some of the biggest moves and non-moves from the past few days.

Luongo Unchained

It took two years, but Roberto Luongo finally got his wish: a trade out of Vancouver. He even wound up going to what had long been reported as his preferred destination, the Florida Panthers, in exchange for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.

At last season’s deadline, Luongo was devastated over not moving and infamously told reporters, “My contract sucks.” The contract didn’t get any better, but apparently the Canucks’ asking price came down enough that new ownership in Florida was willing to pull the trigger.

The deal is risky for the Panthers, but it offers a clear upgrade in goal for a team that has been seeking stability at the position for some time. The bigger spotlight is on the Canucks and general manager Mike Gillis, who spent the last year turning one of the league’s best goaltending duos in Luongo and Cory Schneider into some spare parts and future pieces. They alienated Luongo, traded the other guy instead, made up with Luongo, and then incomprehensibly alienated him again. The entire scenario would have seemed impossible 12 months ago, but here we are.

But while it’s tempting to point and laugh in the direction of Vancouver, it’s worth remembering that the Canucks still got out from under a bad contract that was supposed to be untradable. (Well, mostly out from under it — they could still get burned by recapture penalties down the road.) As others have pointed out, if a new GM had come in and made this deal, the perception might be different. When it’s Gillis cleaning up his own problem, though, the standards change, and this isn’t playing well in Vancouver.

But hey, if Canuck fans were disappointed, at least they could look forward to reaping a windfall for Ryan Kesler. More on that in a second.

Martin St. Louis Turns Heel

Let’s get this out of the way: Martin St. Louis screwed the Tampa Bay Lightning.

St. Louis was reportedly upset about being snubbed from Team Canada when the selections were first announced. That roster was picked by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, and it opened a rift that apparently couldn’t be healed, even though St. Louis eventually made the team after all, as an injury replacement.

We don’t know exactly what happened behind closed doors between the parties — St. Louis has implied that there’s more to the story than just the Olympic snub — but it’s hard to think of a scenario where the player ends up looking good here. He didn’t just demand a trade; he also gave Yzerman only one destination to work with. That was the Rangers, and under the circumstances, Yzerman did reasonably well. He picked up Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick, and a conditional pick that could become a 2014 first. Callahan is likely a rental, but with the Lightning headed to the playoffs, he’ll help soften the loss of St. Louis a little bit.

But only a little bit, because this is a major loss for the Lightning. St. Louis is the reigning Art Ross winner, and despite his age, he’s still an elite offensive player. He’s also been one of the league’s most respected and popular players. But that reputation will take a well-deserved beating now, and all the apology letters in the world won’t help.

Doubting Thomas

And then there was the Islanders’ Thomas Vanek. He’d already been traded once this season, in a costly deal that saw New York give up a first-round pick and Matt Moulson to pry him away from the Sabres. With the Isles quickly falling out of contention, it was assumed he’d be one of the biggest names on the move. The question was whether the Islanders could recoup as much as they gave up to get him.

Now we know the answer: not even close. As the minutes ticked down to the deadline, Vanek remained conspicuously absent from the newswire. And when the deal finally did come down, it was underwhelming, with the star winger going to Montreal in exchange for a prospect and a conditional second-round pick.

That’s not good, and it’s arguably in the ballpark of what the Sabres got when they dealt Moulson. It certainly seems like the Islanders were holding out for a better deal somewhere else, and had to turn to plan B (or C, or D …) in Montreal at the last minute.

In the end, the Vanek experiment cost the Islanders a first-round pick. We don’t know where that pick will be yet — the Isles have the option to make it either the 2014 or 2015 choice — but in a league where only three first-rounders changed hands all season, spending one for 47 games of Thomas Vanek is disastrous.

No Trade for You

As always, much of the day’s biggest news centered on who wasn’t moved.

Perhaps the biggest name on the block to end up staying put was Vancouver’s Kesler, who was rumored to have asked the team for a trade. He’s signed through 2016, so the Canucks could move him in the summer, though you’d think prices for that type of player would be higher right now with a playoff push looming, and there were apparently plenty of teams bidding. The bigger concern, if you’re a Canucks fan, are the reports that the deal may have been nixed by Canucks ownership, not the front office — a possibility Gillis didn’t exactly deny. As a longtime Leafs fan, I feel uniquely qualified to report that owners getting involved in hockey decisions is never good news.

Elsewhere, the Sabres dealt Moulson and Jaroslav Halak, but didn’t manage to move Chris Stewart. Mike Cammalleri stays put in Calgary. The Leafs didn’t move anyone rumored to be on their block, such as Nazem Kadri, James Reimer, or Jake Gardiner. And Cam Ward remains in Carolina.

Oh, and one more guy …

The Brutalization of Martin Brodeur

One of the most surprising names available on deadline day was Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, rumored to be on the block (at his own request) after 22 years in New Jersey.

It was an unexpected development, and not only because Brodeur always seemed like a guy who’d retire as a Devil. Despite his unmatchable résumé, Brodeur hasn’t been an elite goalie for years. Among goalies with at least 100 games played over the past four years, Brodeur ranks 35th out of 37 in save percentage. He’s just not all that good anymore.

And eventually, somebody pointed that out. And then somebody else did. And then more people. And more, and more, and pretty soon, it felt like the entire hockey world had formed a kick circle around arguably the greatest goalie of all time. I’m all for a healthy dose of fact-based criticism, but this one went from fair comment to re-creating the Simpsons Hamburglar scene awfully quick.

So clearly, the only way for this to end is for Brodeur to summon up one more stretch of elite-level play and prove all the doubters wrong. [Checks those stats again.] Yeah, maybe not. Good luck with all that, New Jersey.

Net Gains and Losses

As a goalie who wasn’t traded, Brodeur may feel like he’s in the minority. He wouldn’t be far off. A total of 12 goalies were dealt in the last week. In addition to Ryan Miller, Luongo, and Halak, some of the bigger names on the move included Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas, Reto Berra, and Viktor Fasth.

And as history has taught us to expect, the returns were all over the map. Miller was easily the biggest ticket of the group, and the Blues paid well to get him. Most of the other guys ranged from surprisingly affordable to downright cheap to (in the case of Devan Dubnyk) probably free.

And not a single one of them acquired by the Flyers. You’re no fun, 2014 trade deadline.

Rebuilding Code Violations

The typical deadline script is that a handful of teams at the bottom of the standings become sellers, and everyone else picks at those carcasses. But it didn’t really work out that way this year for the five teams that are well out of the playoff race.

The Sabres are certainly in rebuild mode, though even they didn’t go quite as scorched-earth as they could have. The Islanders largely whiffed on the Vanek situation. The Panthers actually went and added a long-term veteran in Luongo. The Oilers are already so young that they didn’t have much to deal with beyond Ales Hemsky, who went to Ottawa in a deal I like a lot for the Sens.

And then there are the Calgary Flames, who made just two moves, sending Berra to the Avs for a second-round pick and Lee Stempniak to the Penguins for a third. They didn’t move any other veterans, including pending UFA Cammalleri. With no full-time GM in place, this was Brian Burke’s show, and he has a history of preferring to stay out of the deadline-day frenzy. Still, it was an unusual decision for a team that apparently believes it can get back to contention faster than anyone else thinks it can.

Penner’s Place

With all the round-the-clock coverage, there’s really no such thing as a deadline deal that slips under the radar. But some get less attention than they probably deserve, and one that could fit that description this year was the deal that sent Dustin Penner from the Ducks to the Capitals in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

Penner is a useful player, and getting him for a midround pick is good value for Washington. It was a bit of a head-scratching move from the Ducks, who were assumed to be making cap room for a big-ticket player but then never acquired one. But more important, the move gives Penner some new material to work with on Twitter. So maybe we’re all winners here.

The deal also came on Pancake Tuesday, and given Penner’s history with that particular dish, that led to a new world record for the most hockey fans simultaneously making the exact same joke. (That record lasted two hours, before being shattered by “Tim Thomas pumping Luongo’s tires in Florida” references.)

Freeze Please

Deadline week, taken as a whole, was fantastic. Deadline day itself was … well, it was OK. We got the St. Louis–Callahan deal, and a handful of other decent-size deals for fans to chew on. But much of the drama was muted in the lead-up to deadline day, as names like Miller and Luongo came off the board.

There’s a certain benefit to spreading the moves out a little, but with all the hype around deadline day, it’s hard not to think about how much fun it would be if all the deals could wait until the final hours. So here’s my suggestion: Let’s make that happen.

Here’s how: We put a short trade freeze in place leading up to the deadline. Dress it up in some nonsense about giving teams adequate time to focus on their important roster decisions blah blah blah. Make it 48 hours, and have each team play one (and only one) game during that time.

And then, on deadline day, you lift the freeze at noon, and keep trading open until sometime in the early evening. We get the whole avalanche of deadline deals in one afternoon. There’s your must-see TV.

Would it be a transparent attempt to manipulate competitive integrity for the sake of manufactured entertainment? Sure. But the NHL has the shootout, so it’s already lost any claim to the moral high ground on that front. And you’d make the whole thing a lot more fun for fans. And that’s what you guys really care about, right, Gary Bettman and NHL owners?

[Awkward silence.]

Right. OK, forget I brought it up.

Market Correction?

A week ago, I wrote a post about how the market for honest-to-goodness hockey blockbusters seemed to have dried up over the years. Once the big names began to move, I started hearing from readers who wanted to offer some variation on the same basic feedback: Nice call, dummy.

But did the past week really prove me wrong? I’m not completely sure it did. Remember, the argument wasn’t that nobody ever gets traded anymore. It was that it’s the straight-up hockey deals, with big names on either side, which have disappeared. And not many of this week’s moves really fit that criteria.

The Miller trade had plenty of names going each way. But the Sabres never had any intention of keeping Halak and would have preferred to move Stewart, so the deal really wound up being a slightly more creative variation on the typical deadline rebuild fare. Luongo was a contract dump. Gaborik, Hemsky, Vanek, Penner … all standard rentals.

The one deal that really could be called a classic hockey trade was Callahan for St. Louis. Sure, the Lightning were forced into the deal by an unhappy player, but as I argued in the post, that was the case for many of the classic blockbusters we used to see. So yes, this one was an exception to the recent trend. But it’s one deal, and it happened under an odd set of circumstances.

The last week was fun, but except for St. Louis, it was basically the standard deadline fare on steroids. As much as the fan in me hopes I’m eventually proven wrong, I’m not sure we saw anything that signals a real change in how NHL GMs are approaching the trade market.

Filed Under: NHL, Hockey, Trade Deadline, Roberto Luongo, sean mcindoe, Martin St. Louis, Tim Thomas, Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Dustin Penner, Washington Capitals, Ryan Kesler

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Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at Down Goes Brown. When he's not writing, he makes hockey jokes on Twitter at @downgoesbrown.

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