I miss trades. The NHL used to be a league filled with them, from small deals to major blockbusters. At any given time, there always seemed to be at least one major star on the verge of moving, sometimes several, and occasionally they’d all get swapped for each other. For a fan, it was all great fun.
But over the years, things began to change. The salary cap, among other factors, made player-for-player deals less common, and in recent years the midseason trade market had almost dried up completely. There were still plenty of minor deals, and even occasional blockbusters during the offseason, but once the season started we were lucky to get a handful of moves involving anyone the typical fan had ever heard of.
And then came the 2013-14 season, and the trade market was suddenly … well, not busy. But it was at least marginally active, with several big names being moved and even a few old-fashioned midseason blockbusters. Was there hope? Had the art of the deal finally returned?
It’s too early to tell. But the NHL has a well-established reputation as a copycat league, where owners and GMs of the also-rans continually look at what the winners are up to and yell “Let’s start doing that!” So if we want to know whether this year’s trade market was a blip or a trend, we have to start with this question: “Did any of those deals actually work out?”
So let’s find out. Here are 10 of the biggest trades that went down during the 2013-14 season, and whether they turned out to be worth it in hindsight.
Thomas Vanek, Version 1
The deal: On October 27, the Sabres sent Vanek to the Islanders for Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in either 2014 or 2015 (the Islanders chose to give up the 2015 pick), and a 2015 second-rounder. Buffalo retained some of Vanek’s salary.
At the time: Vanek was a pending free agent and seemed unlikely to want to re-sign with a Sabres team that was well into a scorched-earth rebuild. But while seeing him traded wasn’t a surprise, the destination was — the Islanders were a borderline playoff team at best, and they gave up a good player and two high picks to acquire a guy they didn’t even know if they could sign long term.
In hindsight: A disaster. Vanek played well enough, but the Islanders’ season tanked and they couldn’t work out an extension despite offering him far more money than he’d eventually wind up getting. The Islanders ended up having to cut their losses by trading him at the deadline, getting back far less than they paid for him (see below). Meanwhile, the Sabres traded (then later re-signed) Moulson and now own the Islanders’ top pick in a 2015 draft that could be one of the best in years.
Teachable moment: Don’t jump the gun on a rebuild. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff round since 1993, so you can understand some impatience, but they weren’t ready to make this sort of deal. In a way, you have to admire New York GM Garth Snow’s willingness to get aggressive when going after star players, but this move was too much too soon.
The deal: On January 15, the Oilers acquired Scrivens from the Kings for a third-round pick.
At the time: The Kings had one goalie too many, because of the emergence of rookie Martin Jones. The Oilers had too few, because of them being the Oilers. So they added some relatively cheap depth.
In hindsight: It didn’t take long for Scrivens to have an impact — just two weeks after the trade, he put on one of the best goaltending performances in recent history. He also played well enough to allow the Oilers to completely change course in net. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, they’d traded away Ilya Bryzgalov and Devan Dubnyk and added Viktor Fasth. Heading into next season, Oilers fans may actually feel good about their goaltending for the first time in years.
Teachable moment: There are always goaltending bargains available. The depth of players at the position has never been better, so if you need an upgrade in net you can usually find one without paying a fortune. Why yes, that was ironic foreshadowing for our next entry — thanks for noticing.
The deal: On February 28, the Sabres traded Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis for Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-rounder and a conditional third-rounder.
At the time: While the deal got mixed reviews, many (including me) liked it. The Blues were considered an elite team with a question mark in goal, so they went out and paid the price to land the biggest-name goaltender available. A franchise that hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in its nearly 50-year existence was finally going for it.
In hindsight: Miller may have been the biggest name, but once you get past that there was plenty of evidence he wasn’t any better than what the Blues already had. He started strong in St. Louis but faltered down the stretch as the team went into a late-season tailspin that cost it the division title and, more importantly, forced a first-round matchup with the Blackhawks that St. Louis lost in six. The Blues made no effort to re-sign Miller, who ended up signing with the Canucks as a free agent.
Teachable moment: Don’t buy high on goalies, because the trade market for goaltenders is impossible to figure out. Then again, we kind of already knew that.
The deal: On March 4, the Canucks sent Luongo and Steven Anthony to the Panthers for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.
At the time: With apologies to Markstrom and Matthias, this deal was less about what the Canucks got back than what they rid themselves of: Luongo’s massive contract, which runs through 2022. After unsuccessfully trying to move Luongo for more than a year, the Canucks seemed to have finally given up on the idea when they traded Cory Schneider to the Devils at the 2013 draft. But when an opportunity presented itself, Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis pulled the trigger.
In hindsight: Both teams got what they wanted; the Canucks moved on from a troublesome contract, and the Panthers got a starting goaltender who should provide decent value for a few more years. But the deal wasn’t enough to save Gillis’s job. He was swept out as part of the Canuck organization’s offseason housecleaning.
Teachable moment: Sometimes, untradable contracts turn out to be tradable after all — but the guy who signed it may still pay the price.
Thomas Vanek, Version 2
The deal: On March 5 (every trade from here to the end of this list was made on deadline day), the Islanders sent Vanek and a conditional fifth-round pick to Montreal for Sebastian Collberg and a second-rounder.
At the time: Ouch. After failing to re-sign Vanek, the Islanders had no choice but to trade him. But despite scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in New York, the market for Vanek went oddly quiet and the Habs ended up scooping him for what seemed like a bargain.
In hindsight: Vanek was productive in Montreal and the Habs went on a surprisingly long playoff run, which would typically result in this sort of deal being hailed as a winner. But by the end of his stay, Vanek had been demoted to third- and fourth-line duty and was getting hammered for an apparent lack of effort. When their season finally ended, the Habs showed little interest in bringing him back.
Teachable moment: Sometimes you get what you pay for. Despite the bitter ending, it’s hard to look at this deal as anything but a positive for Montreal given the price it paid. It just gets a downgrade from “outright thievery” to “mild ripoff.”
The deal: The Oilers sent Hemsky to Ottawa for a 2014 fifth-rounder and a 2015 third-rounder.
At the time: Like Vanek, Hemsky came cheap. Unlike Vanek, he didn’t go to a playoff contender, which made this deal seem odd at the time. But hey, the thinking went, maybe the Senators can lock him up cheap. Put him with Jason Spezza and see if they can develop some chemistry for next year, right?
In hindsight: Hemsky lit it up in Ottawa, but it wasn’t enough to get the Sens anywhere close to a playoff spot. As for that future with Spezza, well … partial credit?
Teachable moment: Don’t let the also-rans beat you to the bargain bin. Seriously, none of the Cup contenders could have beaten the Senators’ offer for a very useful player?
The deal: The Sabres sent Moulson and Cody McCormick to Minnesota for Torrey Mitchell and a pair of second-round picks.
At the time: The Sabres were in full-on fire-sale mode, so a Moulson deal seemed inevitable. They’d hoped to land a first-rounder, but had to settle for a pair of seconds from a Wild team that was bulking up for an underdog playoff run.
In hindsight: While Moulson’s numbers weren’t great in Minnesota, the Wild pulled off a first-round upset over the Avalanche and even threw a scare into the Blackhawks before bowing out in the second round. The Sabres signed Moulson as a free agent, meaning they basically rented him out for a few weeks in exchange for two decent draft picks.
Teachable moment: The next few drafts should move along really quickly, because at this point I’m pretty sure Tim Murray owns every single pick.
Martin St. Louis
The deal: The Rangers acquired St. Louis in exchange for Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-rounder, and a conditional 2014 pick that also ended up being a first-rounder.
At the time: This was an odd one. St. Louis had reportedly asked for a trade, at least in part because of hurt feelings over being left off the initial Team Canada Olympic roster by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. St. Louis also apparently told the team he only wanted to go to New York, which made it seem unlikely that Yzerman could get anything approaching fair value in return for the reigning Art Ross winner. Under the circumstances, the Lightning seemed to do a good job of extracting some sort of value from the Rangers, even though Callahan was a pending free agent.
In hindsight: All things considered, the deal worked out great for the Lightning. Callahan re-signed in Tampa Bay, and the conditional pick switched from a second-rounder to a first-rounder once the Rangers made the conference finals, meaning Yzerman managed to land three good assets in exchange for a guy who wanted out. Meanwhile, the Rangers aren’t likely to be experiencing any buyer’s remorse — they went on their deepest playoff run in two decades and still have St. Louis under contract for another year.
Teachable moment: We love to get caught up in naming winners and losers, but sometimes a trade can work out well for both teams.
The deal: The Predators sent Legwand to the Red Wings for Patrick Eaves, Calle Jarnkrok, and what ended up as a second-rounder.
At the time: Legwand was the first draft pick in Predators’ franchise history and had spent his entire 15-year career in Nashville, so this deal felt like the end of an era. He was expected to provide depth for a Red Wings team trying to extend its record streak of making the postseason.
In hindsight: The Wings did make the playoffs but bowed out quickly to the Bruins. Legwand’s impact was minimal, and he signed with Ottawa in the offseason.
Teachable moment: Don’t pitch a “top 10 trades” idea to your editor until you’ve double-checked that there were actually 10 interesting trades made all year.
The deal: The Blue Jackets send Gaborik to the Kings for Matt Frattin, a second-round pick, and a conditional third-rounder.
At the time: Like Vanek and Hemsky, Gaborik was caught up in a surprisingly soft market for scoring forwards. It was somewhat odd for the Blue Jackets to be moving Gaborik in the first place, given that they were fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the East, but he’d been hurt most of the year and hadn’t contributed much. As strange as it seems now, heading into the deadline, Gaborik was seen as a cheaper plan B for teams that missed out on Vanek.
In hindsight: I’d say this one worked out OK for the Kings. They won the Stanley Cup, with Gaborik leading the league in playoff goals. Given how narrow their margin of victory was — they needed three consecutive seven-game series to reach the Final — it’s probably fair to say the Kings don’t win that championship without making this deal. Gaborik signed a long-term deal to stay in L.A. after the season ended.
Teachable moment: Stop trading with Dean Lombardi; he is a wizard. And that goes double for you, Columbus.
All in all, let’s call it a mixed bag. There were some high-profile disasters (Miller and Vanek) but also a handful of deals that worked out well (St. Louis, most of the smaller deals, and maybe even Luongo for now). And one trade basically won a team a championship.
If you’re a fan who’s hoping to see a return to the days of frequent blockbusters, that’s the one you want to focus on. Ryan who? Thomas what? Never heard of those guys. Marian Gaborik proved you can trade your way to the Stanley Cup. Start working those phones, GMs. Your Cup ring awaits.