The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. The deals are done, the names are sewn onto the back of the new jerseys and the grades have all been handed out. Now the fun part starts trickling out - the deals that could have been. In this week’s column, Elliotte Friedman delves into a couple of deals (including some that involved the Tampa Bay Lightning) that fell through.
In the case of two big names that didn’t get traded (Max Pacioretty and Erik Karlsson) it sounds like deals were on the table, but the GMs refused to blink. In the case of Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin asked for the moon and when the Los Angeles Kings refused to even launch a spaceship, Bergevin held onto his captain and made nice with him.
If the deal that Friedman mentioned for Karlsson was true (two first rounders, a high-level prospect and another conditional pick) then it’s probably the best for the Vegas Golden Knights that it didn’t go through. There is certainly a tremendous temptation for Vegas to swing for the fences this year due to their historic performance. Picking up the best offensive defenseman in the league would have shown their fans and the players that George McPhee was giving them every chance to win the Stanley Cup.
That’s great, and if they pull it off, it will be one of the greatest stories in the history of the NHL. What if it didn’t work, though? It would be devastating to the franchise to come up short and then have Karlsson walk at the end of his contract. As good as they’ve been, this team is built for long-term success. They have 7 unrestricted free agents and 6 restricted free agents after this season. Several of those UFAs are going to parlay their performance into well-compensated contracts, and the RFAs? They’re due for hefty raises.
Burning two first-round picks along with another pick as well as a premium prospect would cripple the team in the immediate future. Then they would find themselves most likely trying to trade Karlsson for peanuts to recoup some of the assets they gave up to get them. At least with the picks they gave up for Tomas Tatar, they have control of him for the next three seasons.
Speaking of Karlsson, Friedmann does mention that the Lightning made a pitch, but if it was similar to what the dealt to the Rangers, it didn’t “appeal” to them.Which, honestly, is crazy. Ottawa would have picked up at least one first-round pick, a young roster player with term, two decent prospects and a potential second first round pick. That’s a pretty good return. Remember what could have been when the Senators deal Karlsson for a second round pick and a third-rate prospect a year from now.
Onto the deal that the Lightning did consummate.
18. That Lightning/Rangers trade sounds like it was a two-week-long grind. Steve Yzerman said he wouldn’t weaken his team and wasn’t eager to give up 2017 first-rounder Cal Foote. The Rangers liked WHL Regina defenceman Libor Hajek and fought to have him included late in the process. The Rangers got criticism for the return, but let’s look big picture: They are suddenly flush with draft picks and cap space. Their financial resources give them the ability to do some damage with that room. This is not going to be a long rebuild.
There are a few things to digest from this thought. First - Mr. Yzerman stating that he would not weaken his team in a deal. While on the surface trading a twenty-goal scorer seems to make the team a little bit weaker, adding J.T. Miller in the deal softens that blow. When coupled with addition of Ryan McDonagh the loss of offense is more than made up with the improvement in defense. The team is not weaker, but it’s identity has been altered a little bit.
Second, the Rangers insistence on including Hajek is interesting considering he’s not considered one the top prospects in the system. He was, however, one of the few defensive prospects the Lightning had. That cupboard is a little bleak right now. The good news is that the emergence of Mikhail Sergachev has blunted the need for youth at the moment.
With McDonagh in tow, the Lightning have seven defensemen under contract for next season. That buys them a little time to inject some youth into the defense. It gives Cal Foote all of next year to develop. It also gives the organization another year to figure out if some of the players in Syracuse (Ben Thomas, Dominik Masin, and Erik Cernak) can take the next to step and become effective NHL players. The draft will also give them a chance to replenish the cupboard. Expect Al Murray and his staff to root out the best defensive prospects in the middle rounds of the draft.
Finally, it would be interesting to know when J.T. Miller’s name came into the discussion. If New York knew they were going to trade him, as John Shannon’s Tweet indicates they did, kudos to them for not tipping their hand and pulling him off the team’s flight to Vancouver. That’s dedication to keeping a lid on trade negotiations.
The deal makes it obvious that Mr. Yzerman thinks this team has a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup this season or next. He doesn’t treat prospects and picks lightly. The reason the Lightning were considered the frontrunners to land a big name at the deadline is because he has spent so many seasons hoarding his picks and and young players.
He could have spent some of his resources last season to pick up a premium player that might have generated the extra two points they needed to make the playoffs, but he knew it wasn’t worth it because the team, as it was last season, wasn’t built to win in the second season. He wastes nothing so that he has what he needs when the time is right.
The next point includes the Lightning by omitting them.
22. With Patrice Bergeron’s injury, could the Hart Trophy come down to Taylor Hall and Eric Staal?
Ha. Ha. No.
Hall and Staal are tremendous contributors to their team, but to not even mention Andrei Vasilevskiy or Nikita Kucherov is insane. The games against Buffalo and Toronto show how important Kucherov is to Tampa’s offense and Vasilevskiy….well the instances of him bailing out the Lightning are too numerous to list here.
Hopefully this is just a case of recency bias and Friedman assuming that it’s a given that Kucherov and Vasilevskiy are included in the conversation. Having two great players on one team shouldn’t negate either one’s chances to win a most valuable player award. They each make their own individual contribution to the Lightning and without either one the team is much, much weaker.
Now that the trade deadline has passed, the fun part of the season begins as teams race to the playoffs. There are less than twenty games left to play. Time to buckle in.