The NHL trade deadline creates a stir each and every season, and while the pageantry can sometimes go overboard, what should not get lost in the spectacle is the importance it can play for teams.
All four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs executed a deal before the NHL’s trade stoppage. Three of the remaining teams were able to reap massive rewards from their mid-season investments, proving that the right deal can go a long way.
In what may end up being the value-add of the deadline, the Washington Capitals scooped up Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick. By no means a flashy acquisition, Kempny has been a really solid piece on the Capitals backend. His ability to play top-four minutes has been integral to the team’s success.
In Games 2-4 against Pittsburgh, Kempny operated against the duo of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel 51.54 percent of the time he was on the ice — more than any other Capitals defenceman. He only allowed one goal and two points to the grouping over that time period. In Games 5 and 6, he was tasked with stopping Evgeni Malkin, with 67.35 percent of his shifts being played against the Russian centre. In those two games, any one of the multiple line combos involving Malkin did not register a goal when Kempny was defending them.
Not bad when you can add a defenceman who can handle two of the league’s best centres for a third-rounder.
The Jets pulled off a massive surprise at the deadline when they were able to acquire Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues. However, what the Jets have gotten out of Stastny has not been surprising in the least.
Stastny has been a near perfect second-line centre for Winnipeg. Since joining his new team, the 11-year veteran has tallied 10 goals and 18 assists in 32 games, including a monster semifinal where he mustered up five goals and 10 points.
He’s given his new team flexibility amongst their lines. While Bryan Little was good in a second-line role for the Jets before Stastny came aboard, they are now one of the NHL’s deepest teams down the middle with Little on the third line.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Already looking like a team that could make a deep playoff run, the Bolts did not hesitate to get in on the arms race at the trade deadline. The Lightning made more than a tiny splash; they dove right into the pond and picked up a pair of very valuable assets in Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.
By adding the former captain of the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay added quality leadership to go along with a quality player. Victor Hedman is among the league’s best defencemen, but the addition of McDonagh means that the Lightning can now get creative in how they attack matchups defensively. Against Boston in Round 2, McDonagh was exposed to the line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand 63.2 percent of the time he was on the ice. That number hulks over the 22.1 percent Hedman was pinned against Boston’s scary-good top line.
The other piece the Lightning corralled from the New York Rangers was Miller. At the time, swapping Vladislav Namestnikov for Miller looked like a sideways move for Tampa on paper, but his numbers shot up after the trade. With New York, the left winger’s points per game sat at 0.63. Since his trip south, the former Blueshirt has averaged 0.86 points per game.
Vegas Golden Knights
The only team left that did not benefit from the deadline is Vegas. Not shocking considering the Golden Knights have been a total exception to the rules all season.
After being rumoured as a possible landing spot for defenceman Erik Karlsson, Vegas pulled off a very questionable last-second deal with the Detriot Red Wings for Tomas Tatar. It was as if the Golden Knights took part of the package they were willing to give Ottawa for Karlsson and offered it up to Ken Holland for a forward who certainly does not command a first, second and third in value.
Since arriving in Vegas, Tatar has six points in 24 games. That production has landed the former Red Wing plenty of time in the press box during the postseason. In fact, he has only seen the ice in four of the team’s 11 playoff games. Sure, general manager George McPhee has earned a pass given how well he has built this team, but it still doesn’t forgive the fact that this was a very poor move.
The trade deadline can be a dangerous time for a GM. Teams like Boston and Pittsburgh, who gave up big hauls for players who underwhelmed, show the other end of the spectrum.
However, taking a big risk in the heart of winter could be the reason a team is still playing in summer.