Peter’s Picture: The NHL Landscape Vol. 12

The Daily’s Peter Knowles gives a professional hockey update

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With the trade deadline behind us, it’s time to recap the most impactful trades of the season.

Eric Staal’s Canadiens debut

I already covered the Eric Staal trade a few weeks ago, but Staal scored in his first game with Montréal in overtime to complete a comeback and down the Oilers. You can’t script it any better!

New York Islanders trade for veterans

The earliest blockbuster of the trade deadline came on April 7, when Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello traded two prospects — a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft — in exchange for two veterans in forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.

This move indicates that Lamoriello is once again all-in on this Islanders team. The Isles managed to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year before being eliminated by the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and it is fairly easy to see where Lamoriello is coming from with this move. When you have a roster as old and as competitive as he does, you have to take your chances — sell the future for the chance to win now. Surely the Islanders looked around at the tough East division with the Capitals, Bruins and Penguins, and felt the need to bulk up for the playoffs, bringing in a nice veteran fourth-line piece in Zajac and a complementary depth scorer to add to their forward group in Palmieri. They were able to fit the new guys onto the roster only because of the cap space freed up by placing injured captain Anders Lee on long-term injured reserve.  

The Islanders are a tough, defense-first, well-coached club, and if Barry Trotz is going to capture his second Stanley Cup as a head coach, I imagine there will be a lot of low-scoring one-goal victories for the Isles. They are deep and talented enough to make a run, and Lamoriello did his job — to give them the best chance to win. Now we just have to see if they can perform when it matters.

From the Devils perspective, given the fairly hefty price tag that the Isles paid with a first-round pick, this deal made sense. They are in the middle stages of a rebuild and managed to add to their wealth of assets for a promising future.

The Islanders later traded for Senators defenseman and Stanley Cup Champion with Tampa Bay last year, Brayden Coburn. To get Coburn, they gave up a seventh-round pick. This is another deal that adds to the Isles’ depth and could prove important if they lose any defenseman to injury in a postseason run.

Tampa Bay bolsters the Blue Line

One of the big names heading into this deadline was Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard.  Savard is a sturdy right-shot d-man with some experience, and he plays with grit — and teams that win the Stanley Cup always have experienced and gritty defenseman. He’s an ideal depth player to add at the deadline for any team who thinks this is their year, and it turns out that Tampa Bay isn’t satisfied with just one ring.

The reigning champs had hockey fans everywhere giving themselves whiplash when this trade was announced. They were already good enough to repeat before this trade, but general manager Julien BriseBois didn’t want to take any chances. BriseBois creatively included a third team in the trade, the Detroit Red Wings, who basically bought a fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft. 

It works like this: Tampa Bay can’t afford to take on David Savard’s contract and remain under the salary cap. Oftentimes, when a team is trading a player to a contender, they will eat some of the salary. In other words, retain some portion of it so that it is cheaper for the team that gets the player, and they can therefore stay under the cap.  So here’s what happened.

  1. The Blue Jackets retained half of Savard’s $4 million salary and traded him to the Red Wings in exchange for defensemen Brian Lashoff.  
  2. The Red Wings then turn around and retain half of Savard’s now $2 million salary in a trade to the Lightning for a fourth-round pick. 
  3. Finally, the Lightning traded a first and third-round pick to Columbus for Brian Lashoff.  And boom — now Savard only costs the Lightning about $1 million in salary cap and everyone is happy.  

This is a creative trade from BriseBois and one that makes a great team even better. Don’t be shocked to see Savard lift a Cup in a Lightning jersey when all is said and done.

Maple Leafs add depth (everywhere)

The Maple Leafs lead the North division this year and have looked fairly strong, but they were facing some critiques coming into the deadline, fueled by the fact that the Maple Leafs last won a playoff series in 2004. That is a long time ago.

For starters, the Leafs lack a depth scorer. Even though they sport one of the league’s most talented top-six forward groups, their bottom six is not so hot. Secondly, Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen has been out for an extended period of time with a mysterious injury that no one seems to know when will heal. Lastly, the Leafs lack a seventh defenseman, or a depth defenseman, that can help them down the stretch when injuries arise (for reference, the Stanley Cup Champion Lightning used nine different defenseman on their playoff run last year).

Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas somehow managed to address all of these concerns over the past few days in a flurry of trades.  Let’s take a look at what he did.

First, Dubas added a veteran forward from Columbus, Riley Nash, for a seventh-round pick.  The interesting thing about this move is that Nash is injured and unlikely to suit up until playoffs, which allows the Leafs to not count his salary against the cap (there’s no salary cap in the playoffs). Nash is a decent depth player and brings experience to the Leafs lineup.

Then, Dubas went back to Columbus and managed to pluck their captain, Nick Foligno, and a depth forward in Stefan Noesen from San Jose in a three-team trade that used the Sharks as a broker, very similar to how the Lightning did with the Red Wings. The Leafs were able to do the exact same money manipulation as the Lightning by having both the Blue Jackets and Sharks eat half of Foligno’s contract, allowing the Leafs to only have to pay $1.375 million, or one-fourth of Foligno’s original salary.  

This was the biggest move the Leafs made. Foligno is 33 years of age and served as the captain of the Blue Jackets for over five years. He will add another veteran presence to go with the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza in the Leafs forward group, and Foligno is still a decent scorer, too. In return, the Leafs gave up a first and two fourth-round picks, one of the fourths going to San Jose in exchange for eating half of Foligno’s salary.

But the Leafs wouldn’t stop there! They then shipped a third-round pick to Calgary for goaltender David Rittich, and now have three decent goalies heading into the playoffs. But if Freddy Andersen is unable to go because of his unknown injury, then they will go in with the tandem of Jack Campbell, who is the most lovable goaltender in the NHL, and Rittich, a veteran guy who has shown flashes of brilliance. Given the unknown nature of Andersen’s injury, this was a smart move to sure up the most important position on the ice. 

And in the last few hours of the deadline, Dubas added another depth forward from San Jose, Antti Suomela, and another depth defenseman from Anaheim, Ben Hutton, while only giving up a fifth-round pick and forward Alexander Barabanov.

This was an active deadline for Dubas, who no doubtedly feels the pressure to go all in given the plethora of elite talent on the team and the team’s regular season success, combined with the lack of recent playoff success and the pressure cooker that is the Toronto hockey market. By all accounts, the youngest general manager in the league did a great job. The only asset of great value that he surrendered was the first-rounder, and he managed to hold onto all of the Leafs’ best prospects while adding sturdiness to a talented roster. Dubas made sure that if the Leafs don’t win the North division this year and compete for a Stanley Cup, it will be because of the group of guys on the ice and not because of his unwillingness to push the chips into the middle of the table.

Taylor Hall flees to Boston

Everyone knew that forward Taylor Hall would be on his way out of Buffalo given how poorly this season has gone for them and the fact that he is on a one-year contract.  

The call came late on Sunday night, when Boston sent forward Anders Bjork and a second-round pick to Buffalo for forwards Curtis Lazar and Taylor Hall. The price surprised many people.  How could Hall only cost a second? The truth is that Hall, despite his impressive resume, has only netted two goals this year, carries a whopping $8 million dollar contract and had a full no-trade clause, meaning he could deny any trade if he didn’t like where he was going to end up.  Put all those things together, and he ends up in Boston for a fairly cheap return. 

It will be interesting to see if Hall can regain form on a Boston team where he will not be looked to as the number one guy. Hall said as much in an interview on Monday. “That’s why I’m so happy that I’m traded here. I’ve been the focal point on a lot of teams in my career and I never made myself the focal point. That’s just the situations I was in.”

Personally, I think it’s a great situation for Hall, because he is right —  he has been the focal point on teams and he has never really been able to carry those teams to success.  All accounts suggest that Hall is a decent guy and a hard worker, so I hope that he can find a role on a Bruins team where he can fly a little more under the radar. Perhaps this situation will allow Hall to thrive and regain the form of his earlier days on the Devils and Oilers. For now, though, I don’t see this as a move that greatly increases Boston’s chances to win a Cup this year. 

As for Buffalo, the trade is what it is. They got what they could for Hall and they’ll continue to wallow in the misery of an endless rebuild. To add insult to injury, Hall played his first game as a Bruin on Wednesday — a shootout victory over Buffalo.

The surprise move of the day

Most names that are on the move at the deadline are anticipated ahead of time, but there was one big deal yesterday in the final hour of the deadline that came as a shock to everyone.

The Washington Capitals sent forwards Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, this year’s first-round pick and next year’s second to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Anthony Mantha. Mantha is a large guy, standing at 6’5” and weighing over 230 pounds and has had a decent season on the Wings, with 11 goals and 21 points. 

The move is surprising, to say the least.  The Capitals sent a homegrown talent and Cup winner in Jakub Vrana and a decent depth veteran in Panik with two valuable picks to get Mantha. I’m not sure if this should be considered a steal for the Red Wings, but upon first viewing, I give them the edge in this deal — Detroit got quite a haul.

For the Capitals, the deal could pay off if Mantha lives up to the obviously sky-high potential they see in him. He is just 26 years old and has never done better than 48 points in a season, which he did in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Of course his entire career has been played for a weak Red Wings team that is suffering from moves they made to preserve a 25-year playoff streak which ended in the 2015-16 season, so it might be the case that given new scenery, he will blossom into a dominant Jamie Benn-type power forward. The deal also makes you wonder what Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman saw in Mantha that made him willing to part with the young forward, especially given the two sides agreed on a four-year contract in the offseason. Surely something led Yzerman to believe that Mantha didn’t fit into their long-term rebuild vision for the club.

Time will only tell how this deal works out for both sides, but it will be interesting to see how Mantha fits in with an aging yet talented Capitals core looking to capture a second Cup before aging out of relevance.

Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 teams right now

Last week’s ranking in parentheses.

  1. Colorado Avalanche (1)
  2. New York Islanders (2)
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)
  4. Washington Capitals (4)
  5. Vegas Golden Knights (7)
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning (8)
  7. Pittsburgh Penguins (10)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (3)
  9. Winnipeg Jets (Not ranked)
  10. Nashville Predators (Not ranked)

What to watch this week…

Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues: Wednesday, April 14 at 4:30 p.m. PT

New York Islanders at Boston Bruins: Thursday, April 15 at 4 p.m. PT

Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs: Thursday, April 15 at 4 p.m. PT

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Peter Knowles '22 is a staff writer in the sports section. He is a Psychology major from Valencia, California and plays on the Stanford Hockey team. Contact him at pknowles 'at' stanforddaily.com.