By Stu Hackel
Who were the winners and losers at Monday’s trade deadline? The easy answer is: any team that had a need it addressed. But the correct answer is: it’s too soon to tell.
Once upon a time, hockey’s wiser minds would say that you couldn’t judge a trade for a few years. It’s not that way now. Today, every transaction is subject to instant analysis as long-term judgments fall victim to immediate gratification. So, let’s say the Canucks wanted to solidify their fourth line and made some deals to that end (which they did). We call them winners. The guys they acquired haven’t played a game for Vancouver yet. Maybe things won’t work out. No matter. We declare the Canucks winners anyway and that’s kinda stupid of us.
Were the Kings really big winners because they landed Dustin Penner? Or have they been proclaimed big winners because they traded for the biggest name? They gave up a first rounder, a conditional third rounder and a prospect for him, which seems high for someone with his history of inconsistency and occasional lethargy, especially because he wasn’t the Kings’ first target (they wanted Ilya Kovalchuk last summer, then Brad Richards, then Ales Hemsky, before settling on Penner). Was this actually a great deal? Or was it merely the best available for GM Dean Lombardi, who was feeling pressure to do something with lots of cap space and draft choices? How good will it look if the Kings don’t make the playoffs?
Were the Panthers losers because they couldn’t move Tomas Vokoun, David Booth or Stephen Weiss? Sure, they may lose Vokoun as a UFA, but even if they do, holding on to Booth and Weiss is a good place to start a rebuild. They also had a net gain of two draft picks, plus they got some young talent and unloaded some big contracts and gained lots of cap space. The overhaul seems to be underway and, for GM Dale Tallon, that’s a good thing.
Were the Capitals winners? They added Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott, who may be huge factors in turning Washington’s struggling power play around. Wideman will help if Mike Green isn’t healthy and Arnott is a previous Stanley Cup champion. But they surrendered David Steckel, which robs them of a good faceoff man and penalty killer. Aren’t the Caps trying to be better defensively? In any case, it’s possible their problems might be deeper than what was addressed by adding Arnott and Wideman.
What about teams like the Blue Jackets and Flames? For years, critics have ragged on them for not acquiring top-flight centers to play with star wingers Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla respectively. Neither team did that yesterday, and no one seemed terribly concerned about it. Columbus GM Scott Howsam wanted to make his Jackets tougher to play against, which theoretically he did, and Flames interim GM Jay Feaster didn’t want to mess up his team’s chemistry since it has played so well in the last two months, so he only made a minor deal. No one called these two teams losers, but they’ve still each got a superstar forward who could be even better with the right linemate.
On the other hand, there’s the Montreal Canadiens. They still lack some size and consistent scoring up front, and while they were supposedly in the hunt for Penner, they didn’t want to, or couldn’t, pay as much or more than what the Kings surrendered for him. The Habs were also decimated on defense by injuries and have been surrendering players and picks for adequate replacements, including Brent Sopel, who helps their penalty kill and eases the burden on Roman Hamrlik, who was playing too many minutes for a 36-year-old. Even though they had some success during the trading season, some puck pundits have declared the Habs big losers for not getting a big forward.
And then there are the highly complicated situations like the one in Dallas. The Stars have Brad Richards, an impact player and pending UFA with a no-trade clause who they hope will help their playoff run, but he is recovering from a concussion. Dallas may not be able to re-sign (in no small part because while Tom Hicks remains the owner of record, banks and the NHL control the club while the league seeks a new owner). The Stars were only going to part with Richards for a substantial return and only to a team approved by him. They didn’t get their asking price and so they now have him to make a playoff push — when he’s healthy again. Are they winners or losers? And if they are winners today, what happens if they don’t make the playoffs and can’t re-sign Richards and he walks away for no return in July? Are the Stars then losers as we look back on the deadline and say they blew it by setting their asking price for him too high?
And were the Rangers losers, as some claimed, because they couldn’t land Richards? They refused to pay the price that Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk was asking for someone who might end up being a rental: a package that seems to have included Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and a draft pick, which would have gutted the Rangers’ entertaining and competitive youth movement — something they haven’t had for…forever. How does this make the Rangers losers? Plus, New York added Bryan McCabe at little cost to give them at least one experienced blueliner. That doesn’t seem so bad.
So immediately naming winners and losers can be elusive, deceptive, inaccurate and even pointless. Sure, the Bruins seem to have made good moves to improve themselves, especially by getting Tomas Kaberle from Toronto and filling holes up front, although they did nothing of real consequence on deadline day. Boston’s current torrid road trip may be proof that GM Peter Chiarelli pushed the right buttons.
And, yes, snaring Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins should give the Canucks some very fast, effective depth up front. They are two experienced guys who can play important roles for Vancouver if healthy and properly motivated.
But in lots of cases, the consequences of the last month’s transactions really can’t be known until we see how things play out.
If you’re into immediate gratification, however, and want to read some winners/losers stories, TSN analysts Pierre McGuire, Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie had some thoughts here. There are also the W’s and L’s as seen by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, and Wes Goldstein of CBS Sports.com. For those who accentuate the positive, Kevin Allen in USA Today ranks 16 teams who helped themselves the most during the past month and Craig Custance of The Sporting News lists three winners, no losers.