It’s been one of the most competitive divisions in the National Hockey League and invariably an arms race develops between the team as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches. With the distinct possibility of five Metropolitan Division teams qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs, it wasn’t a surprise that some of the highest levels of transactional traffic would center on it.
Let’s take a look at what each team did.
Carolina Hurricanes- Don Waddell had a rather splashy deadline, but the view from here is that while center Vincent Trocheck is an offensive upgrade from Erik Haula, the Hurricanes tapped through quite a bit of their organizational depth in shipping C Lucas Wallmark, C Eetu Luostarinen and D Chase Priskie to Florida in the deal and LW Janne Kuokkanen, D Fredrik Claesson to New Jersey for defenseman Sami Vatanen, all while not addressing their tenuous goaltending situation (even before they lost Petr Mrazek to injury).
Brady Skjei reads as a solid pick up from New York, but certainly, cost a pretty penny (2020 1st round pick). In short, the Canes looked to shake up their status quo in trying to ensure a second consecutive playoff berth, but they’ll go only as far as who stands between the pipes this spring.
Columbus Blue Jackets- Unlike last trade deadline’s “go for broke” strategy (which resulted in their stunning first-round sweep of the President Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning), the Blue Jackets were markedly more muted, sending left wing Sonny Milano to the Anaheim Ducks for Devin Shore, to (ahem) shore up their fourth-line center spot, before a late deadline swap with the Arizona Coyotes, sending LW Markus Hannikainen to the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Columbus was on a hellacious mid-season winning streak riding goalie Elvis Mezlerkins’ hot hand in net, but a lack of consistent offense and injuries to key players like defenseman Seth Jones is making a playoff berth a difficult task for John Tortorella’s squad.
New York Islanders- The Isles certainly sent a shock through the Metro by bringing in 26-year Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators for a 1st-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft (conditional), 2nd-round pick in 2020 and a conditional pick in 2022. They subsequently signed him to a six-year contract, taking him off the summer shopping list of a number of teams. Pageau had been a key offensive producer this season, potting 25 goals in 61 games this season. He’ll provide Barry Trotz with the needed scoring influx.
Before the deadline, they acquired defenseman Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils for a 2021 second-round pick and prospect David Quenneville, after losing Adam Pelech.
The Islanders’ major bugaboo coming into the season was legitimate center depth and solidifying their blueline group. The read from here is that they’ve done that, positioning themselves for a possible run if their goaltending holds up.
New York Rangers- Despite the subtraction of Skjei and the unfortunate deadline day car accident that leaves goalie Igor Shestyerkin out for several weeks, the Rangers can consider their trading deadline a success once they came to contract terms with left winger Chris Kreider after weeks of speculation that he would be on the move. Keeping Kreider in the fold with Artemi Panarin gives the Rangers enviable scoring capability on the left side for the foreseeable future, not to mention the possibility of Kreider being a future candidate for the team’s captaincy.
With the blueline situation now firmed up, the Rangers have kept themselves in the race for a playoff spot. They’ll have to maintain their current pace if they continue to have those aspirations. For all the criticisms of the three-goalie rotation, New York remains fortunate to still have a future Hall of Famer (Henrik Lundqvist) and a potential star (Alexandar Georgiev) to count on.
View from here is that they’re hard-pressed for a playoff spot with the level of competition, but if they ring up wins against Metro competition, they might make them a stalking horse.
Philadelphia Flyers-The Flyers are one of the NHL’s best home teams and since the beginning of the calendar year, have rung up impressive victories against some of the league’s top teams. That stated, Philadelphia’s bottom six forward groupings needed some enhancements as some of their younger forwards performances (Joel Farabee, in particular) had shown signs of fading in their first campaign.
With the center position the area of greatest need (rookie Connor Bunnaman handling fourth line duties and a rotation of candidates for the upper lines), general manager Chuck Fletcher refrained from making splashier moves and made a pair of trades without subtracting from his NHL roster, acquiring center Nate Thompson from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2021 fifth round pick and Derek Grant from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2020 fourth round selection. Both players came with a common theme: bigger players with playoff (and penalty killing) experience, who could play a heavy style.
Organizational depth is critical to maintain a push for the playoffs and how well Grant and Thompson graft themselves into head coach Alain Vigneault’s scheme will go a long way to determining that. The Metro’s tight race ensures that the Flyers have to keep their current level of play to lock up a postseason berth. At the minimum, the acquisitions signal Philadelphia’s transition from the Hextall rebuild to a “win soon” mode.
Pittsburgh Penguins- It was an interesting deadline for GM Jim Rutherford, who once again loaded up his club up front with four new forward pieces to augment Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s quest for another Cup. Before the deadline, he acquired RW Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft or 2021 NHL Draft. A hefty haul, but it gives Crosby a highly-skilled offensive forward to play off of.
The remaining deals added to the depth of Pittsburgh’s forward corps, though one deal came at the cost of a promising young player. Rutherford acquired LW Patrick Marleau from San Jose for a conditional pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, in what we could call their “Ray Bourque” trade. In the other deal, the Penguins re-acquired LW Conor Sheary and added big LW Evan Rodrigues to Pittsburgh for C Dominik Kahun. Kahun may be a player the Penguins regret losing over the long run.
In total, another deadline where Rutherford has attempted to keep the Stanley Cup window open for the current regime.
Washington Capitals- The Metro Division leaders started to show some defensive cracks and saw their division lead whittle down to nearly nothing. As a result, GM Brian McClellan reinforced his pairings by adding defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Colorado’s 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2021 third-rounder. Dillon is a rock-solid add for a team in need of one. He’ll add necessary physicality and be a good partner for Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson.
McClellan also took a flier on veteran RW Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2020 third-round pick. Kovalchuk has had a solid renaissance with the Habs this season after struggling mightily with Los Angeles, which allowed for this long-awaited Ovi-Kovy Alliance. How much impact Kovalchuk will have on the Capitals remains to be seen. At the minimum, he gives Washington an additional forward option.
New Jersey Devils-Newly installed interim GM Tom Fitzgerald began breaking down a roster that did not remotely meet expectations this season. The Devils had been the talk of the offseason with their acquisitions (P.K. Subban being among the buzziest), but what resulted was a convoluted flawed mixture of veterans who didn’t produce consistently and young forwards to ready for prime time.
That stated, if you’re going to restructure, it’s hard to argue that Fitzgerald optimized his return, especially before the deadline in trading Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for top forward prospect Nolan Foote and a 2021 first-round pick, while adding a second rounder for former captain Greene.
Fitzgerald continued accruing assets and organizational depth when he shipped oft-injured Sami Vatanen to the Hurricanes while shipping Wayne Simmonds to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 fifth round pick.
It’s firmly becoming the Jack Hughes-Nico Hischier Show in Newark. We’ll see if further veteran deals might be in the offing come Draft time in Montreal.