Thoughts and afterthoughts from an NHL trade deadline that generated enough interesting moves that, even a few days after the fact, it’s worthwhile to pluck at a few leftover threads. Let’s begin with one of the annual bothersome anomalies: When the NHL issues its annual news release, documenting ‘transactions completed prior to the deadline,’ it only ever lists the deals made on the final day.
It means, for example, there is no mention in the official summary of Nick Foligno to Toronto; or Taylor Hall to Boston; or David Savard to Tampa; or Brandon Montour to Florida; or if you go back a few days further, Kyle Palmieri to the Islanders or Devan Dubnyk to Colorado.
In short, most of the deals that actually have a chance to be difference-makers aren’t even listed in the official league statement, which was why this year’s deadline technically had the fewest traded players (26) in two decades. And within the context of the 26 players who were swapped, to confuse matters more, you had Erik Gudbranson and Erik Gustafsson listed back-to-back, one moving from Ottawa to Nashville, the other arriving in Montreal from Philadelphia. When Tampa traded Magnus Chrona to San Jose for Frederik Claesson, colleague Mark Lazerus took to Twitter to accuse Pierre LeBrun of making up names to see if we were paying attention. I will concede: I had a similar vague thought.
In fact, my favorite observation of the deadline came from former NHL general manager Craig Button, who was part of a massive panel of commentators assembled for TSN’s all-day television coverage. About 12 minutes after the deadline passed, and as the panel was running through one minor trade after another, Button noted ruefully: “It’s one player that’s not an NHL player for another player who doesn’t look like an NHL player.”
I usually judge the annual trade deadline not in the traditional manner — of declaring winners and losers — but by viewing it as a league-wide shopping spree, where NHL teams operate just like regular households.
Some constantly chase luxury items.
Others primarily load up on necessities.
Necessities made a lot of sense this year. I thought the greatest necessity was filled by the Avalanche, when they added Dubnyk as a goaltending insurance policy. A year ago, Colorado’s playoff run fell apart because the Avalanche didn’t have enough depth in net; and when both Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz were injured, Michael Hutchinson couldn’t get them all the way to the winners’ circle. And while I would have been in favor of a more significant upgrade — and was beating the drums incessantly for a Jonathan Bernier return – Dubnyk was a fit for what the Avalanche could afford; and then immediately was pressed into service Wednesday night, when Grubauer returned a positive COVID-19 result; and will miss a minimum of two weeks, according to coach Jared Bednar.
This is the reality of NHL life in April of 2021; the risk of not having key people available isn’t just injury-related this season; illness is also a potential factor. Dubnyk was just OK in his Avalanche debut, but he had virtually no time at all to prepare for his first start and noted — correctly, I thought — that things will get smoother the longer he gets to play and practice with the team.