You know what? That NHL trade deadline wasn’t nearly as bad as most of us figured it would be.
In spite of COVID-19 outbreaks, a looming expansion draft and a flat salary cap the deadline exceeded almost all expectations for drama and the unexpected, including a blockbuster deal between Washington and Detroit at the bell and the trading of Taylor Hall to Boston.
Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Headscratchers? Teams that didn’t seem to get the deadline memo?
We’ve got it all covered here starting with our top 10 trade deadline performers and five that left us with more than a little lunch bag letdown.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Two years in a row, Tampa GM Julien BriseBois had his sights set on a particular element of his roster and built that out. Last trade deadline it was adding grit and physicality in the form of Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman up front and Zach Bogosian on the back end. The Lightning walked out of the Edmonton bubble with their first Stanley Cup since 2004. This year, with Bogosian and Kevin Shattenkirk gone from the everyday lineup, BriseBois added the top rental defenseman on the market in David Savard. For the second year in a row, BriseBois dug deep into the Lightning’s asset cupboard spending a first- and a fourth-round pick in this summer’s draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 draft to get the three-team deal done. It’s a big spend but the Lightning are expecting superstar Nikita Kucherov to return for the playoffs and they remain in the very top echelon of teams built to win it all. Or should we say built to win it all again?
New York Islanders
Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello once again stepped up at the deadline to further crush the notion that he has lost his fastball. Like BriseBois, Lamoriello spent heavily for the second deadline in a row to add Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. With captain Anders Lee out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Lamoriello had to fill a space in his top six and he needed to add a player or players who could fit seamlessly into the demanding 200-foot style of game favored by head coach Barry Trotz. Both Palmieri and Zajac should have no problem fitting in and their experience could prove crucial as the Isles navigate the tightly packed East Division. So, it’s no surprise, really, that the two Eastern Conference finalists from last summer head up our list of 2021 deadline performers and that those teams really set the tone for other Cup hopeful teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Speaking of Stanley Cup hopeful. There’s something kind of circular about Nick Foligno possibly becoming that missing piece to a playoff puzzle for the Maple Leafs. Foligno was part of a Columbus team that knocked off Tampa in the first round in 2019 and then knocked off Toronto in the play-in round last summer. The Columbus captain, whose dad played for the Leafs, brings a ton of veteran experience to the table not to mention the ability to play whatever role coach Sheldon Keefe wants him to play. The cost was big, a first- and fourth-round pick to Columbus and a fourth-round pick to San Jose to eat a quarter of Foligno’s salary, but this is go-big-or-go-home time for GM Kyle Dubas, who also quietly shored up the goaltending by adding David Rittich from Calgary. Ben Hutton adds to the overall defensive depth and so the Leafs have positioned themselves as well as at any time since their last playoff series win, way back before the 2004-05 lockout. Now all they have to do is make good on that promise.
Are the Panthers in the big boys club? A three-game slide heading into the trade deadline suggests that’s debatable. But we love the subtle work done by first-year GM Bill Zito in tinkering around the edges for a playoff-bound Panthers team. Defenseman Brandon Montour, acquired from Buffalo, will be much better in Florida one longtime scout surmised and while Montour isn’t a replacement for Aaron Ekblad he will help in the depth department. The signing of Nikita Gusev is another low-risk add as Zito remains committed to the long-term change in culture in Florida. But Gusev will get a chance to work his way into a talented Panthers forward corps and we can envision a scenario similar to what is happening in Toronto where Alex Galchenyuk has made his way quickly up the depth chart. Finally, the late-deadline day add of Sam Bennett from Calgary gives the Panthers a player who should get better come playoff time and, at just 24, could see his career revived in South Florida.