By Bob Trask – Everyone wants to make their judgments on how the various teams fared at the NHL trade deadline. In reality, it’s an impossible tasks. For the sellers, no one knows how draft picks or prospects will turn out. Among the buyers the only real winner will be the Stanley Cup champion.
A Study in Contrasts
Two teams that are at completely different stages are the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs are rich in assets and have taken a path they hope will lead to long and sustainable success. The Leafs are talent rich at the top of their lineup but asset poor in the overall organization. Their window of opportunity is now. As a result Toronto’s GM Kyle Dubas needed to approach this deadline in a completely different manner than Montreal’s GM Kent Hughes.
Toronto adopted a more high risk, high reward approach. If he can stabilize the defense, the Mark Giordano trade could be just what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, trying to sign goaltender Harri Sateri and slip him through waivers blew up in their face as he was claimed by the New Jersey Devils.
Montreal had no shot at the playoffs and this took the handcuffs off Hughes to make the best deals he possibly could. In the end, he moved middle of the lineup players for a handful of draft picks and prospects. When your team is 32nd in the standings there is very little downside risk in trying to remake your team. The only failing, and that could change before next season, was the failure to move some big contracts.
In keeping with the study of contrasts, I will look at both teams.
Toronto fared very well in the Giordano trade and Dubas deserves full marks for being able to retain his 1st round picks. It’s very probable that Giordano re-signs next year on a very team friendly contract, particularly if he feels the Leafs are close. He might not be exactly what they needed on defense but any time you can add a defenseman of his calibre, you do it.
The Sateri situation was not a trade but it was a roll of the dice that Dubas probably hoped would negate the need for a goaltender trade. It didn’t work out and the goaltending situation remains cloudy.
With a win and a loss, the best I can give the Leafs is a “C”. That doesn’t mean the Leafs won’t have a good playoff run but given the opposition they will face, it will be a battle. If they do prevail and win the Cup, that ranking goes from a “C” to an “A+”. The risk is that if the Leafs fail, their prospect and draft cupboard is relatively empty.
It will take longer to determine how successful Hughes and the Canadiens were at the deadline but the moves certainly have the potential to be successful.
The players that Montreal acquired at the deadline have played a combined 368 regular season NHL games – with 311 of those belonging to Tyler Pitlick, who may not even be offered a contract this summer as he is scheduled to become a UFA. For Montreal it is more about the future. What they have done is given themselves a chance.
By trade deadline, they gave up three players who may have proven difficult to re-sign. None were stars but they were good complementary players who could fill needs on an already competitive team. In all three cases, Hughes was able to pick up players or prospects in addition to draft picks. That was critical because it shortens the potential timeline for the new acquisitions to join the team.
Kudos should also be given to Hughes for doing his best to help Laval by acquiring Nate Schnarr while at the same time giving Andrew Hammond an opportunity to continue his NHL career. In the end, it turned out to be the equivalent of trading Brandon Baddock for Nate Schnarr, and that is a trade you make at every opportunity.
Hughes passed his first test with flying colours and his initial grade should be an “A” based on the chance he has given the team to succeed going forward. But his relative success will not be fully measured until we how many and how well the draft picks and prospects perform in the NHL.
I have tried to point out the difficulty in assigning an abritrary grade to trade deadline deals by illustrating the completely different goals of two teams at opposite ends of the standings. Both could achieve their goals as a result of their personnel changes. For Toronto, it is a Cup win or at the very least, a deep run in the playoffs. For Montreal, it is building a core of young players for the future.
Let the games continue!