NHL Trade Deadline 2014: Analyzing Lessons Learned After Flurry of Major Deals

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2014

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 27: Thomas Vanek #26 of the New York Islanders skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 27, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What your'e hearing is the faint sound of every NHL 14 game owner hitting the reset button on their franchise and starting over.

Following a cascade of deals that washed over the NHL over the past week-plus, the league is left almost unrecognizable from even All-Star break rosters.

Scuffling franchises (Hi, Sabres and Islanders) have started gutting their rosters and stockpiling assets for their next run, while contenders (Hi, Penguins and Canadiens) have lines that now resemble the NHL version of the Monstars.

It was all fun and games and craziness—the exact type of deadline bonanza often promised but rarely required in other leagues. The NBA's prohibitive collective bargaining agreement has dampened a once-robust February sweeps period, while MLB teams have gotten infinitely smarter about locking up their talented young players with long-term contracts.

That leaves the NHL as the last true vestige of the wild, wild trade period. (The NFL, unfortunately, seems committed to creating a system whereby players never get traded and deals that do get consummated typically look lopsided in hindsight.) 

Wednesday's deadline did not disappoint. With 20 days on the drop-dead day alone and 30 over the past two days, there has been so much movement it's utterly impossible to assess the implications of each consummated transaction.

Instead, let's take a look at the bigger picture. Here are a few of the biggest lessons learned from the NHL's silly season.


Don't Rent a Guy When the Surrounding Talent is Terrible

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  Thomas Vanek #26 of the New York Islanders in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 27, 2014 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Jim McIsa
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

This should seem obvious. Yet, as the Islanders proved this year, apparently it isn't.

Thirteen games into the season, with the Islanders scuffling to start and desperate for a goal-scoring punch, they sent Matt Moulson (also traded Wednesday), a first-round pick and a second-round pick to the Sabres for Thomas Vanek.

Even at the time the deal seemed like a stretch. Moulson is a good player in his own right, and those two picks could prove vital if the Islanders' trajectory kept going the way it had.

More saliently: Vanek was due for unrestricted free agency. While the Islanders are due to move into posh new gigs in Brooklyn in 2014, Vanek was turning 30 in January and was due for one last big paycheck during his prime. In a worst-case scenario, the Islanders were risking a potential disaster where they lost Vanek for nothing after just 70 games.

As it turned out, they didn't lose him for nothing. Just pretty close. With the Islanders kindly laying down and allowing the rest of the Eastern Conference (save Buffalo! And Florida!) to wipe their feet on their remains, Vanek again became a huge name on the trade market.

And, again, he was on the move Wednesday. The Canadiens sent a second-round choice and prospect Sebastian Collberg over to Long Island in exchange for Vanek and a conditional fifth-round pick. 

Allow me to do that math for you: New York traded Moulson and a first-round draft pick for a fifth-rounder and a non-elite prospect in Collberg. There were second-round picks thrown in there, but we'll be generous and give the Islanders a wash there.

Keep in mind that the Sabres acquired two second-round picks from the Wild for Moulson and Cory McCormick on deadline day. With McCormick being little more than bench depth, that means the Islanders traded a first and a dude worth two No. 2s for their shrug-worthy Vanek haul.

For what reason, exactly? The almost nonexistent odds they would crash the Stanley Cup party this season. There are no positives here, only terrible mismanagement from Islanders brass. If you're not Pittsburgh or Anaheim or Boston, do yourself a favor, NHL general managers: Don't make stupid trades.

Otherwise, fans will be all up in your business, your biz-na...OK, you get the point. 


When Ownership Says "Go for It," Swing for the Fences

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 4:  Ryan Miller #39 of the St. Louis Blues is introduced to the crowd in his debut home game prior to playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Scottrade Center on March 4, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Blues beat the Lightn
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are exhilarating in part because of their unpredictability. Where in the NBA, the No. 8 seed is rarely little more than a plaything, recent seasons have made a fun, anything-can-happen feeling pervade through the late-spring months. Get there, you have a chance—even if you just sneak in.

That said, there are a few monoliths growing in both conferences. The Ducks, Penguins, Bruins, Blues and Canadiens each made deals their front offices think will make them a Stanley Cup favorite. Montreal was the obvious winner of deadline day, as we covered in the previous section, but you have to appreciate other front offices pushing all their chips to the table.

Outside of Montreal, it's impossible to not admire the guts of the Blues. Not viewed as seriously as other Western Conference contenders through much of the season, St. Louis' blockbuster deal with the Sabres just before the deadline remains a profound flexing of front-office muscle.

The Blues added Team USA standout Ryan Miller and former Buffalo captain Steve Ott, sending away Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a third-round draft pick in 2016. It's the type of fundamentally altering swap that's even rare for the NHL, as Miller is one of the game's highest-profile goaltenders and Ott is worthy of quite the respect as a two-way player.

And even with their haul, the Blues managed to hold onto highly touted prospects Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. As general manager Doug Armstrong told reporters, he had the faith of ownership and enough assets to make such a bold win-now move without sacrificing the future:

We just think this gives us a better opportunity to have success this year, and it also allows us to keep our prime assets. There's a few players that were discussed we wouldn't part with, some of our signed players that are currently with our team. We wanted to keep the guys like Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin and maybe one or two other players. When we were able to keep those players, it seemed like a deal that made sense for us. 

To keep the aforementioned comparisons, these are the type of quotes you rarely see from NBA general managers nowadays. The hyper-conservative nature of a good deal of the league's management would have had them holding on to those picks and prospects—with the hope being they could simply do better down the line.

In most cases, diligence is prudent. But, sometimes, it's good to have a guy like Armstrong willing to lay it all out on the line.

We'll just have to see whether it works.


Quick-Hit Thoughts

Mar 4, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; The New Jersey Devils congratulate New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) after the Devils defeated the Red Wings 4-3 at Prudential Center.  Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

There May be Too Many Trades at This Point: While exhilarating at times, the last 48 hours before the deadline were admittedly exhausting. By the end, it felt like every team had jumped the shark. There were some worthwhile moves, but so many of these trades involved the shuffling of deck chairs that won't make a difference. The NHL needs to find a way to incentivize quality trades, while making sure we aren't all rolling our eyes by the time the deadline passes.


The Sabres Prove NHL Teams Can Tank, Too:  Oh boy, this team is going to be bad down the stretch. Very, very bad. Like...they have found a way to take the NHL's worst team by a long shot, strip it almost entirely of superstar assets and acquire a war chest of potential young stars and draft picks. The Philadelphia 76ers are unmatched in their tanking efforts, but the Sabres are keeping their tank hand strong as well.


If You're a Goalie, Just Keep Your Bags Packed at All Times: Unless your name is Martin Brodeur. Some how, some way, Brodeur managed to stick with the Devils despite umpteen rumors to the contrary coming into Wednesday. On one hand, I'm glad he's going to spend what could be his last NHL season with the right franchise. On the other, watch your back, Cory Schneider. 


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