Blittner’s Blue Line: Depth Rules The Day
By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
So…that was an, uh, interesting trade deadline. According to the NHL’s own PR Twitter account (@PR_NHL) 33 trades were consummated prior to Monday’s 3pm(ET) trade deadline; the most ever. Sounds like a lot of wheeling and dealing to me. So, why don’t any of the trades really stand out?
The answer is simple. Most teams made deals to shore up the depth on their rosters rather than swinging for the fences in a blockbuster type move. Sure, names like Claude Giroux and Marc-Andre Fleury were moved, but that was more an exception than rule.
(NOTE: The 33 trade record only reflects deals made on Monday March 21, 2022. Players like Giroux and Mark Giordano, who were moved in the days leading up to Monday, don’t count towards the record total. You can view the full list of Monday’s deals here).
Shall we dive in and see what our three local teams did (and perhaps even explore some of the bigger moves around the league?)
New Jersey came into the deadline without a clear direction. They could sell off a couple of veteran, pending UFAs. Or they could buy and add to the core group they have steadily built. Neither action is what the Devils ended up doing.
Shortly after the deadline passed New Jersey’s GM Tom Fitzgerald told the media, “I wasn’t looking to try to force a trade or just change things up, because we’ve got good players. They’ve been valued here.”
Fitzgerald continued, “I like this group, I like a lot of what we have. We can go toe-to-toe with a lot of great teams and there’s a lot of really good pieces here that we want to keep together…We are starting to shape ourselves into the organization and team that we want to be with continued additions. Selling off for just draft picks and continuing to get younger was not my goal.”
“I thought Friday and Saturday were really slow,” Fitzgerald quipped. “I thought my phone was broken. Outgoing calls worked, incoming calls didn’t, so I asked people to call back to make sure it was working.”
Now, that’s not to say Fitzgerald just sat idly by. While he couldn’t construct any “hockey deals” he did make it a point to emphasize the team’s goaltending situation. On that note, he made a minor move by sending AHL forward prospect Nate Schnarr to Montreal for goalie Andrew Hammond.
Some of you may remember Hammond from his early days with Ottawa when he took the NHL by storm during the 2014-15 season. Hammond came up with little fanfare and reeled off a 20-1-2 record in 23 starts to help the Senators reach the post-season. His remarkable run earned him the nickname “The Hamburglar” for his stinginess in net. However, it all ended up being a flash in the pan and he’s only seen sporadic playing time in the NHL since.
But, as Fitzgerald explained, he wanted to create some “competition” in the goalie room to push Nico Daws and Jon Gillies to be their best. He also feels Hammond will be a “calming presence” for the two younger goaltenders. Of course, Hammond won’t be doing any playing just yet as he is currently on IR and continues to recover from a rolled ankle he suffered while with the Canadiens.
Other than that it was indeed a “quiet” day for the Devils.
You know who had a busy day? The Blueshirts, that’s who. Team President/GM Chris Drury acquired a league-high four players. And that’s not counting his deal for Frank Vatrano last Wednesday.
After a weekend sweep of the Lightning and Hurricanes Drury knew he couldn’t just sit back and let the acquisition of Vatrano be his only move.
So, utilizing his league-high cap space and depth of draft capital, Drury brought in: defenseman Justin Braun (from Philadelphia); right-wing Nick Merkley (from San Jose); center Tytler Motte (from Vancouver); and center Andrew Copp (from Winnipeg). (NOTE: The Rangers also acquired a 2023 sixth round draft pick from Winnipeg).
That quartet cost the Rangers: Anthony Bitetto; Morgan Barron; a conditional second round pick in the 2022 draft; third, fourth and fifth round picks in the 2023 draft; and a second round pick in either the 2022 or 2023 draft.
The conditional second round pick in the 2022 draft is part of the Andrew Copp trade and can become a first rounder if the Blueshirts make it to the Eastern Conference Final this year with Copp playing at least 50% of the playoff games. Meanwhile, Winnipeg can also choose between taking a second round draft pick from the Rangers this year or next year.
Considering the fact the Seventh Avenue Skaters shrewdly didn’t take on any contracts that will last beyond this season you can say Drury accomplished his mission of improving the Rangers depth without sacrificing the team’s future.
With Kaapo Kakko out until at least April (wrist surgery) and Kevin Rooney dealing with an upper body injury that will also keep him out until next month, the Blueshirts should be able to integrate their new players fairly quickly.
Vatrano has already played three games with the team and has quickly developed a nice rapport with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome on the second line. Nick Merkley will likely serve as a “Black Ace.” Tyler Motte should improve the fourth line and allow Head Coach Gerard Gallant to be a tad more creative with his lineup. And Andrew Copp should stabilize the third line while also providing the extra bit of grit the team needs.
The only question mark is Justin Braun. Many believed the Rangers were looking for a veteran, left-shot defenseman to pair with Braden Schneider on the team’s third D-pair. Instead, they acquired Braun, who’s a right-shot defenseman and will likely pair him with Patrik Nemeth. That means Schneider could end up being the odd man out.
We’ll have a better idea of how this situation will shape up once the team gets a few games in with its new pieces.
The only team in the NHL to not make a single trade was the Boys from Long Island. GM Lou Lamoriello told reporters after the deadline that he was trying to make “hockey trades” and none came to fruition.
“I don’t think we’re going to get better by just adding a player,” Lamoriello explained. “We’re going to have to get better by making hockey trades. That’s the only conversations we were having over the last several days. Can we make a hockey trade within our own team that will make us better tomorrow as well as today? That wasn’t able to be done.”
With the Islanders likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season many believed the team would try to move a couple of its players. However, in true Lamoriello fashion, the Isles chose to stay the course with their current core group and figure to be busy in the off-season as they look to rebound next season.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Just a quick recap of some of the more notable moves made on Monday:
Chicago sent Marc-Andre Fleury to Minnesota for a conditional second round pick in the 2022 draft. The condition is the pick becomes a first rounder if Minnesota reaches the Western Conference Final this season and Fleury wins at least four games in the first two rounds. What this means for Cam Talbot’s future is anybody’s guess.
The Ducks sent left-wing Rickard Rakell to the Penguins for left-wing Zach Aston-Reese, center Dominik Simon, goalie Calle Clang and Pittsburgh’s 2022 2nd-round draft pick. Rakell was one of the top names available. Pittsburgh getting him shores up the team’s second-line as they jockey for playoff position with the Hurricanes, Rangers and Capitals.
And in one of the more bizarre situations to unfold, Anaheim supposedly acquired right-wing Evgenii Dadonov from Vegas (along with the knights’ second round draft pick in either 2023 or 2024) for defenseman John Moore and center Ryan Kesler.
I call this one “bizarre” because it still hasn’t been officially announced. According to league sources, Dadonov has a 10-team no-trade clause; which the Ducks are supposedly on. There is some confusion as to whether or not he submitted his list of teams by the proper date and time. For the time being Dadonov remains with the Knights, who desperately need to shed salary to have the requisite cap space available for when a number of their players come off IR.
All in all it was indeed an interesting trade deadline.