Who said it wasn't going to be a lively deadline? With plenty to chew on after a major, major swap at the buzzer, plus an attempt to liquidate assets in Buffalo, here are the winners, and here are the losers, after the 2021 NHL trade deadline.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It was not advertised as a sellers' market, but you wouldn't know it based on what Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets accomplished before the horn sounded at 3 p.m. ET. Parting with two major assets, one being the club's captain, and while agreeing to stomach some salary, Columbus brought back an impressive collection of draft picks while also drawing an important line in the sand when determining the franchise's direction.
Nick Foligno and David Savard brought back the two single-strongest returns among rental assets, each exceeding the value obtained for former league MVP Taylor Hall. All told, the Blue Jackets bagged two first-round selections and two fourth-rounders as well to help kickstart this inevitable rebuild.
Kekalainen deserves loads of credit for completing the deals with its last two postseason foes, Toronto and Tampa Bay, respectively, but the club is somewhat fortunate as well. These weren't the highest-profile assets, but ones that clearly fit the needs of teams willing to pay high prices. Savard was the perfect fit for the Lightning, who were desperate for help on the right side on defense and have all the reason in the world to pay up. Meanwhile, the Leafs identified Foligno as that finishing touch, and made it so that Kekalainen would be foolish not to pull the trigger.
Full marks to the Blue Jackets for seizing this opportunity.
Foresight wouldn't necessarily be considered Hall's thing, but the conditions that he bargained for on the ill-fated contract signed with the Buffalo Sabres eventually paid off for the forward who seems at his wits' end.
It very much appears like Hall was able to call his shot. And having put the squeeze on Buffalo, which simply had no choice but to move him, Hall managed to land with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and more importantly a team that seems like an incredible fit.
A complementary piece is all Hall has to be now that he's with the Boston Bruins, a team whose successes and failures will still fall on the top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. That means Hall can recoup value with very little pressure involved, while more importantly contributing in a support role to a winner, likely on a second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
At this point, this is the ideal situation for Hall, a player who maybe can't drive results like they used to.
If there is a concern, it's that the Sabres are only four points clear in the race for the postseason, currently seated fourth in the East. Even with the Bruins, postseason hockey is no sure thing for Hall.
When you can pay next-to-nothing for a former MVP, you do it. Every time.
Detroit Red Wings
At first blush, the move looked like a head scratcher for the Red Wings, who parted with the player with the highest ceiling — Anthony Mantha — in the blockbuster deal completed with the Washington Capitals. But once it was revealed that picks in the first and second rounds were following Jakub Vrana to Detroit in return, this became an obvious win for Steve Yzerman.
Simply put, Mantha's timeline doesn't jibe with the slow, methodical build that Yzerman is orchestrating in Detroit. Even if he slugged it out for the next few seasons and stayed on his best behavior, it's going to be years before Mantha can contribute to a winning Red Wings team.
Exchanging a player in clear need of a new environment for two high picks which should yield prospects that better fit the timeline, the Red Wings seem better equipped to execute their plans, while recouping an intriguing forward and a player that has put up numbers similar to Mantha in Vrana.
For Mantha, this is an important escape and a massive opportunity. Now in his sixth season, Mantha hasn't sniffed the postseason in his career and now joins a high-end top six which should help extract his optimal impact.
Presumably, Mantha's been pining for a move like this, and now he has the chance to silence questions about his character and drive for a team eager to prove themselves again on the big stage.
The fit seems like a good one for both Mantha and the Caps, who were able to rid themselves of Richard Panik in the deal as well.
Toronto Maple Leafs
It's an unfamiliar position for the organization, to pour assets into a championship chase. But this is the situation the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in in this unprecedented season.
Toronto gave up an incredible amount to add Nick Foligno, Riley Nash, David Rittich and Ben Hutton, but did not part with a single top prospect in the flurry of acquisitions, keeping Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, Rodion Amirov, Nick Abruzzese, Timothy Liljegren and Topi Niemela in the fold.
The moves will test the club's drafting chops, but they have to be confident they will continue to unearth prospects to feed the system as they have done.
There should be no regrets on the part of Kyle Dubas, who made his team better, deeper and more equipped to compete in the postseason.
Listen, Kevyn Adams’ hands were tied here. Of the many assets he would have liked to move at the deadline, only one would have been considered premium, and it seems he (Hall) called his shot on a move to the Bruins — a position Boston GM Don Sweeney took full advantage of.
Still, it’s hard to say with certainty that the Sabres have taken even one step in a positive direction after parting with Hall, in addition to veteran forward Eric Staal and defenseman Brandon Montour. All told for the three, Adams brought back a second-round pick, two selections in the third round, another in the fifth round, and floundering prospect Anders Bjork.
Incredibly, Sam Bennett attracted a larger return than anything the Sabres were able to push in the open market.
In the end, the return is merely a small collection of lottery tickets. And the organization just finished gutting its scouting department — or the team responsible for turning non-guarantees into impact performers down the road.
It's a terrible situation and the light's not there at the end of the tunnel. This team may have just spent the last few months spinning its wheels. Oof.
It's become a frustrating event for Jets fans, this trade deadline. After being one of three teams to not make a move last year, the Jets completed only one minor transaction this season, adding defenseman Jordie Benn from the Vancouver Canucks.
In short, it just doesn't seem like enough, even if the attempt was made to address the obvious need. The Jets are a quality team, powered by the impressive group they have up front. If the defensive core was even close to being on the same level, the Jets could realistically think about making a real run at it.
Instead, it seems like the forward group is just going to become one year older, potentially failed by a defense that likely just can't measure up.
At some point you have to take the swing, and for some reason the Jets are reluctant to do so.
While Carolina sat on the sidelines, the organization's two challengers for the Central Division crown and the right to compete in the NHL's final four — Tampa Bay and Florida — aggressively pursued and completed upgrades on their rosters.
The Hurricanes are an immensely talented group, and perhaps one that didn't need a major splash to win the division or even a championship this summer. But it is hard to argue that the Hurricanes are in a better position now after their only move ahead of the deadline was sending former top pick Haydn Fleury to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth-round pick.
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