Thursday, December 29 marks the six-month anniversary of the wildest 23 minutes in NHL history.
On June 29, the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson, the Canadiens traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, and the Tampa Bay Lightning signed captain Steven Stamkos to an eight-year extension. All three of those moves came between 2:34pm and 2:57pm.
So far, the results have been mixed for the teams involved: the Devils are last in the Metropolitan Division, the Oilers are finally a playoff contender, the Canadiens are back to tops in their division, and Stamkos is likely to miss the last four-to-six months of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at the initial results for each team:
Edmonton Oilers — The decision to trade Hall was not popular in the Edmonton market. The former face of the Oilers rebuild had become one of the top left wingers in the world, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Jamie Benn on most rankings. Hall had 328 points in 381 games with the Oilers, despite the Oilers lack of NHL defensemen and centers for much of his tenure there. Ultimately, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli felt comfortable replacing Hall with free agent Milan Lucic in order to secure a young, right-handed defenseman on a good contract. So far, Larsson has helped stabilize the Oilers defense with solid, if unspectacular play. Larsson has just six points in 36 games, but has developed chemistry with Oscar Klefbom on the Oilers future top pairing. The Oilers are currently second in the Pacific Division, and are showing real improvement over the last seven seasons. However, they are still a few pieces away from becoming a real contender, despite Connor McDavid’s excellent play. While Larsson has been solid, the Oilers definitely gave up value on the trade, making this trade, at best, a passing grade for Chiarelli. Devils GM Ray Shero told Elliotte Friedman that “people want to decide winners and losers right away, but you have to build a team.” If the Oilers don’t manage to make the playoffs this season, then the pressure on Chiarelli will increase tenfold.
Montreal Canadiens — If the decision to trade Hall was considered unpopular in Edmonton, the Subban trade was even more so when the deal was announced. Subban had been a key fixture of the Montreal community in his six full seasons there. However, the final year of his tenure was full of controversy, beginning with Subban’s $10MM donation to the local children’s hospital. Many read into Max Pacioretty being named captain over Subban, and the conspicuous lack of a King Clancy nomination (for community leadership and humanitarian contributions) from his teammates. Then Carey Price got hurt and the Canadiens season went to hell. Whispers of trade rumors began. In particular, a February incident where Canadiens coach Michel Therrien singled out Subban for a give-away that led to a game-winning goal versus the Avalanche led to intensified rumors. Nothing seemed likely until the Predators offered Shea Weber just after the draft in June. The trade was much maligned for Weber’s age and the perception that his abilities were declining. That hasn’t proven to be the case just yet, as Weber has been the catalyst for the Canadiens resurgence. He has 20 points in 35 games so far, on pace for 25 goals and 57 points, both of which would represent career-highs. TSN’s Darren Dreger appeared on Montreal radio on Thursday morning and declared the Canadiens as the current winners of the trade. Weber’s presence and style of play is, by Dreger’s estimation, a better fit “for what the Montreal Canadiens needed.”
Nashville Predators — When news of the Subban-Weber trade came down, most in the hockey world couldn’t believe the news. No one could think of the last time two superstar captains and giants in their local community were traded for each other, one for one. The enormity of the deal was not lost on the two teams, with one front office member telling Friedman “I think both teams had moments where they couldn’t believe what they were considering.” Weber had been a pillar in Nashville since he first broke into the NHL, but the tough Western Conference was beginning to catch up with him. Defense partner Roman Josi was considered to be the better passer and skater, and some argued Josi was carrying the pair. With the Predators entering a new window of Cup contention, getting younger and more mobile became a priority, especially after trading Seth Jones in January. Subban’s style of play fits the Predators’ plans better. So far, Subban has 17 points in 29 games (a 58-point pace) but has been hurt since the middle of December. The Predators are barely above .500 and two points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. The trade definitely looks better for the Canadiens as of this writing, but the Predators are sure to figure things out soon. Considering Subban is four years younger than Weber, Nashville’s window should be open longer with Subban over Weber. That’s what GM David Poile wanted when he took the risk to move Weber, but he obviously feels the reward is worth it to add Subban to an already dynamic group of defensemen in Nashville. Let’s call this one a temporary win for Montreal with Nashville looking better long-term.
New Jersey Devils — After the trade went through, Shero told Friedman that he felt the Devils had the defensive depth to make the trade, referencing his time with the Penguins, where he traded Ryan Whitney and Alex Goligoski with with the knowledge that Kris Letang was up and coming. The Devils clearly believe that Damon Severson has the ability to become a top-pairing defenseman and replace Larsson. What New Jersey did not have was an up and coming offensive dynamo remotely close to Hall’s skill level. Shero told Friedman that teams had asked about Larsson’s availability and were told the only way that he would trade Larsson “is if it really makes sense.” Acquiring a franchise offensive player made sense. Hall has performed admirably for the Devils, and is currently on pace to score 54 points in 64 games while battling injuries. Unfortunately for the Devils, they remain in last place in their division and look unlikely to make the playoffs. The situation must be frustratingly familiar for Hall, who spent six seasons in Edmonton scoring at a high level with little defensive support. As mentioned above, the Devils clearly won the trade based on trade value, but as Shero said it’s all about building a team. Shero will need to build more support for franchise players Hall and Cory Schneider to work their way up the standings. If you ignore Edmonton being in contention for a playoff spot and New Jersey being in the lottery watch, New Jersey won the trade, hands down. Take team building into consideration, and the trade looks a little closer. It’s still a clear win for the Devils to acquire a legitimate superstar for less than full trade value.
Tampa Bay Lightning — Had it happened on any other day during the previous year, Stamkos re-signing in Tampa Bay would have dominated the news cycle for at least two or three days. But after the craziness of the half-hour preceding the announcement, it seemed to take something of a backseat to the pair of blockbuster trades. Stamkos took less than his perceived market value to stay in Tampa Bay where his heart is. He’s expressed his desire to retire as a member of the Lightning. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told Friedman that he really didn’t know what would happen: “I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. In the last week, we had no control.” But Stamkos ultimately chose to stay in Tampa Bay. With his blood clot and contract cleared up, Stamkos got off to a torrid start, scoring 20 points in 17 games. He was on pace for a 52-goal, 105-point season before a lateral meniscus tear put his season on hold until March at the earliest. There is some risk to having a player signed for eight years with three consecutive season-ending injuries (fractured tibia, blood clot, and meniscus tear). Injuries aside, signing a superstar scorer for $8.5MM per season long-term is a great deal for the Lightning, and leaves Yzerman room to do his best to keep the Lighting’s core together. Should Stamkos be able to stay healthy, then there’s no question that both sides will consider this contract a win.