As NHL teams have been forced to shuffle their rosters this off-season in response to the flat salary cap, this off-season has quietly been filled with meaningful trades. While free agent deals always seem to dominate the headlines, there have been at least 20 different trades that sent a notable player to a new locale. This started way back in August, even as the postseason was in full swing, as teams had to look ahead to next season as early as possible to get a jump on cap management. When 2020-21 kicks off, who will make the biggest impact on their new team?
August 25: In a trade that actually contained six players, the only name of immediate note was Kasperi Kapanen making his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs had initially acquired Kapanen from Pittsburgh in the Phil Kessel trade, but clearly the Penguins maintained interest in the player. Back with the team that drafted him, Kapanen will very likely slot in on the Penguins’ top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel after scoring at a 40+ point full season pace in each of the last two seasons.
September 2: After many years, the Montreal Canadiens finally landed a reliable backup to Carey Price. In what amounted to a salary cap dump for the St. Louis Blues, the Habs acquired former starter Jake Allen. Although Allen played second fiddle to Jordan Binnington again this past season, he returned to form and outplayed the starter with an impressive .927 save percentage and 2.15 GAA. After signing an extension, Allen also has some job security in Montreal and may even have the added incentive of playing well in order to land the starting job for the Seattle Kraken.
September 11: After acquiring Kapanen, the Pittsburgh Penguins knew they needed to shed salary. They turned to former front office exec Bill Guerin, now the GM of the Minnesota Wild. The Wild landed forward Nick Bjugstad at next to no cost and Pittsburgh retained some salary as well. Back in the state where he made his name as a high school and college star, Bjugstad looks ready for a fresh start. In a forward group that is week down the middle and lacking in size, the big center is almost guaranteed a meaningful role. Bjugstad has been streaky and injury prone in his NHL career, but has also shown on multiple occasions that he has 50+ point upside playing a full season on a scoring line.
September 16: The Wild were right back at it a few days later, adding another new face to the forward corps. This time it cost them though. Minnesota acquired Marcus Johansson from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Eric Staal. Johansson provides great versatility as a player who can effectively play any forward position and in any situation. He has also scored at a half-point per-game pace or better for nine straight years with four different teams. Johansson should be able to step in and make an immediate impact. On the flip side, Staal provides the Sabres with a bona fide second line center and veteran leader that they have been sorely lacking. The experienced pivot may not have the positional versatility of Johansson, but is still a superior scoring threat at 36 and knows how to grind out wins in the regular season and postseason.
September 24: The Penguins make their third different deal in less than a month, sending veteran forward Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Michael Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour. While Matheson and Hornqvist are both overpaid, they each still bring value to their new team. Matheson, likely to play a bottom-pair role for Pittsburgh, is a huge upgrade to the players the Penguins rolled out on their final pairing last season. A perennial 20+ point producer and sound defensive player, Matheson will not be asked to play the same minutes as he did in Florida, but will still make the same impact in the minutes he does get from Pittsburgh. Hornqvist meanwhile has not played in more than 70 games in over four years, but is quietly still the same 50-point player that he always has been, just on a per-game basis. An expert net front presence and power play asset, Hornqvist will likely play a major role for a Panthers team that lost two of its top scorers to free agency.
September 26: In what was one of the more obvious salary cap dumps in recent memory, the New York Rangers traded away veteran defenseman Marc Staal and a second-round pick in exchange for “future considerations”. The lucky team on the other side was the Detroit Red Wings, who made out like bandits with a nice draft selection and a new veteran leader for their blue line. A young, rebuilding team who has seen countless veterans leave, many of whom just this off-season, Detroit adds a new face with years of experience and leadership in Staal. While he is definitely in decline at 33, Staal is still a strong defensive presence, a plus player, and a penalty kill asset. Even without much offensive upside, Staal seems locked in for at least a top-four role in Detroit.
October 5: It wasn’t the strategy that anyone expected, but the San Jose Sharks decided to try to solve their issues in net by bringing in another struggling veteran to compete with their current struggling veteran. Devan Dubnyk, who comes over from the Minnesota Wild, is just a few years removed from being one of the top keepers in the game. However, this past season he was not even close to that level of play, recording an .890 save percentage and 3.35 GAA, albeit in limited showings. He was one of the few goalies who performed worse was San Jose’s existing starter, Martin Jones. Dubnyk has more experience and his peaks are much higher than Jones’, but he is also four years older and may have less of an ability to return to form. Perhaps the goal is simply to elevate Jones’ game by giving him an established backup to compete with, but there is always the possibility that Dubnyk emerges the victor.
October 6: Two teams on the fringes of being contenders, each with specific needs up front, made a big swap that will have ramification far beyond this next season. The Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets exchanged restricted free agent forwards Max Domi and Josh Anderson, each of whom will look to rebound and play a major role for their new teams. Domi fills a need at center for Columbus and hopes to use his new two-year extension to finally earn a long-term home after bouncing around early in his NHL career. A player who has shown immense scoring potential, including a 72-point season in 2018-19, Domi could be a major difference-maker on the second line for the Blue Jackets, who desperately need scoring depth. Anderson was not able to provide that this past season, missing most of the year due to injury and underperforming when healthy. However, he too had a breakout 2018-19 campaign, recording 27 goals and 47 points. The Canadiens believe that this is his long-term yearly value, as they did not hesitate to sign Anderson to a seven-year deal. Montreal needs size up front and they hope the 6’3″, 220-lb. Anderson can be an impact power forward for years to come.
October 7: The Ottawa Senators have a deep pipeline of goaltenders, but did not have anyone ready to be a starter this coming season and perhaps for a couple seasons after that. As a result, they ignored that depth and landed a starter for the present who doubles as a starter of the future in young Matt Murray. A streaky, but accomplished keeper, Murray came over from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the price of a second-round pick and a prospect, but will be well worth it if he can solidify the net for the Senators. They certainly seem to think he will, signing him to a long-term deal. At just 26, Murray already has just under 200 regular season appearances and over 50 postseason appearances, with a pair of Stanley Cups backed up by stellar stats.
The same day, the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild swapped forwards, as the Wild continued to address the center position while the Predators got younger and faster. Minnesota acquired veteran center Nick Bonino to anchor the team’s third line, as he has for so many other teams. A two-way pivot who is good for 30-40 points and solid defensive play, Bonino is a useful addition for the Wild. Going the other way was 22-year-old Luke Kunin, who recorded 31 points in 63 games in just his third pro season this year. The 2016 first-round pick has found success at every level and on every team he has played for. Aiming for a top-six role in Nashville, Kunin could be an impact player right away and for years to come.
October 8: The Ottawa Senators continued to add via trade when they swung a deal for physical defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Anaheim Ducks. A player who has now been traded three times in two years, Gudbranson is either in demand or expendable. He could be both for the Sens, who will give him a top-four role and let him be the defensively responsible counter to their other younger, more offensively-inclined defenseman, then could look to trade him away before his contract expires at year’s end.
Another defenseman was sold off for a late pick the same day and that was Ryan Murray. Though Murray has had immense struggles with health over the years, he had been a good player for the Columbus Blue Jackets when active. However, the team’s depth forced them to deal him away and the New Jersey Devils were the lucky recipients. While Murray is still remembered for his puck-moving pedigree as the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, he has taken on more of a two-way, defensive prowess in the pros and is very solid (again, when healthy). The Devils will almost certainly give Murray top-four and perhaps even top-pair opportunities and if they are fortunate enough to have him for a full season, they could be looking at one of the best value additions of the off-season.
October 9: As the Vegas Golden Knights cleared space for the off-season’s biggest free agent signing, it meant letting go of a proven veteran asset. The Knights traded center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets, letting go of a valuable two-way forward. While Stastny had an off year this past season, he is just one year removed from recording 42 points in 50 games, a 69-point full season pace. And he finished the season prior to that with none other than the Jets, with an incredible performance of 13 points in 19 regular season games followed by 15 points in 17 postseason games. Stastny has already shown that he can be an elite producer with Winnipeg’s talented forward group and has tremendous upside in the coming season. Even at 34, don’t be surprised to see the all-around forward return to form and potentially even rival the 70-point seasons of his early playing days.
October 10: If Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman knows one thing, it’s how to make a trade involving Brandon Saad. Saad was traded away to the Colorado Avalanche in a four-player deal, marking the third time in five years that has been traded away or to the Blackhawks. The key return for Chicago was young defenseman Nikita Zadorov. In Saad, the Avalanche add a legitimate top-six forward who will help their depth, especially in light of the injuries suffered by some of their top players last season. Saad has recorded 47+ points four times in seven full NHL seasons and would have hit 47 on the nose again this past season based on an 82-game pace. A consistent scorer with great finish and possession ability, Saad is a nice get for the Avs. Meanwhile, as Chicago begins a rebuild they have new cornerstone piece on defense in the 6’6″, 235-lb. Zadorov. A big, physical defenseman, Zadorov can sit back and be a reliable defensive presence, freeing up other members of the Blackhawks’ budding new defense corps, like Ian Mitchell and Adam Boqvist, to play their offensive game.
The same day, the New Jersey Devils made another buy-low addition, landing Andreas Johnsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs. A young player who has already shown signs of 50+ point upside, Johnsson will now find consistent top-six time and power play opportunity in New Jersey, which should get him closer to that mark. In need of impact wingers for Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes but not willing to derail the rebuild with high-priced trades or contracts, the Devils land a young player at next to no trade cost who is signed for several more years at an affordable price. It is the perfect fit and should pan out.
October 12: The Colorado Avalanche were back in the headlines a couple of days later when they dealt two second-round picks to the New York Islanders for RFA defenseman Devon Toews. The Islanders needed cap space and dealt from a position of immense depth and talent on defense. Yet, Toews was critically underrated in New York and the team gave up a very talented player. The rich get richer in Colorado, as Toews joins another strong blue line, but this time will be locked in for a top-four role and will get his due attention on one of the league’s top contenders. Even with only two NHL seasons under his belt, Toews has proven to be productive, defensively sound, an asset in puck possession, and overall capable of big minutes and an every-situation role. Toews may not be the biggest name traded this off-season, but could wind up as one of the best acquisitions.
Amazingly, the very last trade made in the NHL so far this season came nearly a month ago. In the final push needed for the Vegas Golden Knights to sign Alex Pietrangelo, the team dealt top pair defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks in order to clear the necessary space. It was quite a sacrifice and one the Canucks are happy about. At the cost of a third-round pick, a team who had had a disastrous off-season that point landed a bona fide top pair defenseman who is signed long-term. Schmidt did it all for Vegas: team-leading minutes, 30+ points, defensive awareness, shot blocking, possession, power play and penalty kill roles, and even locker room leadership. A player with a strong all-around game who is respected by teammates and opponents alike, Schmidt is a rare player to come across. Vancouver essentially lucked into him and it might just be the best trade of the off-season.
What do you think? Which trade acquisition will have the greatest impact in 2020-21 and beyond?
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