The year is almost up and NHL teams are taking breaks to spend time with their families before the second-half grind begins in earnest. Once the calendar turns to 2023, trade chatter will start again, and the push to the playoffs will begin. A break is time for reflection, and over this weekend we will be looking back with one of our favorite features: the PHR Panel.
In the spirit of the holidays, we have a special treat for the PHR community. Three of our former writers have joined in to give us their thoughts on what has been an incredible year of hockey. Welcome back Zach Leach, Holger Stolzenberg, and Nate Brown! Because we have the whole family back together, we’ll split each panel into two parts.
Now on to the meat of the thing. Our question today is simple:
What is the most memorable trade of 2022?
Carolina Hurricanes Acquire Max Pacioretty
While the Jack Eichel trade stands out, the return wasn’t much of a surprise. What stood out in my mind, however, was the consequences of the trade for Vegas, who suddenly was way over the cap with no end in sight to be able to fix it. That led to the Max Pacioretty trade in the offseason in which Vegas sent the veteran forward and his $7MM contract to Carolina along with defenseman Dylan Coughlan for future considerations.
What I remember most of that is the beating that Vegas took in the press for the transaction, being forced to move a top forward for nothing. And while I agree that the Golden Knights should never have put themselves into that position, I think moving Pacioretty, who almost immediately suffered a significant injury, made plenty of sense.
Pacioretty, while productive, could never stay healthy and was costing the team a fortune. While he could help Carolina in their playoff run later this year, it really doesn’t look like the Golden Knights miss him that much. Meanwhile, Eichel has become the franchise player that they envisioned before they traded for him. As for Coughlan, it seems like a wash as the team does have a lot of minor league depth on defense, so no loss there.
I think the move worked out quite well for Vegas.
Ottawa Senators Acquire Alex DeBrincat
For me, the Blackhawks’ deal to send Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators was not, on its own, the most memorable transaction of 2022. Instead, it’s what the Alex DeBrincat trade meant for one of the league’s marquee franchises that makes it such a defining moment of this year in hockey.
For most NHL franchises, making a trade as the Blackhawks’ first-year GM Kyle Davidson did would be unthinkable. Although the reality of DeBrincat’s restricted free agency and rapidly approaching eligibility for unrestricted free agency complicated matters, the fact of the matter is that DeBrincat was a 24-year-old player who had just scored 41 goals and 78 points. It was the second time in his young career that he crossed the 40-goal threshold, and he had firmly established himself as one of the league’s premier snipers.
In other words, this is not the sort of player a team should be trading. DeBrincat, a young elite scoring winger, is the textbook player a rebuilding franchise should build around, not cash in for draft picks like an aging veteran who won’t be around the next time his team is able to contend. And yet despite this conventional wisdom, Davidson chose to send his potential franchise pillar to Ottawa in exchange for a collection of draft picks.
Typically, when a team entertains the idea of trading a player like DeBrincat, they will hope to receive young, NHL-ready, or close to NHL-ready prospects. These are both “high upside” assets while also theoretically being safer investments than draft picks, as they are further along their development cycle. The Blackhawks chose not to acquire a player of that sort from the Senators, such as center Shane Pinto to give an example, preferring a package of draft picks that became Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Kevin Korchinski, Kingston Frontenacs forward Paul Ludwinski, and a future mid-round pick.
Bold is definitely the word to use to characterize the choice, but what made the decision to convert a star forward into draft capital the most memorable transaction of 2022 is what it signified for the Blackhawks franchise. It was their warning shot, telling the rest of the NHL that their franchise’s primary objective would be stockpiling draft picks and prospects.
The 2019 third-overall pick Kirby Dach, just 21 years old and with much left to still be determined about his NHL future, was sent away in order to acquire another first-round pick. Valuable salary cap space was sacrificed (via the acquisition of Petr Mrazek) in order to move up the draft order to nab USHL defenseman Sam Rinzel.
While the Brandon Hagel trade may have been the first real move of the Blackhawks’ rebuild, the DeBrincat trade was their statement move, telling the rest of the league that they were and are firmly open for business. With a potential Patrick Kane trade having the potential to alter the balance of power among contenders in the NHL, the profound ripple effect of this summer’s DeBrincat trade makes it unquestionably the most memorable transaction of 2022.
Carolina Hurricanes Acquire Brent Burns
The Tkachuk trade stands out for me just because of the sheer amount of talent that was involved, but there’s another one that I still can’t seem to get out of my mind. I know that a lot happened on July 13 this year but it really seemed like most people glossed over Brent Burns heading to Carolina, and I’m not exactly sure why. I get the feeling that a lot of people may have forgotten just how good he is, or at least has been.
Let’s take a look at a few names, and without looking it up, guess if they have more career points than Burns.
How many did you get right? Only Stevens (908) and Gonchar (811) have outscored Burns’ 800 points. He sits 18th on the all-time list of defensemen, ahead of a whole bunch of Hall of Fame players. But he played forward! Yep, he sure did. Had he stayed a defenseman his whole career, Burns would likely actually have more points than he currently does.
When the Sharks got him and played him upfront for a couple of seasons, his production actually went down because he was only on the ice for around 16 minutes a night. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, he had just 68 points in 99 games. He had at least 60 in each of the following five seasons as a full-time defenseman, not to mention finishing as a Norris finalist three times during that span (and winning once).
He’s now playing nearly 24 minutes a night in Carolina, who have come roaring back from a mediocre start to take the lead in the Metropolitan Division. As I write this, the team is winning their eighth in a row, and will be 22-6-6 going into the holiday break. A potential HOF defenseman switched teams after a decade, and nearly 600 points with one team – and it seemed like no one was really paying attention.
Sure, Burns has flaws. He isn’t a great defender, he isn’t as physical as he once was, and he takes a lot of risks. But remember that the Hurricanes are only paying him $5.28MM of his $8MM cap hit after the Sharks retained salary. That’s less than guys like Esa Lindell, Nate Schmidt, Tyler Myers, and Erik Johnson – a group that has combined for 28 points on the season.
For whatever reason, that trade still sticks out in my mind as one that I didn’t see coming.
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