With Monday’s NHL trade deadline gone, hockey bettors are left to determine which teams have improved and which have not. As we look toward the home stretch of the regular season, let’s analyze some of the winners and losers from trade deadline day.
Most Improved Teams
Boston Bruins: Taylor Hall is now a member of the Bruins after being rumored to have been close to signing with Boston before the season. This is the best-case scenario for the team and the player. The Bruins have had trouble producing at five-on-five. So has Hall, who is about as snakebitten as any player in recent memory. The Bruins are dealing with a bevy of injuries on defense and in the crease. But goaltender Tuukka Rask is close to returning, as is defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins probably won’t win the East, but they can plausibly return to their early-season form in time for a deep playoff run.
New York Islanders: With the addition of Kyle Palmieri, and to a lesser extent Travis Zajac, the Islanders have improved on both sides of the puck. Palmieri is one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league, and even at 35, Zajac is very good defensively. Both fit into the Islanders’ system perfectly. The additions make up for the loss of forward in Anders Lee to a season-ending injury. The Islanders are the best team in the East, but the gap isn't as wide as it was a week ago.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals and Red Wings surprised everyone when they swapped some high-profile players. The Capitals dealt forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik along with some draft picks to the Red Wings for forward Anthony Mantha. Vrana and Mantha are comparable, but the former had fallen out of favor with coach Peter Laviolette in Washington. Mantha has a high ceiling and was likely going to age out before the Red Wings were close to competing for the playoffs. The Wings get a good player, and so do the Capitals. The price the Capitals paid might have been a little high, but the team is better in the short term given that Vrana wasn’t getting enough ice time to make an impact. Mantha’s skills will likely be utilized properly.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Defenseman David Savard adds another layer to a Lightning team that was already fully capable of defending its Stanley Cup championship. Savard will apparently slide in next to Victor Hedman, leaving Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh to take care of the second unit. That’s a very scary top four. Tampa Bay is without Steven Stamkos right now, but he and Nikita Kucherov, who has been out all season, should be good to go for the playoffs. The Colorado Avalanche deserve to be Stanley Cup favorites, but the Lightning are in low gear right now. Expect this team to really pour it on down the stretch.
Marginally Improved Teams
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jeff Carter’s best days are behind him, but the Penguins are betting that the veteran forward still has an above-average shot, and that’s not a bad gamble. It will be interesting to see where Carter slots in and whether he lines up next to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. While the acquisition doesn’t move the needle much in terms of the Penguins’ chances of winning a given game, Carter’s addition certainly won’t hurt.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs should be satisfied with the talent they have, but their general manager clearly still thinks they can use all the help they can get. First they brought in goaltender David Rittich from Calgary to back up Jack Campbell. The team also picked up Nick Foligno, former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Foligno is a gritty forward, but it’s tough to see him having any real impact on wins and losses. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are driving the play, and the Leafs will go the way they do. But depth is important, and so is leadership. The Leafs are a deep team with an abundance of veteran skaters who are hard to play against, but don’t expect them to be any more likely to win a given game than they were before.
Montreal Canadiens: Possibly the most underrated deadline move was the Canadiens’ acquisition of former Red Wings defenseman Jon Merrill. While not a household name, Merrill grades out as a very good player, particularly in his defensive impact. This is a solid add, and Merrill should impact the Canadiens positively. Montreal made some other moves but nothing that quite registers on the Richter scale as far as win probability. The Canadiens would have had to add more than just Merrill to get back to where they were before forward Brendan Gallagher’s injury, though.
Florida Panthers: While it would be nearly impossible to make up for the loss of defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers hope Brandon Montour can fill some of that void. That’s wishful thinking, though, as Montour is a below-average defender. But the Panthers hope forward Nikita Gusev, who was picked up on waivers and signed to a one-year deal, can help the offense. Florida also acquired forward Sam Bennett from the Flames. Bennett has been disappointing after being drafted fourth overall in 2014. At 24, he could still offer more than meets the eye, but it’s fairly unlikely at this point. Florida is deeper but made no inroads on the competition.
Teams That Will Be Left Behind
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers must have realized they’re nowhere close to contending for a championship and might not even qualify for the playoffs. They moved some players out, which signifies they’re going to spend the rest of the season seeing what they have on the roster. Goaltending has been a huge problem for the Flyers, and management was unable to solve it at the deadline. The Rangers have a better chance to make the playoffs than the Flyers do.
Nashville Predators: Just like the Flyers, the Predators’ brass opted to remain relatively inactive, which means they must be aware they have virtually no chance to make noise in the playoffs. Of course, goaltender Juuse Saros could put the team on his back for a round or two, but it’s unlikely this team will go anywhere. General manager David Poile made one addition, but it was a move he shouldn’t have made. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is a hard-nosed player who actually has a negative impact on his team whenever he is on the ice. Grit is useful, but the Predators can’t afford to carry any more dead weight.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are cooked. They didn’t ship out any of their big guns — that will happen in the offseason — but they made it clear they’re preparing to tear it all down. Things haven’t worked out the way new coach Darryl Sutter and the organization would’ve liked. Though decisions have likely been made in a lot of cases, players will now be playing for their jobs. Despite having some good players, the writing is on the wall for a lot of them, and it’s tough to say what kind of impact that will have on the team.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets parted ways with several longtime members of the organization. In fact, they apparently participated in talks in which they would have dealt the newest member of the team, Patrik Laine, but they must have come to their senses. The Blue Jackets’ best defenseman, Zach Werenski, suffered a season-ending injury, and the team dealt Savard to the Lightning and Foligno to the Maple Leafs. It’s hard to craft an optimistic forecast given the Jackets’ poor play and the appearance that the relationship between the coach and the star player is fractured.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues probably could have added some depth, especially after center Robert Thomas suffered another injury, but they chose to stick with what they have. This team hasn’t been healthy all season and might not make the playoffs, given how tough the remaining schedule is. The Blues definitely have a chance to find their game. After all, this is a talented team with a lot of pieces remaining from their championship season two years ago. However, time is ticking, and no help is on the way.