The NHL’s top contenders did not wait until the last minute to do their shopping before the trade deadline.
League-leading Boston got bigger and tougher by adding Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway. Toronto got defensive by trading for Ryan O’Reilly. The Rangers answered their New York-rival Islanders’ move for Bo Horvat by acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko — and they’re not done yet.
A handful of big moves already have been made around the league, including a few Sunday, and more are expected before the trade deadline Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern. Patrick Kane going from Chicago to the Rangers is the most highly anticipated deal on the docket, and yet plenty of uncertainty remains about what else will shake out.
“I am certainly not going to predict where the market goes next,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said last week after making what could be his first big trade or his only big one. “That’s for all teams, all 32 teams, to continue to discuss and those discussions will continue.”
Discussions led to a flurry of trades Sunday.
San Jose traded winger Timo Meier to New Jersey, Tampa Bay gave Nashville a boatload for forward Tanner Jeannot, Stanley Cup champion Colorado reacquired veteran defenceman Jack Johnson in a trade with Chicago in exchange for Andreas Englund, St. Louis sent forward Ivan Barbashev to Vegas for 20-year-old prospect Zach Dean, and Dallas got 20-goal-scorer Evgenii Dadnov from Montreal for Denis Gurianov.
More are ongoing around Kane, San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Washington’s handful of pending free agents after the perennially contending Capitals went from buyers to sellers.
Prices have been high on a lot of players, most notably Chychrun, who is the top player left to change places by the deadline.
“I can see the marketplace taking towards the end of the week to sort out for some teams,” said Hart Levine of PuckPedia, a website that tracks the salary cap and player movement.
WHAT ALREADY HAS HAPPENED
The Islanders made their splash in late January, getting Horvat, a 30-goal scorer, from Vancouver and signing him to an eight-year extension. The Rangers, after the All-Star break in early February, got Tarasenko and big defenceman Niko Mikkola from St. Louis to start loading up to try to repeat or improve on their trip to the Eastern Conference final.
“You want to win, and you want to be a part of good hockey teams who can win,” Mikkola said. “The whole team is good, and we can go deep. We all know that.”
The Maple Leafs want to go deep, but they haven’t won a playoff series since 2004 — before the NHL had a salary cap. Acquiring O’Reilly, a playoff MVP in 2019 when the Blues won the Stanley Cup, and tough depth forward Noel Acciari sets them up better for that pursuit, if their goaltending holds up.
WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN
The worst-kept secret in the sport is Kane’s connection to the Rangers.
After New York got Tarasenko, thinking the price for Meier or Kane would be too high, Kane said: “If things were going to happen … that was a team that I was definitely looking at.”
Not much of a poker face, but Kane has a full no-movement clause, meaning the three-time Cup champion who was league MVP in 2015-16 can choose where he wants to go. Rangers GM Chris Drury took care of his end of the money aspect Saturday by trading Vitali Kravtsov to Vancouver and waiving Jake Leschyshyn.
And while Kane’s name isn’t being uttered around the Rangers, there’s an uneasiness around them as the buzz seeps into the locker room.
“It always does at this time of the year,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s tough on some players. But at the end of the day, you’re trying to make your team better every day and that’s what management does.”
Chychrun has been on the trade block since before last season, and the 24-year-old defenceman with two seasons left on his contract after this one figures to finally get dealt.
WHAT MAY OR MAY NOT HAPPEN
Sellers also are buying while still selling — mass hysteria. Well, not quite hysteria, but it’s not as simple as the haves and the have-nots at this deadline.
St. Louis, even after trading Tarasenko, Mikkola, O’Reilly, Acciari and Barbashev, could also be in the market for Chychrun or other players signed beyond this season. Same goes for Washington, which won the Cup in 2018 and has made the playoffs every year since 2014, but has been beset by injuries and other events that could end the streak.
The Capitals sent Orlov and Hathaway to the Bruins and still could trade forwards Lars Eller, Conor Sheary and Marcus Johansson and defenceman Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson, all of whom are pending free agents.
“It’s a little bit emotional, and it’s not fun,” said Eller, who scored the Cup-clinching goal five years ago. “Just try to stay in the moment, stay in the present.”
Washington GM Brian MacLellan is certainly doing that. With Alex Ovechkin in pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record, the Capitals aren’t going into a rebuild any time soon, and MacLellan already has foreshadowed taking the picks acquired and flipping them to win again as soon as next year.
“While this season has proven challenging with injuries to our significant players, we are in a position to use some of our current assets to retool our club and build a competitive team moving forward,” he said.
That could even start before the deadline.
—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press