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NHL Trade Deadline Thoughts: Winners, losers, and the Ryan Kesler factor

It looks like the Islanders were victims of their own hubris, and a failure to anticipate how Kesler would be a bigger trade chip affecting the market.

One fish is bigger.
One fish is bigger.
Rick Stewart

So much happened at yesterday's NHL trade deadline, and yet so much took place ahead of time while the final moves came remarkably late. Media members on TSN's TradeCentre show were visibly shocked to get to 3 p.m. EST with several expected trades yet to be announced, far more than usual.

Though the post-mortem is on-going, it sounds like there were two major factors for that procrastination -- and the Islanders' attempt to extract a ransom for Thomas Vanek was just one of them. More on that below, as well as random observations about other dynamics from the NHL's own March madness.

The Goalie Carousel

If anything shocked me more than Tampa Bay actually trading Martin St. Louis, it was the number of goalies that moved. (Maybe it took Garth Snow by surprise too. Or maybe he didn't care. I've no idea what the plan is in net going forward.) Seems like it used to be hard to move goalies because no one wanted to trade the elite ones and those guys made too much money to move easily anyway.

Now the position is almost becoming a commodity, to the point that Ben Scrivens, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaroslav Halak and Devan Dubnyk have changed hands twice in the past year, while Ben Bishop moved in consecutive years. Incidentally, as has been hammered home forever around here, all of those -- with the possible exception of Dubnyk and his 2013-14 funk -- are better options than what the Islanders have used.

Montreal Did Well

The Canadiens made the big splash by landing Thomas Vanek and not paying a damaging price to do it. But the other player they added they made was a nice move too.

I'm not referring to them picking up Dubnyk, but rather Mike Weaver, the anonymous but solid tough-minutes logger who was previously with the Panthers and Blues. They didn't pay much (a 5th-round pick) and definitively upgraded their defensive depth, to the point they really shouldn't have to use Douglas Murray ever again. (But they will. You know they will.)

Buffalo Did Better

So Darcy Regier's last gift to the Sabres was to trade Vanek early. In the end, the Sabres flipped Vanek, Ryan Miller and Steve Ott for three first-round picks (if the Blues win two rounds this year or re-sign Miller), three second-round picks, Chris Stewart, and whatever you want to attribute to Jaroslav Halak in the trade with Washington.

Not bad at all.

Brodeur, St. Louis Look Bad

Martin St. Louis had his personal family reasons in addition to the Olympic snub, and that's his right. But he still comes off looking bad. Not discussing his reasons, then leaving a letter to fans, (and prompting a letter from the owner) it all comes off a little desperate and petty, wanting to have it both ways and valuing 14 years in a place while bailing on them in the thick of a playoff hunt.

Speaking of which...I guess Martin Brodeur learned what other teams think of him at this age? The veteran sought departure from the only team he has known, also in a playoff chase, for the futile hope of a few more starts.

Marcel Goc to the Penguins

Damn. For an Islanders fan, this move really sucks. Goc is quietly good -- I really wanted him for the Isles a few summers ago, but the Isles signed the man he replaced, Marty Reasoner, instead. I'm not sure why Florida is letting him go, unless they just don't think they could re-sign him this summer.

However, there was one happy note: Evidently the Penguins really thought they could land Ryan Kesler, to the point they blame Mike Gillis and/or Canucks ownership for squashing things at the last minute. So sad. But more on that further down the page...

Rundblad's Stock

I don't know what is bringing David Rundblad's stock down, but he's gone from St. Louis (who traded him for the chance to draft Vladimir Tarasenko) to Ottawa (who sent him to Phoenix in the Kyle Turris trade) to Chicago, who sent just a second-round pick for him.

What's kind of scary though: If a team can figure out how to bring out a player's strengths, it just might be the Hawks.

Gaborik to the Kings

Speaking of scary potential reclamations, Marian Gaborik has all kinds of labels attached to him, but if Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi are willing to try, then look out. Of course Scott Burnside of ESPN ripped the Kings for the move, but Lombardi -- always talkative about strategy -- went into their evaluation and why they felt this move will help, and it includes an interesting view on Gaborik's summer intentions versus those of Vanek's.

20/20 Hindsight

I don't often revisit my own opinions in these posts (I do in my own head, for my own sanity) because why should you care? But in this instance it might be illustrative.

I Was Wrong: St. Louis to the Rangers

I thought the Rangers and Ryan Callahan were bluffing each other the whole way. From the sounds of Callahan's shock at the trade, I still think he was bluffing but obviously the Rangers weren't -- LeBrun said they had a backup deal with San Jose in place

. Still, I thought there was no way the Lightning deal St. Louis for Callahan, but then I didn't count on: 1) those picks being included, and 2) St. Louis being so adamant about leaving.

At any rate, that whole saga is a nice parable about:

  1. asking too much and overvaluing yourself as a player,
  2. the power of a no-trade clause in paradoxically forcing a trade, and
  3. how quickly things can shift around the trade deadline.

It looks from here like Callahan overplayed his hand as badly as Snow overplayed his, but of course Callahan still gets to go to a playoff contender, and someone will still overpay him this summer. Snow? Well Snow should have even more motivation now to make sure the 2015 first round pick is not a high one.

I Was Right: The Flooded Winger Market

Islanders fans were P.I. Pissed in the wake of the Thomas Vanek deal, which didn't surprise me because sports fans tend to get pissed a lot (especially Islanders fans, often with good reason, though usually with dramatic exaggeration). But I do think, or rather hope, it was more a reflection of the frustration with the entire seasonlong experience and Vanek saga than on the return on this specific trade.

Frankly, the amount of scoring wingers on the market and the lack of first-round picks that moved should have been a sign that Vanek wasn't going to command what fans were hoping. Leading up to the deadline, several of us discussed a sense that the Andrew MacDonald return would pleasantly surprise while the Vanek return would disappoint.

That' came true, and our belief then was part based on expectations and part based on the market conditions and the Vanek cap hit:

Ultimately, all money aside the Islanders have the best catch on this year's trade market in Vanek, but he's also at a cap hit, price point and position where buyers can look elsewhere for acceptable Plan B options. Any team that pays a premium for Vanek will have to be a team that really believes he can be the difference -- and can fit him under the tight cap. Is that team out there?

But maybe there was another factor here, one that Garth Snow couldn't have anticipated back in October but should have been able to sense in the days before the deadline: Sure, Vanek a huge chip, but Ryan Kesler was a bigger one -- and because Mike Gillis was under no obligation to sell, he had the potential to hold up the market.

Further, contenders were of course going to value a key center affordably signed through next season over a very pricey top winger signed only until this summer. Pierre LeBrun's version of events puts some context on things:

It’s believed the Ducks didn’t find out the Kesler option was gone until the last 15 to 20 minutes before the 3 p.m. ET deadline. That pretty much left the Ducks without a chance to recover.

There was a Plan B for Anaheim, a source said, in the name of Matt Moulson, but by then he was well on his way to Minnesota. You can’t ask the Buffalo Sabres to wait forever.

The Penguins, like the Ducks, probably didn’t have the type of day they had hoped because of their pursuit of Kesler. The Pens acquired Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc, but it certainly wasn’t the sizzle they were looking for.

In the meantime, the long wait on Kesler, as well as the late-moving parts in Thomas Vanek and Moulson impacted the Calgary Flames' effort to move Mike Cammalleri -- something Flames boss Brian Burke confirmed in his post-deadline news conference.

To me it's another reminder that the market is different every year, and prices depend as much on supply/demand and a buyer's desperation as it does on what you (or Garth Snow) think Winger X should be worth. Just because Douglas Murray fetched multiple picks last year doesn't mean a better player should fetch a better package this year.

"This was the best deal that was tabled," Snow said. "Getting a conditional second-round pick and Sebastian Collberg, a prospect who has top-six potential, was a pretty good return on a day like this."

I actually don't doubt that, and don't buy the apocalyptic fear that Snow somehow refused better offers just because. (People seem to imagine a world where Snow actively chooses to hurt himself, just as they imagined Snow was not trading Vanek yesterday at noon, at 2 p.m., at 3 p.m., even though history dictates this stuff can break after the deadline.)

However, he should have managed his own expectations and those of fans going in. The rumors of "a first and a prospect or roster player" going in set fans up to take a fall. It sucks to have what you think is a big chip and then watch conditions change to devalue it. It sucks when it's your year to sell off a top rental, and nobody's parting with firsts. But that's how the trade deadline goes. What you expected in October is not always there in March.