Back in March, I became the 4,328th (approximately) person to write a winners and losers list from the NHL trade deadline. But it’s impossible to know who really won the deadline without knowing how the playoffs pan out. Though I certainly think there’s merit to instant evaluation of events like the trade deadline, I also think that, with the benefit of time, it’s worth revisiting those predictions to re-evaluate who the actual winners and losers are and to assess skills of prophecy. There’s not enough self-reflection in sports analysis these days. Too often, the cycle of sports media is dominated by confident hot takes designed to grab your attention, but not necessarily be right or even informed, and certainly never reexamined. Now that we’re almost through the entire playoffs, here’s my self-evaluation.
What I Got Right
Before we get into how dumb I am, it’s worth looking at the things I actually got right. Number one on that list is my opinion on the Columbus Blue Jackets, who went all-in at the deadline by picking up several rentals. In the process, they traded away nearly all of their draft picks in the next few years and a few young prospects (for more detail, read my initial piece). As I predicted in March, they failed to even make it to the Conference Finals (despite an impressive sweep of the previously dominant Tampa Bay Lightning), and now have little to work with for the future with as many as six key players leaving in the offseason. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky put his condo up for sale before their series with the Boston Bruins was even over.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to be winners with the acquisitions and subsequent long-term signing of Mark Stone, who led the playoffs in scoring before Vegas was eliminated in large part due to a bad call.
I also correctly predicted that the reinforcements brought in by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford would cause more harm than good; the Penguins got swept in the first round by the New York Islanders.
I was right that the Calgary Flames standing pat at the deadline wouldn’t be enough to take them on a deep playoff run. The league’s second best team in the regular season was dominated by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite their inabilities to get out of the first round, I stand by calling the Lightning and the Washington Capitals deadline winners. The Lightning couldn’t have possibly gotten any better, so they were smart not to do anything at the deadline. The fact they couldn’t win a playoff game is a much bigger failure than one or two rentals could’ve solved. The Caps got significant contributions from their deadline additions and have already re-signed one in Nick Jensen, so their loss can’t be attributed to deadline failures.
What I Got Wrong
Ok, now for the fun part. I did get a lot wrong. Most obvious is the fact that I called the Boston Bruins losers. I said that at the time because they missed out on Wayne Simmonds, Kevin Hayes, and a few other big name deadline targets they’d been linked with. But the Bruins instead picked up Marcus Johansson and Boston native Charlie Coyle, who have both been fantastic in the playoffs and are a big reason the Bruins are up 2–1 in the Stanley Cup Finals as I write this. Hayes and Simmonds, on the other hand, are watching from home as Coyle and Johansson keep playing.
The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and San Jose Sharks made significant acquisitions at the deadline, leading me to label all three winners. But none of them could compete with the St. Louis Blues, who did almost nothing at the deadline and yet are the only team from the West still playing. The Sharks and Jets lost directly to the Blues, while the Predators lost to the Dallas Stars (a team I mislabeled as a “loser”), who then lost to the Blues.
Too Early To Call
I had the Ottawa Senators as a winner, and for now I stand by that designation. But I have no more reason to say that now than I did in March, so we’ll have to wait to know if I’m right about this one. The Senators picked up top prospect Erik Brannstrom from Vegas in exchange for Stone as well as a number of draft picks and other prospects in a series of trades. If they use their plethora of draft picks wisely, I think their rebuild will be successful and will rely heavily on Brannstrom, supported by the other assets they got at this deadline.