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NHL Trade Deadline: Who in the East did the best?

The Bruins, Capitals, Islanders and Penguins all make moves to improve at the deadline

Washington Capitals v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL trade deadline has now come and gone and as the dust starts to settle there’s the realization that the top teams in the Eastern division all got better, as contenders tend to do this time of year.

In the past week or so, the Capitals, Islanders, Penguins and Bruins, 1-4 in the division, all made trades that they hope will be adding the right element to propel them to a long playoff run. We know that only one of those four teams will even win two rounds in the playoffs this year with the NHL’s divisional format, but on deadline day everyone is trying to improve and stack their decks as much as they can to give them a shot for a run.

How did they do?

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens probably did the least out of any top team in the East, as far as external additions. Which means they also paid the smallest price, a pair of mid-round picks over the next two years to add center/wing Jeff Carter from Los Angeles.

The more I think about this deal, the more I’m coming around on liking it. GM Ron Hextall spent a lot of time with Carter, and he knows Carter is 36 years old and not in his prime. As a player, there could even be some parallels to adding then-38 year old Bill Guerin in 2009, though Carter’s role won’t be the same on the Crosby line.

Carter does have a little left in the tank as well. He’s got no problem shooting from all over the ice, mostly along the right wall, but he also creates a ton of offense from in front of the net. That’s a useful style of play for this time of year.

It’s nice in the big picture that the Pens didn’t have to give up a ton for Carter. But in the next four, six, ten, twelve weeks the acquisition cost doesn’t really matter when we’re taking a view like this of “will this move help the team win in the spring/summer?”

And the answer seems to be pretty reasonable to expect Carter to add to the Penguins. He is not a game-breaker or going to be a dynamic player that puts up a point per game. But he will add depth and an extra big body and a right handed shot that loves to shoot the puck and finds a way to score from in front of the net. That’s a useful addition.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins added winger Taylor Hall and grinder Curtis Lazar for Anders Bjork (and a second round pick).

Hall has had one of the more interesting journeys and careers around, the former no. one pick has bounced around a bit but faded after his 2017-18 MVP season. Hall only scored two goals and 19 points in 37 games with Sabres this year. Some of that could be bad luck and the Buffalo funk being as Hall can still drive offense and create scoring opportunities, mainly through his playmaking.

Hall has admitted he’s not the most confident player right now, and needs to re-find some aspects of his game. Boston is a place where he doesn’t have to be the primary focus or relied on star player, which should help his individual situation.

Will it move the needle for the team? That is the big question, probably without a sure answer, but could be a potential high reward outcome for the Bruins.

New York Islanders

The Islanders didn’t make their move on deadline day, but it’s close enough since they added forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac a few days ago. They accomplished this without giving up anything from their roster, sending New Jersey a first round pick and a conditional mid-round selection.

Both will be top-nine forward options and provide depth for however New York wants to use them. Palmieri has scored between 24-30 goals prior to this season in the last five years and will be a dangerous scoring option to replace the injured Isles captain Anders Lee.

Zajac and Palmieri will provide very professional, veteran, steady play with an incredibly high floor for NYI.

Washington Capitals

And then we get to the Capitals, who made the biggest trade of the day for the division getting forward Anthony Mantha from Detroit for Jakub Vrana (and shedding the bad contract of Richard Panik). The Caps also included a first and second round draft pick, which tips the value balance of this trade, but that’s no real concern in the immediate future.

There are a few fascinating ways to look at this trade. On one hand, from a spreadsheet perspective, Mantha is only a minor upgrade on Vrana. Vrana has some especially impressive stats — if you look at 5v5 goals since 2018-19, he is fifth in the whole league (min 1500 minutes) with only Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Brendan Gallagher and David Pastrnak above him.

But as far as driving results, Mantha and Vrana have similar impacts overall.

But games aren’t played on paper and spreadsheets. And Vrana isn’t in great form — he was recently a healthy scratch and has one goal in his last 15 games. Since March 1, he’s only played 11ish minutes per game at even strength, 11th most among Washington forwards.

Mantha, on the other hand, is playing 16+ ES minutes lately for Detroit, and leads Red Wing forwards in goals and points.

In the broad scope, it’s a win for the Caps since Mantha is locked in on a great price of a $5.7m cap hit for the next four seasons, which should be his prime. He could and should be a 30+ goal scorer for them, which is a big reason why they had to spend a couple high draft picks to get him.

But that wide perspective doesn’t matter now. For April and May 2021, Mantha is a far better player to have in the lineup than Vrana. The Caps turned a talented but struggling player they were barely using into a surefire productive top six 6’4 winger. In the big picture, this may be a hefty price to give for only somewhat of a marginal upgrade for Washington. But for the immediate outlook, this move should be a big piece of what will help them on the ice with the way Vrana was relegated to being a bit player for them.

There’s the recap of the moves, just looking for this STRETCH RUN (so ignore the trade costs) which contender do you think had the best deadline addition(s)?


Which Eastern Division contender added the best to their team?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Pittsburgh Penguins
    (642 votes)
  • 28%
    New York Islanders
    (626 votes)
  • 17%
    Boston Bruins
    (385 votes)
  • 23%
    Washington Capitals
    (521 votes)
2174 votes total Vote Now