The NHL’s trade deadline has come and gone with a new level of activity. There were 33 trades completed on the deadline day as contenders load up and push the limits of the salary cap and their imaginations to make the best team they can for the playoffs.
Now that the dust has settled a bit with a few days to see the picture developing, let’s take a scan around the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Which teams added the right pieces? Who might not have done enough?
We’ll judge everything in the week leading up to the deadline for this purpose. And this is a look focused is on the stretch run of the regular season and 2022 playoffs, the cost of a trade is not meaningful for this exercise based only on the short-term. Whether Tampa or New York gave up one draft pick or all their picks for 10 years, the result that matters at the moment is what their team will look like this spring. Seedings below are based on the standings as of this morning.
#1 Florida Panthers: A
Additons: Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot, Robert Hagg
Subtractions: Frank Vatrano
The Florida Panthers have only made the playoffs four times in the century of the 2000’s. They have not won a playoff series since 1996. This is a team that is going for it, and quite frankly, they absolutely should be doing everything in their power to be the best they can be right now. Burn all the future assets and draft picks, they’ve had 25 years worth of draft picks to get to this point. And boy did they go for it, grabbing the biggest name on the move in Claude Giroux as a top line forward. They get a big, nasty element in Chiarot to add a dimension they don’t have much of. The Panthers were already the top seed so far in the East, based on the deadline moves they’ve set themselves up for a serious run.
#2 Carolina Hurricanes: C
Additons: Max Domi
Domi only has two goals in his last 34 games (he has added 15 assists in this stretch though, to be fair). Carolina already had all the major pieces in place, they really didn’t need to “win the deadline”, so it is understandable that they didn’t try to either. Conventional wisdom might have been to add center or defensive depth instead of a somewhat inconsistent but skilled winger, but with what the Hurricanes have on hand they might not have needed that anyways. Getting Domi right near the deadline kind of feels like “everyone else is adding something, we better just grab someone too” type of feel.
#3 Pittsburgh Penguins: B+
Additons: Rickard Rackell, Nathan Beaulieu
Subtractions: Dominik Simon, Zach-Aston Reese
Without much cap space or a lot of premiere assets to give up, the Pens still did well to add what was a position of major need: more skill on the wing.
Rickard Rakell's hands are ridiculous pic.twitter.com/7CBvNA3Hys— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) March 24, 2022
Rakell adds that needed element to improve and boost their chances in the playoffs, which is the whole point of the deadline for teams that intend to contend.
#4 Toronto Maple Leafs: B-
Additions: Mark Giordano, Colin Blackwell
Subtractions: Travis Dermott
A nice job by Toronto to add a veteran solid defender in Giordano to further shore up their top-four. Giordano is long in the tooth at 38 but still a good addition. Toronto was also limited by the salary cap. Their grade takes a hit for not being able to address or upgrade the goaltending that has been very troubling in the second half of the season and now complicated with a rib injury to starter Jack Campbell. Marc-Andre Fleury apparently did not want to go to Canada, which took Toronto out of the running, but in an ideal world if they could have got any 37+ year old player right now, he would have been a better add for their needs.
#5 New York Rangers: A
Additions: Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, Justin Braun, Andrew Copp
By necessity, the Rangers needed to do the most work out of any Eastern playoff team to round out their lineup for the stretch run. To their credit, they didn’t let the cap space they had accumulated go to waste making so many moves to add, add, add. Vatrano is an under-the-radar sneaky good pickup who can finish, Copp is a really well-rounded player with size that will be a big time piece for them. The question now is will it be enough and just how will all these new faces fit into the puzzle of the team fit and chemistry?
#6 Tampa Bay Lightning: A-
Additions: Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul, Riley Nash
Subtractions: Mathieu Joseph, Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk
Hagel should be in the mold of a Blake Coleman/Barclay Goodrow type of important secondary player that will add tenacity and scoring punch for a few years to come. Also really like Paul as a depth piece as well. Giving up all the futures might make this grade lessen in the long term, but for now, the Lightning are as “all in” as anyone else as they seek a third straight championship.
#7 Boston Bruins: B-
Additions: Hampus Lindholm
Subtractions: John Moore, Urho Vaakanainen,
Already built around defense, the Bruins stocked up with a top-four piece in Lindholm who is a great fit and should be solid for them. It’s a bit curious that was their only move and they will have to go with mainly what they’ve got on hand without further upgrades or another new face up front.
#8 Washington Capitals: C+
Additions: Johan Larsson, Marcus Johansson
Subtractions: Daniel Sprong
The Caps had an interesting strategy, with many others gearing up on offense, Washington went against the grain and looked to shore up depth and defensive forwards. Johansson is a reacquire to where he spent the best years of his career and can move up and down the lineup as needed. Larsson is a good replacement for the injured Carl Hagelin on the checking line. The opportunity cost from this is going into the playoffs with their current goaltending combo and being unable to woo Marc-Andre Fleury, which would have really pushed the needle.
The top eight teams in the East have distanced themselves from the pack, and now the jockeying will be with one another for seeding. As of today, all these teams are only separated by 10 points, and the difference between first and fifth is just five points.
Florida and Carolina have the inside edge for their respective division championships and the first round matchup against a Wild Card team, though either position is far from solidified with about 18-20 games to go. That also means due to the NHL’s divisional playoff setup that as of today the #3 (Pittsburgh) and #5 (NYR) would face each other in the first round, as would #4 (Toronto) and #6 (Tampa), which is going to setup some absolutely massive first round matchups, regardless of which teams end up in the 2 vs 3 battles in both divisions.