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The plight of the sellers at the NHL trade deadline

Teams that trade stars for future assets usually end up with the short end of the stick

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

On Wednesday night the first big domino of the NHL trade deadline season fell when Vancouver acquired forward Elias Lindholm from Calgary.

In return to the Flames was the standard fare for a high-end forward on an expiring contract. Calgary got Vancouver’s 2024 first round pick, plus a decent prospect (a defender drafted in the third round last year but who has been impressing since), some other stuff of less value (a lesser prospect and a conditional mid-round pick) and an NHL player in Andrei Kuzmenko.

Kuzmenko is the key to return for Calgary. He has a ticking UFA clock in 2025. Kuzmenko scored 39 goals and 74 points last season as an NHL rookie. After playing hot last year, this year he slumped and got bumped into a lesser role and only has eight goals and 21 points in 43 games. He might never be as productive as he was last season but still clearly demonstrated the skill and ability to put up points in this league - even if Calgary gets a guy somewhere in middle of his two outputs, there’s some quality to be had there.

The bigger issue, as mentioned, is Kuzmenko’s free agency timing. He didn’t WANT to go to Calgary (the Flames were listed on his block list for trade protection, he opted to waive it to be sent there and play more), it was more that Kuzmenko HAD to leave Vancouver to get his floundering NHL career back on track. There’s a chance he doesn’t really get back into that groove and then the Flames have $5.5 million on the books next season for a dud of a streaky player that’s been in a rut. Even if Kuzmenko hits in a better case scenario for Calgary, he’s likely looking at this as a pit stop to redemption to find something glamorous and lucrative if it works out. Tough spot for the Flames, but at least they secured actual NHL skill and talent for Lindholm.

Because that might be all of it. Vancouver is currently (tied) for first in points and points% in the NHL. If they end up staying there, it won’t be a high draft pick. Even if the Canucks bow out in the first round of the playoffs, based on a strong record that would mean pick No. 24 is the best it would get for Calgary. If the Canucks win one round the selection would be no higher than 28. And further down the pick goes with the more success they end up having towards the last pick in the first round at No. 32.

All this to say, a potential Jake Guentzel trade (as roughly seen in the Lindholm deal) wouldn’t be particularly lucrative to the Penguins. They would probably get a long-shot later first round pick that is far more likely to be end up being a Sam Poulin or a P.O Joseph level prospect rather than a future Shea Theodore or Tage Thompson (two players as outliers picked at the tail end of the first round that developed into tremendous NHLers).

That’s not breaking news or revealing an unexpected development, but important to point out just the same in the wake of the Lindholm trade. At this point, many observers are praising Calgary as doing as well as to be expected to get a (potentially) quality NHL player and two good young pieces for the future. To be sure, that’s not bad work, even if chances remain better than not it will ultimately add up to a whole lot of nothin’ (or close to it).

To further illustrate the plight of the sellers at trade deadlines, let’s stick with Daily Faceoff for their top forward acquisitions of the NHL’s salary cap era with an eye for what the team giving up the goods actually ended up getting back for quality players after the dust settled.

5. Los Angeles acquires Marian Gaborik from Columbus for Matt Frattin, a 2015 2nd round pick (Travis Dermott) and a 2014 3rd round pick (Dominic Turgeon) (March 5, 2014)

Dermott has gone onto have a nice NHL career, but certainly not an impact player now on his third team at age-27 to diminishing returns along the way (signing a two-way contract with Arizona for 2023-24). Gaborik went on to help lift LA to a second Stanley Cup in a three-year stretch. Frattin and the future third rounders were essentially non-factors.

4. Tampa Bay acquires Blake Coleman from New Jersey for Nolan Foote and a 2020 first round pick (Shakir Mukhamadullin) (Feb. 16, 2020)

Tampa gave up two first-round quality assets at the time (Foote was their 2019 pick, and they gave up a future first) to get Coleman, who was very attractive for term left on his contract and a favorable cap hit.

Now four years later, Foote has only played in 19 career NHL games and doesn’t look like a factor on this level. Mukhamadullin only recently made his NHL debut, but gave New Jersey value by flipping him as a key piece to acquire Timo Meier.

Taken just on face value though, NJ got two valuable and solid pieces in 2020 and would have gotten minimal NHL output from it all these years later. Coleman went onto help Tampa win two straight Stanley Cups.

3. Boston acquires Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik from Atlanta for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart (Feb. 18, 2011)

Hey, this one worked out as a good ending for the seller. Wheeler blossomed into a great player for the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise (he was also a former No. 5 overall pick and had three years of NHL time and wasn’t a prospect). A rare W for the seller.

2. Los Angeles acquires Jeff Carter from Columbus for Jack Johnson and a 2013 first round pick (Marko Dano) (Feb. 23, 2012)

Columbus was in a tough spot since Carter did not want to play for them. They got a first rounder and a top-four defender. The pick was tough; it didn’t even happen until 16 months after the trade and ended up being 27th overall and only giving them 37 NHL games in 2014-15 before moving on.

Tough series for CBJ, who gave up Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick to get Carter less than a year earlier and then had to sell for pennies on the dollar to recoup what they could.

1. Vegas acquires Mark Stone and Tobias Lindberg from Ottawa for Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second round pick (Egor Sokolov) to Ottawa (Feb. 25, 2019)

This trade is the biggest forward deadline transaction because it did wonders for the buyer and is another tough go for the seller. Stone became Vegas’ captain and has been a franchise player for the Golden Knights. Brannstrom was seen as a top prospect but still five years post-trade has not fit as a consistent quality NHL player. Lindberg was a decent NHL level player who only lasted the rest of the season and went to Europe.

The future second rounder has transformed into a player with 13 total NHL games to this point and remains in the AHL as of now.

Ottawa’s sell off of a great (future RFA) asset for futures ended up setting their rebuild back to where it remains today as one of the NHL’s bottom dwellers. Giving up Stone and waiting for Brannstrom and a draft pick to develop into not much of anything was massively painful for the Senators.

That’s the stark reality for sellers and something to consider if the Penguins even explore the idea of trading Guentzel for what value they are truly looking at recouping. Most likely they will be left with a return consisting mostly of future assets that historically tend to amount to very little in the way of NHL impact.

For best results, Pittsburgh should aim for maximizing what they can out of developed NHL players (as seen in the Wheeler and Kuzmenko examples) to ensure that they take some sort of actionable value in return. Presuming they even get to the point where a trade of Guentzel is the decision over keeping him. Otherwise, as history shows, the Pens will likely end up in lists like this in the future to end up on someone else’s best trade.