NHL Trade Deadline Recap

Evan Rogers, National Sports Editor

3 p.m. this past Monday, March 2, marked the passing of another NHL trade deadline. The trade deadline is a point in the season when teams must evaluate themselves and decide whether they want to make a serious push for the playoffs or if they should sell off assets and look towards the future. This year’s deadline was generally considered less exciting than past years’. This is likely because it was very defense focused, as many of the top contenders across the league elected to add steady defensemen rather than high-profile forwards.

The biggest trade of this year’s deadline came on Sunday, when the New York Rangers made a trade for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle. While Yandle is occasionally a liability in his own end of the ice, he is without a doubt one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league. Yandle is one of two defenseman to have 40 points in five of the last six seasons and this year he has the second most assists among defensemen. The Rangers acquired him primarily to act as a quarterback for their power play, as Yandle leads the NHL in power play assists this year and is fourth in power play points.

The Rangers had to send a hefty package back to the Coyotes to get Yandle, giving up top prospect Anthony Duclair (who showed great chemistry with another Coyotes prospect, Max Domi, at this year’s World Junior Championship), defenseman John Moore, a 2016 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick. After losing in the Stanley Cup Finals last year and with star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist getting older at the age of 33, the Rangers are betting big for the chance to win a cup now.

Not to be outdone by New York, many of the other top contenders in the Eastern Conference were active in acquiring defensemen to solidify their teams on the back-end. The first-place Montreal Canadiens acquired Jeff Petry, a good, young right-handed defenseman with decent offensive potential, from Edmonton for a pair of draft picks. The Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed Braydon Coburn from Philadelphia, a veteran defenseman with playoff experience who is capable of playing a ton of minutes. The Detroit Red Wings added 38-year-old Marek Zidlicky to mentor their younger defenseman and provide stability as the playoffs approach. Lastly, the Pittsburgh Penguins swapped defenseman Rob Bortuzzo for the more sure-handed Ian Cole from the St. Louis Blues.

There were also a handful of moves made in the Western Conference in an attempt to finalize rosters before the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks started things off a few days before the trade deadline when they traded for veteran winger Antoine Vermette. After Patrick Kane got injured last week (he could be out until the Western Conference finals), the Blackhawks needed to find a top-six winger to replace him. Vermette does exactly that, and while he doesn’t have the world-class talent of Kane, he has proven to be a very capable scorer in the NHL.

The Coyotes continued to dump players in their effort to secure a top draft pick when they traded defenseman Zybnek Michalek to the St. Louis Blues for a prospect and a third round draft pick. Michalek is currently injured, dealing with a suspected concussion  he suffered on February 14. Michalek is a true defensive defenseman who can block a ton of shots and shut down an opponent’s top line. The Blues are hopeful that he will be able to return soon and add valuable depth to their already solid defensive core. The Anaheim Ducks traded for James Wisniewski, a player they are familiar with after he was traded to Anaheim at the 2009 trade deadline and helped them reach the second round of the playoffs that year. The Minnesota Wild were also active on Monday. They added forward Chris Stewart from Buffalo, a player known for his strength and ability to score the tough, gritty goals that become crucial during the playoffs.

The Wild were also responsible for the most heart-warming trade of the weekend when they acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Leopold grew up in Minnesota and played college hockey at the University of Minnesota, so he was surely excited by the opportunity to return home and join a contending team. Shortly after the trade went through, a letter that Leopold’s 11-year-old daughter had written to the Wild went viral, asking them to bring her dad back to Minnesota because she and the rest of the family was lonely without him. Obviously, the trade was made primarily with hockey in mind, but at a time when so many players are getting displaced from home, it’s always nice to see trades that work out for players and their families.