Top five trade deadline day winners

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After a trade deadline day filled with just 16 trades involving 35 players, many fans around the league came away feeling a bit let down. Considering last year’s deadline day saw 31 trades, it’s an understandable let down comparatively. The 16 deals is the lowest since the 2000 deadline that saw just 12 trades made.

Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be an impact felt by the deals that were made today and as always there are winners and losers upon first glance. Who do we think came out on top of things today? Our top five deadline day winners should give you a good idea of how we’re thinking. (Top five losers can be seen here.)

1. Los Angeles Kings acquiring Dustin Penner

The Kings have been hurting for offense most of the season. They’ve seen Jonathan Quick carry them to the fifth spot in the West at the moment on the back of spectacular goaltending and even the Kings defense is doing a solid job on their own right. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams have been shouldering the load of the offense this year and they desperately needed some kind of help scoring with their forwards.

Enter Dustin Penner into the mix and all of a sudden the Kings top two lines look more solid and dangerous. Whether Penner plays on a line with Kopitar or Jarret Stoll shouldn’t matter as the newest King broke out last year in Edmonton pouring in 32 goals and 31 assists. This season he’s got 21 goals and 18 assists. Those kind of goal numbers in L.A. would put him first on the team in goals ahead of the Kings quartet of guys with 20. Kopitar, Williams, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Smyth each have 20 and while coach Terry Murray has juggled his lines a lot this year, things should settle out evenly with Penner in town.

The package the Kings gave up to get him isn’t a back breaker either as Colten Teubert is a defensive prospect, something the Kings are teeming with. Giving up their first round pick this year doesn’t hurt so bad as this year’s draft class is supposed to be thinner than usual. Kings GM Dean Lombardi waited things out and didn’t have to give up top forward prospect Brayden Schenn to get Penner. It’s a win all around for Los Angeles and should Penner provide the goal scoring they’re looking for, the Kings became very dangerous the rest of the way.

2. Vancouver Canucks get deeper with Maxime Lapierre and Chris Higgins

The Canucks are the top team in the Western Conference so deadline day was a day for them to pick up any pieces necessary to get deeper and ready for the playoffs. About the only hole for the Canucks was their fourth line which has seen a host of players cycle in and out of the lineup to play alongside Tanner Glass.

Bringing in a new center in need of a kick in the pants in Maxime Lapierre from Anaheim and an experienced guy like Chris Higgins from Florida are tremendous upgrades on what Vancouver has been using on the fourth line. Lapierre is an agitator to the extreme and when properly motivated plays a fantastic role as a grinder. Higgins gives Vancouver a bit more talent and depth to use along the left wing on their third or fourth line. Higgins is not the goal scorer he was long touted to be, but his ability to play better defensively and not be completely offensively inept helps out in a big way. These two guys also provide them with more speed and energy on those last two lines. Just what a dangerous team needed, better players to become that much more dangerous.

3. Washington Capitals acquiring forward Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman

Caps GM George McPhee had a short list of things he had to do on deadline day to keep the fans at bay and show that the Caps were serious about being involved in this year’s playoffs. Yes, they’re a virtual lock to go and yes they have one of the greatest players on the planet in Alex Ovechkin, but glaring holes along the blue line and at center have been there all along. Failing to fill those holes at the deadline would’ve been major mistakes and McPhee made sure he didn’t fail this time around.

First he acquired offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman to help their power play and also allow the Caps to give Mike Green more time to recover from his head injuries suffered from getting hit with a puck and hit by New York’s Derek Stepan. Once Green does return, however, that gives the Capitals two guys to run their two power play units from the blue line. Wideman’s defensive shortcomings should be covered up in the Caps new defensive-friendly system.

Adding Jason Arnott to be the new second line center provides an immediate upgrade there as Marcus Johansson is still awfully young and Mathieu Perreault is just flat out not good enough. Arnott’s experience and abilities should play better with the likes of Alex Semin and Brooks Laich and gives Washington a more stable presence both on and off the ice. His playoff experience cannot be discounted either and when the Caps get to April and May, his help there should be noticeable. Now if only he can break his offensive funk that he’s been in the last couple months, the Caps should be all set.

4. Florida Panthers for not trading away Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun

All right the Panthers were obscenely busy making trades today as they sent Radek Dvorak to Atlanta, Bryan Allen to Carolina, Chris Higgins to Vancouver, and Dennis Wideman to Washington. They’d already done their part before deadline day in dealing Michal Frolik to Chicago and Cory Stillman to Carolina as well. While it’s apparent that GM Dale Tallon is cleaning house and starting over fresh in Sunrise, he didn’t give away the team’s best assets. Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun are all still there and they’re the type of guys you need to build a foundation around. While Vokoun is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, showing they’re dedicated to him by not dealing him makes it seem like the chances of extending his contract are better. We’ll see about that by summertime.

Tallon’s gone out of his way to acquire draft picks for all the other guys he’s traded away and in the 2011 draft he’s got a lot of choices to burn off. Apparently he’s not scared of how apparently weak the 2011 draft class is. Tallon’s gone through this rebuild thing before in Chicago and came away with guys like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook because of it. He got off to a good start in last year’s draft with Erik Gudbranson and having him and Dmitry Kulikov on the blue line to join Weiss and Booth along with whoever they add through the draft has the makings of a potentially bright future.

5. Columbus acquires Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto from Phoenix

Columbus needed a boost if they’re going to keep at it in the hunt for the playoffs in the West. Adding a great guy for the locker room and forward on the ice in Upshall and balanced defenseman Lepisto, the Blue Jackets did just that. With the news of Anton Stralman being out for the next 3-4 weeks, adding Lepisto and waiver acquisition Craig Rivet suddenly gives them a lot of depth on the blue line. It’s debatable how much Rivet can add, but Lepisto is solid and will be helpful to them on the power play as well, a key move with Stralman out.

Upshall can score a little and grind and check as well. Getting a winger with those talents in Columbus is a huge help and having Upshall ride along side Antoine Vermette gives them a versatile line that can both score and defend strong too. Giving up original Blue Jacket Rostislav Klesla is a bit of a downer and while he’s been a loyal soldier for the organization, he’s been part of a lot of bad teams, been injured too often and just now finally started falling into a good role in Columbus. Selling high is a smart move and GM Scott Howson did just that and came away with a steal.

Three questions facing New Jersey Devils

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

1. Can youth lead the way?

We mentioned earlier that this team is going the young route as general manager Ray Shero continues to craft it around youthful exuberance.

The Devils will be led by Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier next season, and it’s important the latter takes the next step in his game while the former continues the play that won him the Hart Trophy. But the supporting cast needs to progess as well. Jesper Bratt had a solid rookie outing and will be counted on to forge ahead.

Ditto for Will Butcher, who had a productive year on the back end and likewise for Pavel Zacha, who enters his third season in the NHL this year and could have a more prominent role if the Devils decide to split Hischier and Hall up.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]

2. Can Schneider bounce back from two poor seasons and offseason hip surgery?

It bears repeating that Schneider is the most important component to the success of the Devils.

With the strides the Devils have made outside of the crease, Schneider getting back to the numbers that garnered him his $42 million contract seems like a surefire way for the Devils to stick out in a talent Metropolitan Division.

His .908 and .907 in the past two years, respectively, won’t cut it if the team wants to ride him for 60 games.

It may not come early for New Jersey. Schneider’s arrival next season largely depends on how he’s healing from offseason hip surgery. Keith Kinkaid can handle the load until Schneider makes his return, so there’s no reason to rush Schneider back in just to have him end up back on injured reserve.

The Devils showed they could compete despite adversity this season. Void of that this season, and the Devils could be competing for more than just the final playoff spot in the East.

3. Will secondary scoring come? 

The line with Hall and Hischier combined for a good chunk of the Devils offensive production last season.

Even between those two, there was a 41-point gap. Between Hall and the next best producer, it was 49 points.

Hall can lead the way, as he showed this year, but others need to step up and reciprocate to close that gap. It’s possible Hischier hits 70 points this season. It’s possible that healthy Marcus Johansson can hit the 50-point mark once again.

There’s a lot of scenarios, including New Jersey’s young contingent improving on last season’s numbers.

The lack of scoring was exploiting in the playoffs at just 2.4 goals per game. That was never going to be enough to see off the Tampa Bay Lightning, and there’s no reason to suggest that will change this season.

Bonus round: What should Ray Shero do with the $18 million he has left floating around in cap space? The team needs to re-sign Miles Wood still, but what should be added and where? 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Under Pressure: Cory Schneider

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Statistically speaking, last season was Cory Schneider‘s worst as a professional hockey goaltender, usurping the previous year of his then-worst numbers as a netminder in the NHL.

That’s an unfortunate trend for a goalie with four years left on a seven-year, $42 million contract and someone who the Devils have placed a lot of faith in to be a rock behind a team that’s gone the youth direction in front of him..930

Schneider caught the injury bug in a bad way last season. After starting off the year posting good numbers, he plummeted after Christmas, forced to miss weeks with a lower-body injury.

In that time, Keith Kinkaid emerged as a capable replacement to Schneider. Kinkaid played so well, in fact, that he took the starter’s job from the $6 million man until relinquishing it in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kinkaid’s play was pivotal down the stretch and helped the Devils win a fierce battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Schneider didn’t win a regular season game in 2018, losing all 10 games he started with a 0-9-1 record. It was only after he took over from Kinkaid following the latter’s struggles in the playoffs that Schneider bounced back, posting a .950 save percentage in the games he played against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

To be fair to both goalies, the Devils offered no run support in the postseason, but Schneider showed well and perhaps looked as if he finally out his regular season in the rearview.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

Offseason surgery could play a factor as well.

Schneider revealed that he had been playing with a bothersome hip injury for more than a year, one that got fixed after he went under the knife in May.

“It was something that had kind of cropped maybe a year and a half ago, a season and a half ago,” Schneider said on the Devils All-Access Podcast. “It’s just something that nags and it there, but you don’t ever feel like it’s bad enough that you need to sit out for six months, because there’s no real good time to do it, unfortunately.”

Schneider is questionable for training camp as well as the opening of the regular season with a five-month recovery timeframe.

A fully healthy Schneider is an elite goaltender in the NHL and worth every penny of his large contract. If Schneider can bounce back from a couple of bad years with injuries, the Devils could be in very good shape given what they were able to do last season despite not having him.

They need him to. The team is moving in the right direction, providing Schneider doesn’t continue to move backward.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Building off a breakthrough: Nico Hischier

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

There’s an unwritten wishlist that every team has when they select first overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

In no particular order, team’s hope their scouting work over the course of the year paid off in the case of a close decision, that something can be salvaged from the year that got them there (some of that was luck with the Devils, who went from 5th to 1st in the lottery) and then you hope that the player you just gave a new home doesn’t turn into the next Patrik Stefan.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Three questions]

The good news for the New Jersey Devils is that all worked out, it would seem.

Nico Hischier was dropped right into the laps of the Devils last season and made an immediate impact throughout the season, playing all 82 games while being second on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 52 points as an 18-year-old in the National Hockey League.

Impressive stuff.

The wish now going forward is continued improvement. The bridge between Taylor Hall and the next leading scorer, Hischier, was 41 points last season. That’s a testament to Hall’s Hart Trophy season, but also the fact that the Devils are starving for another elite point producer.

The other good news is that an apparent wrist injury that nagged Hischier for much of last season seems to be squared away.

Hischier is the centerpiece of New Jersey’s youth resurgence, which also includes the likes of Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Will Butcher and Steven Santini, to name a few. It’s a philosophy change that seems to have worked last season after the Devils erased six-year playoff drought.

“We set standards upon our management and coaching staff and we raised the expectations and projected an idea of what we wanted to be,” general manager Ray Shero told the Ottawa Sun last week. “We started competing on the first day of training camp. Maybe there were some younger players who were at their first camp and nervous, but we told them the worst thing they could do was look at the depth chart. We also told the veterans that the worst thing they could do was look at the depth chart.”

An interesting question heading into the new season is whether the Devils will break up the line of Hall and Hischier in an effort to diversify their scoring portfolio. Together, the duo had a 59 percent GF% and performed very well last season.

That move would require other pieces to come up and prove that they can handle top line duties next to Hall. Perhaps Zacha, who showed well with Hall when paired with him. In any scenario, more good than harm has to be the case on a team that can’t afford a dip in scoring.

There’s a lot of pressure on Hischier to take another step this coming season, whoever he plays with. So far, he’s lived up to expectation. That wrist injury likely only held him back from reaching his true potential last season, so seeing what a 100 percent healthy Hischier can do should have Devils fans salivating.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

2017-18:

44-29-9, 97 pts. (5th Metropolitan Division; 8th Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Eric Gryba

OUT:

Michael Grabner
Patrick Maroon
Jimmy Hayes
Brian Gibbons
Christoph Bertschy
John Moore
Ken Appleby
Drew Stafford

RE-SIGNED:

Blake Coleman
Stefan Noesen
Steven Santini
Nick Lappin

The New Jersey Devils took a nice step in the right direction last season.

Gifted with some luck even before the season started, the Devils jumped from fifth to first in the draft lottery and selected Nico Hischier with the pick.

From there, the team battled through adversity in the form of a mid-season trade of a fan favorite, an oft-injured starting goalie and the heat of the playoff chase down the stretch.

And at the end of it, New Jersey made it to the playoffs, returning to the promised land for the first time since they lost in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings and they did so on the back of a Hart Trophy-winning season by Taylor Hall, who put the Devils on his back with a 26-game point streak that began on Jan. 2 and carried right on their the beginning of March.

Hischier also rose to the occasion, playing in all 82 games last season and finished second in team scoring with 20 goals and 52 points.

That’s a good year in most books, especially given New Jersey’s recent drought come spring.

The Devils weren’t without fault, however.

There was a large disparity in scoring. Hall finished with 93 points, and the next closest, Hischier, finished a distant 41 points adrift. Third-best ended with 44 points, a 49-gap, and only three players on the team had 20 or more goals, leaving the Devils in the middle of the pack in terms of goals-for as a team.

The Devils shuffled the deck in November, sending Adam Henrique to Anaheim in exchange for Sami Vatanen. The deal filled the needs of both teams at the time. Vatanen, in just 57 games, finished sixth on the team in scoring, but the Devils missed Henrique’s production, especially in the playoffs where they managed just 2.4 goals per game.

A slow offseason means the Devils will continue to drink from their fountain of youth (they have 11 players 25 years of age or younger), and Jesper Bratt shouldn’t be forgotten amongst the Hischiers and the Halls of the team.

Bratt had 13 goals and 35 points during his rookie season last year and the Devils will hope he can take the next step this coming year.

A healthy Marcus Johansson, who was limited to just 29 games due to a bevy of injuries, will also give the roster a shot in the arm, offensively.

New Jersey can tie a lot of it together with a bounce-back year from Cory Schneider in goal. Schneider battled injury and inconsistent play, not winning a game in 2018 until he surfaced in the playoffs.

Schneider is the starter, no doubt. He’s making $6 million a season and has four years left on his deal. His save percentage has gone from .908 in 2016-17 to .907 last year.

It goes without saying, but the Devils need him back to his best, such as the numbers he displayed in 2015-16 with a .924.

Prospect Pool:

• Ty Smith, D, 18, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Smith took a big step in the Western Hockey League last season with 14 goals and 59 assists in 69 games, more than doubling his numbers from his rookie season. His play helped him to the 17th spot in the draft where the Devils took him. He prides himself on his skating ability and is a future stalwart in New Jersey’s rearguard if he continues to progress.

Michael McLeod, C, 20, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Big — he’s 6-foot-2 — and has the ability to move his feet very quickly. McLeod was only slowed last season by an injury at the beginning of the year. He was still able to put up 16 goals and 44 points with the Steelheads in 38 games and had four points in seven games at the world juniors, helping Canada to gold. The Devils haven’t added much on forward this offseason, so a good showing in camp could help McLeod onto the opening night roster.

• John Quenneville, C, 22, Binghamton Devils (AHL) – 2014 first-round pick

Quenneville, like McLeod, will have a shot at making the big club out of camp. The 22-year-old produced another solid year in the AHL with 34 points in 43 games and has the ability to play on either wing as well as his natural center positon, which will only help his chances come the fall.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck