Every year around the NHL trade deadline there is always that talk about how “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”
It is usually mentioned as a justification for a team standing pat at the deadline and not adding a player for the stretch run or the postseason, and it only gets driven home even further when a team that did make a big trade inevitably loses before the Stanley Cup Final.
But you do not need to actually win the Stanley Cup for a postseason run to be a successful one or for a trade deadline deal to be worth it.
Sometimes making a big trade is the right move and sometimes does work. There have been quite a few examples this season and those are the subject of this week’s PHT Power Rankings: The trade deadline acquisitions that have made the biggest impact in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let’s go to the rankings!
1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This was probably the most significant deadline deal due to the combination of Duchene being one of the top players available, and because Columbus wasn’t even a lock to make the postseason when it was completed. It was bold. It was a risk. It was the type of move team’s in this position do not usually make. After a slow start with his new team at the end of the regular season, Duchene has proven to be everything the Blue Jackets hoped he would be in the playoffs with 10 points in his first nine games, including a pair of game-winning goals. He is one of the many free agents on this Blue Jackets roster so his long-term future with the team remains very much in doubt (this summer will probably be his last chance to cash in with a big contract in free agency) but he is a big reason they have experienced life beyond Round 1 of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
2. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. Yeah, I know, they lost in the first round and that is going to make it easy to hold this up as an example of a big trade at the deadline not working out but that entire mindset is completely misguided and totally shortsighted. First, the Golden Knights didn’t lose because of Stone or what they gave up to get him. They lost because of a controversial penalty call and a penalty killing unit that collapsed on itself over a five-minute stretch late in the third period of Game 7. Stone was so good and so dominant in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks that he is still tied for the second most total points and the third most goals in this year’s playoffs. He was great for the Golden Knights, is one of the best two-way wingers in the NHL, and the team has him signed long-term. If it had not been for the trade to send him to Vegas it is entirely possible the Golden Knights never would have even made it to Game 7 and been in a position to win. The trade worked, and it will continue to work for the next several years.
3. Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes. Since this trade happened in January, more than a month before the trade deadline, it is probably stretching it to call this a “deadline” deal, but it is close enough and it was still a significant mid-season deal that helped alter the playoff landscape in the NHL. Not only because it gave the Hurricanes another bona-fide top-six winger (and one with some much-needed finishing ability around the net) to help power their second half surge, but also because it took him away from Minnesota and helped complete their second half fall. Niederreiter hasn’t made a huge impact in the box score so far in the playoffs (one goal, four assists) but he is one of the team’s best possession-driving players, was amazing in the regular season to help the Hurricanes secure their playoff spot, and is signed long-term to be a significant part of the team’s core beyond this season. Huge trade at the right time. The Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the NHL after January 1 and the addition of Niederreiter was a significant part of that.
4. Mats Zuccarello, Dallas Stars. If the Stars were going to do anything meaningful this season it was imperative that they find some secondary scoring to complement their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. The addition of Zuccarello at the trade deadline was supposed to do exactly that, and in his first game with the team the Stars got a taste of what he could add to their lineup with a huge performance — to lose him for most of the remaining regular season schedule due to injury. He returned just in time for the playoffs and has made a massive impact on the Stars’ second line with 10 points in the team’s first 12 playoff games. He has been exactly what they needed, and along with the emergence of Roope Hintz has given the Stars enough offense after their top line to give themselves a chance to make a deep playoff run.
5. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Another significant Minnesota trade where the Wild probably sold low on a winger that had been one of their most productive players in recent years. Coyle struggled immediately after arriving in Boston but has been a huge difference-maker so far in the playoffs, having already scored five goals for the Bruins. That includes two goals in Game 1 of their Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets where he tied the game late in the third period and then won it in overtime. Right now those two goals are why the Bruins are playing for the chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night instead of facing elimination.
6. Gustav Nyquist, San Jose Sharks. Nyquist hasn’t yet made a huge impact for the Sharks, but he’s been very good and an excellent addition to a roster that is already loaded. He finished the regular season strong and even though he has just one goal and four assists in the playoffs, he has still played well and been a threat to score … he just hasn’t consistently finished yet. Given that the Sharks only had to give up a second-and third-round pick to get him it was a worthwhile addition and one that still has the potential to pay off even more.