PHT Power Rankings: Trade deadline acquisitions making postseason impact

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!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

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.

[Related: Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line]

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.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Blackhawks send Anisimov to Senators for Zack Smith

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Artem Anisimov‘s name has been floating in trade speculation for more than a year now, and on Tuesday afternoon the Chicago Blackhawks finally moved him.

The Blackhawks announced they have traded Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Zack Smith. It is a one-for-one deal that will probably make a bigger impact on both team’s financial situations than on the ice.

Both players are 31 years old, have two years remaining on their current contracts, and are coming off of somewhat similar seasons in terms of their performance. Anisimov scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks this past season, while Smith had nine goals and 28 points in 70 games for the Senators.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So what is important here for both teams? Money, obviously.

For the Blackhawks, the Anisimov-for-Smith swap saves them a little more than $1 million against the salary cap as they go from Anisimov’s $4.5 salary cap hit to Smith’s $3.25 number. For a team that is consistently pressed against the cap and still has a ton of big-money players, every little bit of extra space helps. Especially as they have to work out new deals for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome over the next year.

The Senators, meanwhile, had a different set of problems.

They were still sitting under the league’s salary floor before the trade and are now finally above it.

Anisimov’s contract not only gets them over the floor, but because the Blackhawks have already paid Anisimov’s signing bonus for this season the Senators actually owe him less in terms of actual salary, which is also probably an important factor for a team that is seemingly always in a cost-cutting and money-saving mode.

The Blackhawks have been extremely busy this offseason making multiple changes to their roster after a second straight non-playoff season. Along with acquiring Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in trades to try and upgrade their defense, they also signed goalie Robin Lehner in free agency and brought back veteran forward Andrew Shaw.

This past week they traded former first-round pick defender Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Nylander.

Related: Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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When it comes to the NHL’s restricted free agent market this summer most of the attention has been directed at forwards Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, and Sebastian Aho. They are the stars, the big point-producers, and in the case of Aho, the rare player that actually received — and signed — an offer sheet from another team, only to have the Carolina Hurricanes quickly move to match it. For now, though, let’s shift the focus to the blue line where there are a few more big contracts still to be settled this summer with Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov all waiting on new deals from their respective teams.

The two most intriguing players out of this group are Columbus’ Werenski and Boston’s McAvoy because they are already playing at an elite level among NHL defenders.

Just how good have they been?

Both are coming off of their age 21 seasons and have already demonstrated an ability to play at a top-pairing level on playoff caliber teams.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four defenders that have hit all of the following marks through their age 21 season:

  • At least 100 games played
  • Averaged at least .50 points per game
  • And had a Corsi Percentage (shot-attempt differential) of greater than 52 percent at that point in their careers.

Those players have been Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Werenski, and McAvoy.

That is it.

Pretty elite company.

Based on that, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to look at the contracts Karlsson and Doughty received at the same point in their careers when they were coming off of their entry-level deals.

They were massive.

Karlsson signed a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators, while Doughty signed an eight-year, $56 million contract. At the time, those contracts were worth around 10 percent of the league’s salary cap. A similarly constructed contract under today’s cap would come out to an annual cap hit of around $8 million dollars, which would be among the five highest paid defenders in the league.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Are Werenski and McAvoy worth similar contracts right now? They just might be.

The argument against it would be that while the overall performances are in the same ballpark, there are still some significant differences at play. Karlsson, for example, was coming off of a Norris Trophy winning season when he signed his long-term deal in Ottawa and was already on track to being one of the best offensive defensemen ever (he was already up to .68 points per game!). Doughty, meanwhile, was a significantly better defensive player than the other three and had already been a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

Neither Werenski or McAvoy has reached that level yet, while Werenski also sees a pretty significant drop in his performance when he is not paired next to Seth Jones, which could be a concern depending on how much value you put into such a comparison. It’s also worth pointing out that Jones sees a similar drop when he is not paired next to Werenski, and that the two are absolutely dominant when they are together.

But do those points outweigh the production and impact that Werenski and McAvoy have made, and the potential that they still possess in future years?

What they have already accomplished from a performance standpoint is almost unheard of for defenders of their age in this era of the league. It is also rare for any player of any level of experience.

Over the past three years only 15 other defenders have topped the 0.50 points per game and a 52 percent Corsi mark. On average, those players make $7 million per season under the cap, while only three of them — Roman Josi, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Erik Gustafsson — make less than $5 million per year. Josi is also due for a huge raise over the next year that will almost certainly move him into the $7-plus million range as well.

Bottom line is that the Blue Jackets and Bruins have top-pairing defenders on their hands that still have their best days in the NHL ahead of them. There is every reason to believe they are on track to be consistent All-Star level players and signing them to big deals right now, this summer, will probably turn out to be worth every penny.

Related: Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.