The trade deadline has come and gone and we’re now officially into the stretch drive. The Pacific Division dogfight certainly didn’t get any easier, but, thankfully for the Oilers, Ken Holland stepped up to the plate and gave Oilers fans their best trade deadline since the 2006 run.
1. Vegas Golden Knights
34-22-8 (76 points) / Goals For: 208 (6th of 31) / Goals Against: 196 (19th of 31)
Major Additions: Robin Lehner, Alec Martinez, Nick Cousins.
Major Subtractions: Malcolm Subban, Cody Eakin.
The Golden Knights, who are currently sitting at the top of the division by a slim margin, address far and away their biggest issue, adding goaltender Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks. Malcolm Subban was as shaky a backup goalie as they come and now the addition of Lehner gives Vegas a strong one-two punch along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas currently ranked 19th in the league in goals-against with a team save percentage of .900. Adding Lehner, who has a .918 save percentage on a miserable Blackhawks team, will be a game-changer.
Vegas also added veteran defenceman Alec Martinez and bottom-six forward Nick Cousins from Los Angeles and Montreal respectively ahead of the deadline. Martinez was a member of both of the Kings’ Stanley Cup teams in 2012 and 2014 and gives the Golden Knight some added stability on the blueline while Cousins gives the team a versatile bottom-six forward who can play a variety of roles.
The key for Vegas really was adding Lehner, though. They’re 10-3-2 since hiring head coach Peter DeBoer despite shaky goaltending so solidifying the net makes them favourites to win the Pacific.
2. Edmonton Oilers
33-22-7 (73 points) / Goals For: 198 (14th of 31) / Goals Against: 192 (16th of 31)
Major Additions: Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Ennis, Mike Green.
Major Subtractions: Sam Gagner.
Ken Holland put together the best trade deadline the Oilers have seen since 2006. First, he added Mike Green for a fourth-round pick, giving the Oilers some veteran insurance on the blueline and potential power-play specialist down the stretch. After that, he dealt a fifth-round pick to the Senators for local product Tyler Ennis, whose 33 points would rank fourth among Oilers forwards. The biggest splash of all, though, came when he acquired Andreas Athanasiou from the Red Wings for Sam Gagner and two second-round picks.
Athanasiou is a player Holland knows well as he drafted and developed him in Detroit. Though he’s having a down season, Athanasiou scored 30 goals last season and could certainly benefit from a change of scenery, especially if that change of scenery involves playing alongside Connor McDavid. Athanasiou boasts some of the best wheels in the league and should fit in nicely on the team’s top line.
Best of all, Holland made all of these additions without giving up the team’s first-round pick. The Oilers have a tall task to beat out the Golden Knights for the top spot in the division, but these additions will help a lot.
3. Vancouver Canucks
33-22-6 (72 points) / Goals For: 203 (9th of 31) / Goals Against: 187 (12th of 31)
Major Additions: Tyler Toffoli.
Major Subtractions: Tim Schaller.
Jim Benning’s work came well prior to the trade deadline when he acquired Tyler Toffoli from the L.A. Kings in exchange for prospect Tyler Madden, roster player Tim Schaller (who was subsequently waived), and a second-round pick. Though there was talk about Benning going out and making another splash, nothing else ended up happening save for a minor deal involving AHL goaltenders.
The addition of Toffoli gave Vancouver some added scoring touch, which was important because Brock Boeser is expected to miss the majority of the season. But, otherwise, there wasn’t much room for the Canucks to add as they had already given away their first- and second-round picks.
In other news, Jacob Markstrom was placed on the Injured Reserve and is expected to be out three-to-four weeks with a lower-body injury. Markstrom has been the team’s MVP this year and losing him for part of the stretch drive could be a huge blow.
4. Calgary Flames
32-25-6 (70 points) / Goals For: 187 (18th of 31) / Goals Against: 196 (19th of 31)
Major Additions: Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson.
Major Subtractions: Brandon Davidson.
There had been plenty of talk about the Flames being in the market for some help up front in order to address their scoring woes, but they ended up bolstering their blueline instead. Calgary traded away draft picks to acquire Derek Forbort from the L.A. Kings and Erik Gustafsson from the Blackhawks, which basically gives the team an all-new third pairing.
With Mark Giordano dealing with a hamstring injury and Travis Hamonic out a few more weeks with an upper-body injury, Calgary suddenly had a pretty glaring need for blueliners. Forbort is a pure shutdown defender while Gustafsson is an effective puck-mover. The thing with both players, though, is they’ve never played on contending teams, so they aren’t really your typical veteran deadline additions.
While the Flames did a fine job filling the new holes they had to deal with due to injuries, they didn’t do anything to address their biggest need, which is scoring help in their top-six.
5. Arizona Coyotes
31-26-8 (70 points) / Goals For: 181 (22nd of 31) / Goals Against: 174 (9th of 31)
Major Additions: None.
Major Subtractions: None.
John Chayka made his trade deadline splash months ago when he acquired Taylor Hall to help the team push for the playoffs. The results have been mixed as Hall has good individual stats but the team has been hot and cold, though a lot of that comes down to goaltender Darcy Kuemper missing a good chunk of time due to injury.
There was some talk that Chayka could sell on Hall ahead of the deadline, similar to when the New York Islanders acquired Thomas Vanek a few years back and flipped him to Montreal when things didn’t work out. The Coyotes paid a decent price for Hall and if they slid down the standings they could sell to recoup some of those assets, but Chayka seems to believe in the team. That isn’t all too surprising given the organization badly wants to snap their nearly-decade-long playoff drought.
Arizona didn’t make a deadline addition, but getting Kuemper and his .929 save percentage back can basically be viewed as one. He hasn’t played since mid-December and he’ll give the team a nice boost down the stretch.
What does it all mean?
As I said off the hop, things didn’t get any easier in the Pacific Division, but we never expected that would be the case. The Pacific (and the West, really) are completely wide-open and all five teams made additions to help their respective playoff push.
Arizona’s addition wasn’t really an addition as it’s just a key player coming back from injury, but it could give them a major spark. Both Calgary and Vancouver made moves to compensate for injuries and aren’t really much better than they were when fully healthy. Vegas, I think, made themselves the team to beat by acquiring a Vezina-calibre goaltender in Lehner for their playoff drive. They’re a good team with shaky goaltending and now they can play to their full potential with that issue solved.
Another quick thing to mention, the Central Division teams Edmonton could be fighting with for a spot in the wild-card (if it comes to that) didn’t do much to improve themselves. The Jets, who are right in the mix, added Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo, a couple of decent depth upgrades. In Nashville, David Poile stood completely still, opting to not invest in the team or sell anybody off to recoup assets. Finally, the Wild sold off Jason Zucker and the Blackhawks dealt away Lehner and Gustafsson, ultimately conceding the race.
With all that in mind, the Oilers didn’t fall behind at all in this race. Far from it. Adding Athanasiou gives Connor McDavid his much-needed speedy, skilled winger while adding Ennis gives the third line some offensive kick. Just two winger additions made Edmonton’s forward group a lot deeper, which is necessary for them to duke it out with Vegas for the top spot in the division.