The worst team in the National Hockey League did the best work before the trade deadline.
The Buffalo Sabres already had lots of prospects and draft picks to rebuild with. And by trading away goaltender Ryan Miller, a third-round pick and forwards Thomas Vanek (earlier this season), Steve Ott, Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, here is the franchise’s net gain:
Forwards Chris Stewart and Torrey Mitchell; forward prospects William Carrier and Hudson Fasching; defensive prospect Nicolas Deslauriers; goaltender Michal Neuvirth (after flipping Jaroslav Halak from the Miller deal); defenseman Rostislav Klesla, two first-round picks, a second-round pick and another high conditional pick. Whew!
Here are the other trade deadline winners and losers:
Vancouver Canucks: Goaltender Roberto Luongo will turn 35 next month. His 12-year, $64 million contract runs until 2022. That deal was huge liability for a franchise needing to hit the restart button. So when general manager Mike Gillis traded away Luongo and most of his remaining money, he gained the flexibility he needs to retool. Gillis also held on to center Ryan Kesler, who should fetch a higher trade price this summer.
Montreal Canadiens: General manager Marc Bergevin played an excellent poker hand and got the dangerous Vanek from the Islanders at a modest price --Swedish forward Sebastien Collberg and a conditional second-round pick. Earlier Bergevin added depth defenseman Mike Weaver.
Minnesota Wild: The franchise opted for low-cost goaltender insurance (Ilya Bryzgalov) and added goal-scorer Matt Moulson to its front line. Moulson’s arrival along with Mikko Koivu’s return to full strength will make this offense far more dangerous.
Los Angeles Kings: Their key players excelled in the Olympics, then carried that into their NHL play. The addition of pure goal scorer Marian Gaborik for winger Matt Frattin, second-round pick, conditional third-round pick fills the biggest team need. At the very least Gaborik should help the league’s 26th-ranked power play.
New York Rangers: Captain Ryan Callahan is an excellent hockey player. But he doesn’t deserve superstar money, so GM Glen Sather made the best of a bad situation by shipping him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for scorer Martin St. Louis. Sather exploited the rift between St. Louis and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who originally rejected his captain for the Canadian Olympic Team. St. Louis asked for a trade to the Rangers and got it.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Yzerman was in a tough spot. His team muddled through without injured megastar Steve Stamkos, who is finally ready to play. St. Louis wanted out and it’s hard to go on a long playoff with an unhappy team leader. Getting the gritty Callahan should make the Lighting better prepared for postseason play.
St. Louis Blues: They upgraded from Halak to Miller in goal and also added gritty forward Steve Ott in a blockbuster deal with Buffalo. They also gained 2014-15 payroll flexibility by shedding Chris Stewart in that trade. Although they yielded Carrier, a first-round pick and another potential high pick, they kept top forward prospects Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie.
Washington Capitals: Halak is in the walk year of his contract and is eager to prove the Blues wrong. He could be a big goaltending upgrade over Michal Neuvirth. Adding big Dustin Penner and subtracting the useless Martin Erat were pluses too.
New York Islanders: Remember when they traded Matt Moulson and first- and second-round picks to Buffalo to get Vanek? That was a terrible idea. Vanek, like Moulson, is a pending unrestricted free agent. He rejected a huge contract extension offer from the Islanders and vowed to test free agency.
So the Islanders finally traded him to Montreal with conditional fifth-round pick for Collberg (the 33rd overall pick in 2012) and a conditional second-round draft pick.
So the net gain, as noted by Larry Brooks of the New York Post, was first-and-second round picks for 47 games of Vanek, a conditional second-round pick (tied to the Canadiens making the playoffs) and Collberg. Yeech!
The Islanders also got a modest return for defenseman Andrew MacDonald after failing to extend his contract. MacDonald went to the Flyers for a third-round pick in 2014, a second-round pick in 2015 and forward Matt Mangene. But such deals will not help this long-suffering franchise rebuild.
Florida Panthers: This franchise is losing staggering sums of money. It needs to follow the blueprint Sabres GM Tim Murray has drawn in Buffalo. It needs to acquire draft picks and prospects. Instead, Panthers GM Dale Tallon completed his years-long bid to bring Luongo back to South Florida.
The Panthers gave up on goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom and big center Shawn Matthias while making that deal. Later, the team moved moderately-priced veteran goaltender Tim Thomas, too.
Pittsburgh Penguins: They needed a serious defensive upgrade due to the loss of Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (broken hand) to long-term issues. But on deadline day all they gained was some front-line depth in Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc.
Calgary Flames: With goaltenders flying off the shelves, this franchise somehow avoided filling that glaring need. All it did on that front was send Swiss import Reto Berra to Colorado for a second-round pick. So what is the plan at that position? Brian Burke fetched a third-round pick for Stempniak but failed to get an attractive offer for pending UFA Mike Cammalleri.