NHL superstars find new homes with contenders post deadline

Lisa Gansky | Wikimedia Commons

Lisa Gansky | Wikimedia Commons

Other than the Stanley Cup playoffs, the regular season trade deadline gets hockey fans the most excited during the season. Trade deadline day keeps fans, players and media alike glued to their TVs and social media to see what major move will be made next.

For some teams, one trade could propel them a step closer to contending for the Stanley Cup. For other teams, who are transitioning toward a rebuild or whose championship window has closed, the deadline gives them the opportunity to acquire valuable assets, prospects and premium draft picks.

This year's trade day did not disappoint, as 22 trades were executed at the Feb. 25, 3 p.m. deadline. While most of them did not stand out to fans and media, there were some that made major headlines. But some of the big, highly anticipated trades occurred in the few days prior, leading up to a very busy deadline day.

The first major trade saw the Columbus Blue Jackets display their all-in mindset. They acquired Matt Duchene from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, a 2019 first-round pick and a conditional 2020 first-round pick. Duchene, a highly skilled offensive center, was the subject of trade speculation the entire season and will form a dominant top line with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson on the wings.

The same two teams made another big trade, with the Blue Jackets acquiring forward Ryan Dzingel from the Senators in exchange for forward Anthony Duclair, and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Dzingel has turned into a consistent 20-goal scorer and adds tremendous depth offensively for the Jackets.

But Ottawa wasn't the only big seller at the deadline, as the New York Rangers also began a major sell-off, their second in as many years.

They traded away long-time fan favorite Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars in exchange for a conditional 2019 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 third-round pick. The Stars also added some blue-line depth by acquiring defenseman Ben Lovejoy from the New Jersey Devils, while the Blue Jackets added some goaltending from the Devils with Keith Kinkaid.

Out West, the San Jose Sharks, whose roster is locked and loaded for their first Stanley Cup, smelled blood in the water, and immediately acquired another forward piece, Gustav Nyquist, from the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks gave back a 2019 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 third-round pick. It becomes a second-rounder if the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup finals or re-sign Nyquist in the offseason. Nyquist, who had 48 points this season with the Red Wings, bolsters a top-nine forward group that is arguably the best in the NHL, as seven Sharks players have at least 45 points.

All these moves led up to the big day that everyone had been waiting for: Feb. 25.

The Winnipeg Jets kicked things off by acquiring center Kevin Hayes from the Rangers, in exchange for forward prospect Brendan Lemieux, a 2019 first-round pick and a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick. The only way the Rangers get that pick is if the Jets reach the Stanley Cup finals. Hayes' excellent two-way game and offensive production give Winnipeg a solid core at the center position and could help young star Patrik Laine get back to his scoring ways.

Staying in the West, the Colorado Avalanche added some offensive depth by acquiring Derick Brassard from the Florida Panthers, while the Nashville Predators acquired Mikael Granlund from the Minnesota Wild to bolster the center core.

The Blue Jackets kept on making moves, as they acquired Rangers defenseman Adam McQuaid for a 2019 fourth-round and seventh-round pick. This solidifies their defensive core, something very crucial for all contenders in the playoff stretch.

Ottawa finished its sell-off by trading center Mark Stone, another big pending free agent, to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for elite defensive prospect Erik Brännström, forward Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round pick. Vegas got a rising superstar, point-per-game center to load up offensively for the playoffs, while Ottawa got what could be the next great Swedish defenseman, in Brännström. The comparisons to former Senators’ captain Erik Karlsson are legitimate, making this deal a home run for Ottawa. Stone, meanwhile, immediately signed an eight-year, $76 million extension with Vegas, giving the Knights a big offensive threat in the long term.

The Boston Bruins, who needed additional forwards and scoring after losing star David Pastrnák to injury, acquired Marcus Johansson from the Devils in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 fourth-round pick. Johansson has been on a bit of a scoring tear and adds depth to Boston's top-nine forward group, especially once Pastrnák comes back healthy for the playoff stretch.

The Predators and Philadelphia Flyers ended the deadline with a bang, as Philly traded longtime mainstay and Broad Street favorite Wayne Simmonds to Nashville in exchange for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick.

Columbus was clearly the most active buyer at the deadline, as they are going all in on this season, especially with a plethora of pending free agents on their roster. Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky all have expiring contracts, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen decided not to trade Panarin and Bobrovsky and take a major gamble. The Blue Jackets have never won a playoff series in their franchise history, but these acquisitions give them a chance to erase that postseason futility.

The Predators and Jets were big winners, making massive moves to shore up for the tight Central Division race and contention for the Stanley Cup. Hayes solidifies Winnipeg's center and offensive core, while Granlund and Simmonds give Nashville some depth, grit and tenacity, while also improving a league-worst power play. Neither team gave up their top prospects either, Eeli Tolvanen and Alexandre Carrier for Nashville and Sami Niku for Winnipeg, making their deals somewhat one-sided.

The Sharks, who already had a Stanley Cup-worthy roster with the likes of Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomás Hertl, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, added to that stacked core with Nyquist.

A rather underrated move, this can prove to be a huge acquisition for the Sharks, as they are also all-in on the Stanley Cup this season.

The Rangers and Senators were the biggest sellers and continue toward a rebuilding phase. But the assets, prospects and picks that they've acquired will give both clubs a bright future.

The Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders stayed put, as they believe their current rosters are good enough for championship contention.

Most, if not all, of the big trade chips were dealt, making this year's deadline an exhilarating one. The rest of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs should be even more exciting, and the next three months will determine who were the real winners and losers in this year's edition of the trade deadline.