NHL trade deadline day quiet after chaotic buildup: 'Maybe it's an abnormal year'
Ken Holland doesn't have an answer. Don Waddell has a couple of ideas.
And Kyle Dubas could only speak from his perspective.
NHL general managers swung a boatload of deals ahead of Friday's trade deadline, with teams making more than 40 swaps — featuring most of the big names thought to be available — in the weeks leading up to the league's 3 p.m. ET cutoff.
After the dust settled following a wild stretch that saw contenders load up, needs addressed and franchise icons wave goodbye, the stage was set for an anti-climatic, underwhelming main event that still featured a little family drama.
"If you would have asked me a month ago, I'd have thought every trade was going to take place March 1, 2, 3," said Holland, who took his big swing Tuesday when he sent underperforming forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Carolina Hurricanes and acquired defenceman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators. "I don't know if this is the way it's going to be next year, or if next year it's going to go back.
"Usually there's 30 trades, and 25 happen on trade deadline day. Today was quieter, but I don't really know why."
Carolina GM Don Waddell said the New York Islanders getting centre Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks in late January, along with salary cap concerns when acquiring larger contracts, forced some hands.
"(Earlier) this year than normal for a big guy to get moved," Waddell said of Horvat. "That had a lot of teams saying, 'You know what? If we're going to make a move, let's get going now.' There was some sellers out there pretty quick after that.
"Maybe it's an abnormal year. We'll see what the future holds."
Dubas said things really started to move once the St. Louis Blues traded Vladimir Tarasenko to the New York Rangers on Feb. 9.
"They were wanting to move quickly," said the Toronto Maple Leafs GM, who acquired centres Ryan O'Reilly and Noel Acciari from the Blues on Feb. 17 in a subsequent deal.
"I always think that the longer you can have these guys in here ... helps them come in and get together faster and roll."
Deadline day itself mostly featured depth moves, reclamation projects, and rolls of the dice as GMs largely looked for value in the league's bargain bin.
And the league's first brother-for-brother swap.
The Calgary Flames, which until Friday was the only NHL team not to make an in-season trade in 2022-23, acquired defenceman Troy Stetcher and winger Nick Ritchie from Arizona for blue-liner Connor Mackay and forward Brett Ritchie. The Flames also acquired Dryden Hunt from the Leafs for fellow AHL forward Radim Zohorna.
Minnesota got defenceman John Klingberg from Anaheim, Detroit traded winger Jakub Vrana to St. Louis, Pittsburgh re-acquired centre Nick Bonino from San Jose, and the Canucks shipped forward Curtis Lazar to New Jersey.
The biggest move by a Canadian team saw the Winnipeg Jets acquire centre Vladislav Namestnikov from San Jose for a fourth-rounder in 2025.
The Montreal Canadiens didn't make any major deals, meaning defenceman Joel Edmundson is staying put, while the Ottawa Senators acquired centre Patrick Brown from Philadelphia for a sixth-round pick in June.
In other notable trades, Philadelphia traded Zack MacEwen to Los Angeles in an deal that included fellow winger Brendan Lemieux going the other way, while Pittsburgh got veteran blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov from Anaheim.
Buffalo acquired defenceman Jordan Greenway from Minnesota before the Wild turned around and sent winger Oskar Sundqvist to Detroit.
Teams made a total of 21 mostly minor trades involving 34 players Friday. Last season's deadline day saw 32 deals and 51 players exchanged.
The relative calm was in stark contrast to the last few weeks — especially since Sunday — as GMs made a flurry of action.
Those blockbusters included Patrick Kane going from the Blackhawks to the Rangers, Tarasenko leaving St. Louis for the same landing spot, O'Reilly joining Toronto, and Timo Meier heading from San Jose to New Jersey.
"Teams identified what they needed and wanted and saw it and tried to go after it," said Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who acquired Nino Niederreiter from Nashville last Saturday. "We struck right away. So, do you wait and see what's available later? Maybe.
"As soon as we had that opportunity, we did it."
Surprise moves earlier this week included Jakob Chychrun heading to Ottawa from Arizona, while Jonathan Quick was dealt away from Los Angeles to Columbus before eventually ending up with Vegas.
The Leafs were by far the busiest Canadian club in the lead-up to the deadline, making five trades and adding six roster players since the middle of February as part of an aggressive arms race in the Eastern Conference.
“"A lot of the mindset is, 'If you can get the player right now go ahead and do it," Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said. "Sometimes you’ve got to play around with certain situations, but overall, I think teams are just saying, 'If you can get the guy now, let's not wait.'
"And a lot of teams, what they do is they ask a lot up front. I think in the past, your demands have gone up, maybe now the demands go down a bit."
All told, the NHL's two-week stretch ahead of Friday included 43 trades involving 85 players and 55 draft picks, including 12 first-round selections.
"A sign of the times," Flames GM Brad Treliving said of the number of draft picks moved. "If you have a chance, if you think you have a chance to win and you're in a good position, you try to be aggressive."
Winnipeg centre Mark Scheifele said it was exciting to see all the movement around the league — prior to Friday's snoozefest — from afar.
"Usually it comes down to the last two days," he said. "But teams got it going right away. Ever since that Tarasenko trade, no one wanted to let anyone get the jump on them. Teams made their moves and got on the ball quick.
"There's definitely some teams that have loaded up."
And as of Friday afternoon, GMs could finally put down their phones.
-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver, Donna Spencer in Calgary, Judy Owen in Winnipeg, Steven Sandor in Edmonton and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press