This has arguably been one of most exciting weeks in the NHL’s offseason in quite some time.
It has been years since there has been so many blockbuster trades leading up to and during the NHL Draft. Furthermore, the excitement around the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft has created much anticipation over this past week. There’s also uncertainty with this year’s entry draft due to the pandemic limiting scouting ability.
In this article, I will take a look at the most recent trades in the NHL. I will grade them based on return, need, and fit, amongst other things.
Here are my trade grades for all the deals around the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and 2021 NHL Entry Draft:
Florida receives: Sam Reinhart
Buffalo receives: 2022 1st-round pick, G Devon Levi
The Panthers continue to add depth to their forward group as they gear up for next season. After this year’s strong 2nd place finish in the Central Division, the Panthers clearly believe they are amongst the Cup favorites this year. Not only will Reinhart have much more talent to work with in Florida, but the Panthers got him at a considerable price. Given Rasmus Ristolainen demanded a first and second-round pick, the Panthers were fortunate not to give up more. They only had to give up a first and a decent goalie prospect for a player who has consistently put up points on an underwhelming Buffalo team. Reinhart will have to sign with the Panthers, but there are rumblings a contract won’t be a problem. Great top-six addition for the Panthers.
Sam Reinhart, traded to FLA, is a strong top-six two-way forward who scores efficiently. He was one of the few Sabres whose finishing didn't mysteriously vanish this season. #FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/bdJVCgkzBW
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 24, 2021
Given the haul the Sabres were able to acquire for Ristolainen, the return for one of their best players was a bit lackluster. With many players wanting out of Buffalo and Reinhart hitting UFA status in a year, it isn’t the worst trade. Still, the first-round pick is likely to be 15+ and not a huge gamechanger. Furthermore, Levi isn’t the tantalizing goalie prospect that resonates with the fans.
Philadelphia receives: Cam Atkinson
Columbus receives: Jakub Voracek
The Flyers are finally able to offload what was already starting to look like a horrendous contract in Jake Voracek’s $8.25 million over the next three years. Atkinson does have one more year on his deal at $5.875 million, but that gives the Flyers $2.375 million in extra cap room the next three years.
In Atkinson, the Flyers are getting a more well-rounded player and leader who can kill penalties effectively. He also provides a shoot-first mentality that the Flyers do not currently have. Atkinson brings energy and should slot well almost anywhere up and down the lineup. Furthermore, Voracek’s consistency and ice-time was declining as was his ability to create effectively in the offensive zone.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) July 24, 2021
As far as Columbus is concerned, the cap is essentially a wash with the Blue Jackets escaping having to pay an extra year like the Flyers. In bringing the former Blue Jackets pick back, Columbus seems to believe he will be a solid playmaker alongside Patrick Laine. Laine and the Jackets have been seeking an offensive driver to help the Finnish sniper rediscover his scoring and offensive flare. All things considered, while Voracek can put up points, he is less likely to live up to his contract while being a less all-around player.
Carolina receives: 2021 2nd-round pick (Aleksi Heimosalmi)
Columbus receives: Jake Bean
A pretty fair deal for both sides, as Bean wasn’t working out in Carolina with the logjam of defenseman he’s competing with. In return, the Hurricanes get more assets, much like they did in the draft in order to take a few more shots at perhaps some Finnish prospects. Although Bean’s still young and has plenty room to develop, a second round pick was probably the best the Canes were going to do here. The trade will hinge on the success of Bean in Columbus, as well as newly acquired Heimosalmi.
The Blue Jackets have had a pretty bleak prospect pool up until the conclusion of this year’s draft. For a team that is rebuilding, acquiring a former 13th overall pick for a second-rounder is not a bad deal. Given the depth on defense in Carolina, Bean never got enough playing time to solidify himself at the NHL level. He’ll have every chance to do so on the Blue Jackets back-end. Bean is a smart player and smooth skater who still has some great upside if he can put it together with Columbus. Regardless, it was worth the flier from the Jacket’s perspective.
Chicago receives: Seth Jones, 2021 1st-round pick, 2022 6th-round pick
Columbus receives: Adam Boqvist, 2021 1st-round pick, 2021 2nd-round pick, 2022 1st-round pick
Seth Jones will undoubtedly slot into the number one defensive role in Chicago. He is most certainly the go-to guy who will easily get 20+ minutes a night. I like Seth Jones a lot and have great reason to believe he can find his Norris type play again from a few season back. But I have a lot of questions with this trade. Firstly, the Blackhawks gave up a haul for Jones. Yes, I understand Dach, DeBrincat, and Reichel were not involved in this deal. However, when Seth Jones has a very short list of teams he’s willing to go to and sign with, the leverage completely shifts in favor of the acquiring team…at least you would think.
Welcome to Chicago, Seth Jones! pic.twitter.com/m4RZ6tQaCl
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) July 23, 2021
For Columbus, it was essentially trade Jones now or let him walk free in a year. That doesn’t give you many options, especially considering the fact that there were only a select few teams in play. Columbus had reached out to multiple teams hoping to strike a deal. Furthermore, it wasn’t long ago the Blackhawks put out a statement addressing a “rebuild” in Chicago. Not sure what kind of rebuild entertains losing two first-round picks, a second, and arguably your best defensive prospect.
At this point, the Blackhawks have to make more moves to justify this trade. If they plan on going for it one last time with Kane and Toews, I can see a bit more clearly how this move makes sense. Otherwise I am confused. Even if Jones is the number one defenseman he was years ago, is it enough to push this young Hawks team into playoffs let alone contention? Not to mention, the contract is absurdly high (good for Jones, he deserved to get paid). The Blackhawks now be stuck paying over $30 million to just three players in the flat cap world. How is that working out Toronto?
Columbus had no leverage yet get a complete haul for a really good player who wasn’t coming back regardless. Well done Jarmo. Boqvist, despite, his defensive mishaps, will have plenty of time to develop into the true elite offensive defenseman he was projected to be. Because the Blackhawks had plans to pursue an “accelerated rebuild”, Boqvist was rushed into the scene too quickly. This is why his development in Columbus could drastically improve. The pressure to perform at an elite level at such a young age dissipates a bit despite the lackluster roster.
However, even if Boqvist doesn’t pan out, the Blue Jackets still have two first-round picks to help speed up their rebuild and improve the prospect pool. And if Chicago were to underperform, the Blue Jackets would likely hold multiple top-15 selections in back-to-back drafts. It’s worth noting that the 2022 NHL Draft has a much deeper and more talented draft class.
Vancouver receives: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland
Arizona receives: Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, 2021 1st-round pick, 2022 2nd-round pick, 2023 7th-round pick
This is a very wait and see type of deal. The Canucks already made a nice offseason move in acquiring Dickinson for extra help down the middle. With the addition of Conor Garland, the Canucks may have one of the more lethal top-six’s in the NHL. For me, Garland really makes this trade for Vancouver. I think Garland is a hell of a player who can fit great in any top-six. He performed well on an uninspiring Yotes team.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) July 23, 2021
Ekman-Larsson, on the other hand, presents a very dangerous risk to the Canucks. They are betting on the 30 year-old Swede to return to his prime. If OEL can achieve this rebound, it could help the Canucks significantly on the back-end where they have struggled in recent years. However, if Larsson continues his regression, this deal will sink the Canucks into very unforgiving waters. Taking on such a large contract for the next six years could prove fatal to an already weak and expensive blueline.
Overall, the Canucks needed to make a move that would push the needle. The pressure from the fans and media continues to build after a lack of playoff success and multiple failed seasons. While Garland pushes them over the edge offensively, they do incur the risk of OEL on the back-end for the next six years.
The Coyotes went from owning no first-round picks to selecting Dylan Guenther 9th overall. Much like Columbus, the Coyotes are headed towards a clear rebuild through acquiring draft capital and developing talent. Unlike the Blue Jackets, though, the Coyotes are doing so by retaining some of the league’s worst contracts. Not only did the Coyotes get to move OEL’s contract, but they were able to acquire draft capital for dead cap hits in return. While it’s not a strategy many teams have the luxury of pursuing, its one that has seen the Coyotes stockpile a lot of draft picks and prospects.
Moreover, Arizona will have the same amount of second-round draft picks as the Canucks will throughout the entirety of the 2022 NHL draft (5). While the cap hit for the players coming to Arizona from Vancouver isn’t inspiring, the Coyotes will only have to endure one year before all three players become UFAs. I have to give the edge to the Coyotes in this deal. They added a solid prospects and picks for nothing while offloading OEL’s contract.
St. Louis receives: Pavel Buchnevich
New York receives: Sammy Blais, 2022 2nd-round pick
The Blues got a 26-year-old player who continues to see his career trending upwards toward posting 50+ point seasons. Although they will have to give him a sizable contract, the Blues have just under 20 million in cap space and could use the upgrade in their top-six. This is especially notable if Vladimir Tarasenko finds a suitor outside of St. Louis. The Blues also didn’t give up much for a top-six player in Buchnevich, shipping a 2022 2nd-round pick and Sammy Blais. The latter was never given more than a bottom-six role and had trouble staying healthy.
Pavel Buchnevich, acquired by STL, is a top-end first line winger who's been consistently strong through the last three seasons with great results at both ends of the ice. #STLBlues pic.twitter.com/m2pvi4wSdq
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 23, 2021
For the Rangers, this comes down to arbitration and having to pay up for Buchnevich’s performance on the ice. Between Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, Chris Kreider, and newly acquired Brendan Othmann, the logjam at LW, especially in the top-six, was going to get jammed. The Rangers would much rather pay and play their youngsters and cornerstone pieces in this situation. Although Buchnevich does leave a hole in the lineup, the Rangers do have options to fill his spot at the RW position.
Undoubtedly, the Blueshirts are counting on former ninth overall pick Vitaly Kravtsov to take on a much larger role. They could also utilize the logjam at left wing and bring one of those top-six wingers to the right. In return, Blais adds a bit of grit and physicality with a slight scoring touch to a Rangers third or fourth line that could use a bit of both. Meanwhile, adding another draft asset isn’t something to snark about. However, the return ultimately fell short of what one would expect given Buchnevich’s age, talent, and potential moving forward. Not to mention, Buchnevich was a locker room favorite amongst many of his Ranger teammates.
Philadelphia receives: Rasmus Ristolainen
Buffalo receives: Robert Hagg, 2021 1st-round pick (Isak Rosen), 2023 2nd-round pick
There is an argument to be made that his trade isn’t as bad as many people believe it to be. Considering the low value of this years first-round pick and the talent still available in the Flyers Prospect pool, many Flyer fans seem to welcome the guy that they had been linked with for quite some time. While he’s not an analytics darling, Ristolainen brings some much needed elements to the Flyers back-end. His size, grit, and physicality is all something that this Flyer blueline has been missing for years. He will likely slot in nicely with Travis Sanheim, who should be given more of an offensive role now.
Active and aggressive.
Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher explains the strategy behind adding Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Cam Atkinson, and why it was important to get started before free agency. pic.twitter.com/T4HncIQoGX
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) July 25, 2021
Overall, the moves the Flyers have made help to give them more of an identity. That’s something they have been missing for quite some time. While its not Broad Street Bullies hockey, the addition of grit, size, and physicality is always welcomed in Philadelphia no matter how you get it. While its a gamble, you have to remember that Ristolainen was an eighth overall pick stuck on a poor Sabres team. Buffalo hasn’t seen playoff hockey in 10 years and is constantly retooling.
For Fletcher and the Flyers, it’s all about winning now. After last years abysmal season, Fletcher and company were on a hot seat to get this team back in the playoffs. Frustration from fans and media alike have mounted. The additions have brought some excitement to a fanbase that is craving a playoff series win. But unless Ristolainen is able to find his 40+ point season form, this is going to look like an overpay for quite some time. His talent level is just not on par with what you would typically give up for a first-round pick — let alone an additional second.
While they underperformed on the Reinhart trade, the Sabres hit this one out of the park. It was rumored multiple teams were willing to give up a first for Ristolainen, which is a bit crazy to me despite the value of the first-round pick this year. Kevyn Adams sent a precedent for acquiring right-handed defensemen with this trade. He saw what Chicago gave up for Seth Jones given the haul he acquired for Ristolainen. Although time will tell how this trade plays out between the Flyers success and the future of Isaac Rosen and the 2023 second-round pick, it goes down as another win in what was a astronomically successful day for the Sabres and their rebuild.