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ALLCITY Beat Writers Roundtable: Inside the NHL Trade Deadline's Winners, Losers & Playoff Predictions

Meghan Angley Avatar
March 24, 2024

Our last ALLCITY roundtable focused on the state of the NHL at the All-Star break. Now with the trade deadline behind us and a couple of weeks to evaluate the early returns, it’s time to check back in with our dedicated reporters.

As our company expands its reach, we’re happy to provide coverage in Philadelphia with PHLY, Phoenix with PHNX, Chicago with CHGO, and of course Denver with DNVR. A new era of collaboration emerges among our NHL beat writers. Thus, we’re proud to introduce another installment of our ALLCITY roundtable.

Thanks to PHNX’s Craig Morgan, CHGO’s Mario Tirabassi, and PHLY’s Charlie O’Connor for participating.

Who had the biggest deadline out East?

Mario Tirabassi, CHGO: I really like what the Florida Panthers did as a favorite in the Eastern Conference and the defending Conference representative. The rich got richer when they went out of their way to add Vladimir Tarasenko to an already very talented forward group, then added veteran leader Kyle Okposo to play a lower-lineup role. They pushed their chips to the middle of the table, trying to load-up and cash-in on the heater that Sam Reinhart is on this season. I like it. 

Charlie O’Connor, PHLY: I love that Carolina, at long last, finally “went for it” at a trade deadline. Jake Guentzel just seems to fit that team’s needs perfectly — the Canes have long been a club that dominates puck possession but at key moments in the playoffs struggles to finish on their chances, and now they have Sidney Crosby’s favorite finisher. They also took a big upside swing on Evgeny Kuznetsov for a reasonable cost. If he’s truly sorted out his personal issues — and I certainly hope he has — he can be another impact scorer for that club, and the early signs are positive.

I’m not sure if they have the horses to take down Florida firing on all cylinders in the East. But with Guentzel and Kuznetsov in the mix, they certainly have a better shot. And it also makes it less likely they get goalied by Igor Shesterkin in the divisional round.

Craig Morgan, PHNX: I can’t decide between Carolina and Florida. The Hurricanes had a glaring need for an elite scorer; a need that was on full display when the Panthers swept them in the Eastern Conference Final last season. Adding Jake Guentzel to the mix felt like the perfect complement to an already stacked lineup. I still have questions about the Hurricanes’ goaltending, but that’s a question that can be applied to at least five Cup contenders. 

The Panthers are the best team I have seen all season. They’re fast, they’re skilled, they’re deep, they play a hard game and they can smother you. Adding an admittedly diminished Vladimir Tarasenko for a song (two mid-round picks) was a move without risk that will deepen their top-nine. Adding veteran forward Kyle Okposo will add even more depth and a player hungry for postseason vibes after missing out the past eight seasons.

Meghan Angley, DNVR: Even though he wouldn’t have gone anywhere else and it was purely driven by him, Vladimir Tarasenko was a big name acquisition. He injected even more skill to complement Evan Rodrigues on Florida’s third line and can move throughout the middle-six as needed.

Couple that with the addition of Buffalo Sabres’ captain Kyle Okposo, and their fourth line was bolstered with a veteran player who “gets it.” Their forward group is already top-heavy, so this just made them even stronger all around. Recognizing the trade was guided by Tarasenko waiving his no-move clause, a conditional 4th-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and a 3rd-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft is an efficient exchange.

This isn’t deadline specific, but they made improvements to their D with Niko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov in the offseason, so it wasn’t as urgent a need to address. It left them to tinker with their forwards and depth goaltending, and they answered.

Who had the fewest needs to address and might get left out of the conversation?

Mario: Dallas. They were loaded already and have nearly zero weaknesses top-to-bottom in their lineup. They check all the boxes you’d expect a Stanley Cup contender would, and then they got deeper defensively by getting Chris Tanev on the back-end. They are deep and talented at every position and while Jake Oettinger hasn’t been great this season, he’s the kind of goalie that can turn things around when the lights get bright. 

Charlie: The fact that Dallas made their big move a week early (trading for Chris Tanev) left them as something of an afterthought on actual deadline day. But on paper, they look to me like the most complete team — if Jake Oettinger can ever get back going. The Stars aren’t necessarily flashy, but they have high-end players at every position, a good mix of youth and vets, and no glaring weaknesses aside from Oettinger’s continued mediocre play. And everyone knows that Oettinger has the raw talent to turn it on in the playoffs like Sergei Bobrovsky did last year.

Craig: The Rangers were a pretty complete team before the deadline, but they needed fill-in pieces to complete the puzzle. They needed a right wing to play in their top-nine, a third-line center to replace Filip Chytil (who is out for the season), and another defenseman for depth.

They got all three in rental right wing Jack Roslovic, rental center Alex Wennberg and rental defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. And they got them without surrendering a first-round pick or any significant prospects. I’m still not convinced New York is strong enough up the middle, but that’s an argument I could have made for the past three decades. 

Meghan: It pains me to say Dallas. The fight for the Central Division title will come down to three teams I felt had a great deadline in Colorado, Winnipeg, and Dallas. Dallas had one NHL move with Chris Tanev and an additional AHL-focused deal. Picking up Tanev early in the deadline window reinforced how close to complete this team already was. Tanev adds grit and sandpaper to their skilled, puck-moving D with Miro Hesikanen and Esa Lindell.

Outside of that move, there wasn’t much else they needed. They achieved a really balanced forward group with the addition of Matt Duchene this summer and youngster Wyatt Johnston has been an impressive and promising centerman. Jake Oettinger has had his share of struggles this season, but most teams would take that guy in net any day.

How do you feel about Vegas’ approach to roster construction?

Mario: It is fishy that Mark Stone gets ouchy right around mid-to-late February consistently. But, far be it from me to think teams would make up injuries, having been on the other end of things when Marian Hossa’s career ended. LTIR shenanigan’s aside, Vegas going for it year after year has to eventually come back and bite them.

It doesn’t seem sustainable and you’d imagine that eventually, the league would stop making deals to help them out year after year. Until then, Vegas is going to roll the dice every season and you have to admire them for living up to their city’s reputation.

Charlie: Y’all are just mad at Vegas because they do what every fan wishes their team did — prioritize winning at all costs. Sometimes it burns them — look at 2022, when they missed the playoffs in part because they were trying to juggle too many balls at once after trading for Jack Eichel. But they are laser-focused on building the best possible roster for the postseason every year, and I commend them for that. I’ve long wondered if the lack of loyalty they often show to players in pursuit of Cups will ultimately burn them, but hey — so far it hasn’t.

Craig: I love it. Vegas is taking advantage of the same system that Tampa and Chicago used to help win Cups. LTIR is within the rules, as is using dead cap to get to the salary cap floor (hello, Coyotes). If the GMs wanted to change the rule, they would change it. They don’t want to change it so they won’t. Every GM hopes to take advantage of these rules some day when they are competing for a Cup, and it’s only frustrating to fans when it’s not their team doing it.

I think it’s fair to discuss a tweak to LTIR that might create something akin to a playoff cap, but that proposal has significant issues. Again, I don’t sense any will from GMs to change it anyway. LTIR makes the postseason more intriguing.

Meghan: LTIR definitely has its purpose. Colorado tapped into it this season with a little more clarity on Gabriel Landeskog and it helped them to make a splash at the deadline too. Landeskog’s injury is pretty straight-forward, so it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone around the league. I had more criticisms of how Vegas handled interpersonal relationships after their inaugural season than I do of their use of LTIR.

A lacerated spleen is also pretty straightforward. I’ve raised my eyebrow at their approach before, but this year all looks above board and keeps the West interesting. I think Kelly McCrimmon’s approach to roster management lights a fire under GM’s everywhere to be a little bolder.

Jan 23, 2024; San Jose, California, USA; San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (48) reacts after defeating the New York Rangers in overtime at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The West loaded up at the deadline, what singular move might have the greatest impact?

Mario: The aforementioned Vegas Golden Knights getting Tomas Hertl. Plus, we all can expect Mark Stone to play in the postseason. You know he’s going to. 

Charlie: It’s cheating, because it’s actually two moves, but I view them as inextricably linked, so I’m counting it: Colorado acquiring both Sean Walker and Casey Mittelstadt. The Avs desperately needed a 2C, and Mittelstadt certainly fills that hole.

And while losing Bowen Byram hurts (especially in the long-term), to immediately replace him in the here and now with Walker — who I believe fits Colorado’s fast-paced, attacking style extremely well — was a shrewd piece of business. They haven’t lost a game since the combo trades, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The Avs have gone from second-tier West contender to one of the post-deadline favorites in my eyes.

Craig: I can’t decide because there were so many. Vegas getting Tomas Hertl was eye-popping. Colorado getting the second-line center it badly needed in Casey Mittelstadt was equally eye-popping. Both teams have major goaltending questions, but their lineups are complete. I also liked the Star’s addition of right-handed defenseman Chris Tanev, who can play top-pair minutes or slide down the lineup.

Meghan: He hasn’t hasn’t played since January 27th due to a knee injury, but Tomas Hertl in Vegas could be very dangerous. Jack Eichel and Hertl down the middle packs a mean 1-2 punch. Hertl is a ready-made second line center for Vegas. He’s a dominant force on the ice and can impact games in a big way.

Who lost the trade deadline?

Mario:  Pittsburgh. They got an arguable underwhelming return for Jake Guentzel, one of, if not the top forward target that was on the board as the deadline approached. Plus, Sidney Crosby continues to have one of his best seasons as a 37-year-old and now faces a team that is old, not going to contend for anything, and seemingly directionless. As a Blackhawks fan, I’ve seen a story similar to this one before.

Charlie: It has to be Edmonton, right? I know they had serious cap constraints and Adam Henrique is a perfectly fine depth forward, but he just doesn’t match Dallas getting Tanev, or Colorado bringing in Mittlestadt/Walker, or Vancouver nabbing Lindholm, or even Winnipeg getting Toffoli and Monahan and Miller, at least in my eyes. Maybe I’m underrating Henrique, but I just don’t view him as a needle-mover anymore, nor worth the first round price Edmonton paid to get him. I don’t think they got measurably better, and their competition did.

Craig: The Maple Leafs overpaid for depth defensemen Joel Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin, added 6-feet-7 Boston University center Cade Webber, and added depth center Connor Dewar. The Leafs have clearly been looking to add more grit to a top-heavy lineup, but I’m not convinced these moves get them past a first-round matchup with either Florida or Boston. 

Meghan: San Jose – in part because they sent Hertl to Vegas and that could wreak havoc in Colorado’s path through the West.

Mike Grier did what he though was best with Hertl’s contract, which is hefty at $8,137,500 until 2030. The Sharks retained 17% of the contract and traded two third-round picks for David Edstrom and a potentially late first-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft.

While acquiring a first-round pick is positive and Edstrom shows promise as a rising two-way center prospect, taking on Hertl’s contract utilized their final retained-salary slot. I empathize with Grier’s predicament, since he merely inherited Brent Burns and Erik Karlssons’ dead cap. However, this creates a significant burden that could complicate their rebuilding efforts.

They recouped a 2024 third from Tampa in their Anthony Duclair trade and added to the goaltender position – which is good. Rebuilds don’t happen overnight, but San Jose feels like they have such a long way to go. They’re well positioned for Macklin Celebrini, but what is the direction of the team he could eventually join?

Looking at the rebuilding teams, who has tackled their respective stage of the rebuild best in your opinion?

Mario: My obviously biased answer is the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s easy for me to say. I think the Buffalo Sabres are doing things the right way, but people are upset with how they have performed this season given how they over-achieved last season. I really like the Bowen Byram for Casey Mittelstadt move to set up one of the youngest, but highest-ceiling defensive groups in the NHL. They have young, dynamic forwards and good, young goaltending. They also have a butt-load of cap space to utilize. They’re going to be just fine.

Charlie: It wouldn’t be difficult to make the homer pick here and say the Flyers, who have a potential superstar in Matvei Michkov on the way in a couple years, and appear on track to make the playoffs despite trading away one of their top defensemen in Sean Walker and getting a 1st round pick back in the process. But in terms of teams in a true tear-it-down rebuild, Anaheim over the past three months added Cutter Gauthier and Edmonton’s first round pick to an organization already stocked with high-end young talent. They’ll have seven picks in the first three rounds of this upcoming draft to try and unearth even more.

Craig: I just think it’s too early to tell. You could laud the Red Wings for adding pieces this offseason that may get them into the playoffs, but Detroit won’t get past the first round and it doesn’t have elite pieces for the future beyond Dylan Larkin and Moritz Seider. Ottawa and Buffalo are perennial disappointments, the Blue Jackets made a mistake in signing Johnny Gaudreau, the Blackhawks need a ton of help for Connor Bedard (Chicago is awful), the Canadiens have good but not great pieces, and the Coyotes are so early in their rebuild that all you can do is look at their system and talk about hope.

The plain truth is that luck plays as much of a role in a rebuild as good drafting and good plans. Winning the lottery in a year when there are franchise draft prospects is how many of the Cup winners of the past decade-plus (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, Tampa, Colorado) got to the top. That critical piece had nothing to do with good management or rebuild plans.

Meghan: I’ve really liked Philadelphia’s transparency throughout their rebuild. It’s been clear where they’re headed. There’s been an emphasis placed on building good culture inside the room that reminds me of a version of Colorado that shed parts of its core (at the time) to build around a player like Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar eventually joined alongside him. Once Jared Bednar was introduced, the foundation was laid even during the worst season in franchise history.

Philly found a way to move on from a player that didn’t want to be a part of the rebuild and turned it into Jamie Drysdale and a 2nd-round Draft pick in 2025. They clung to a big piece of the cultural rebuild in Scott Laughton too. I liked that Morgan Frost, one of my favorite up and comers in the league, advocated for himself following John Tortorella’s lineup decisions.

Tortorella’s the only variable holding me back from guessing what the future holds for the Flyers. His strident approach can could make or break their forward movement.

Who is your dark horse wild card for each conference?

Mario: Washington Capitals get in over the Detroit Red Wings in the East. St. Louis Blues in the West, solely for the fact that they are the closest to the Vegas Golden Knights, but Vegas is going to get in. 

Charlie: The Capitals’ schedule eases up dramatically once April begins, so if they can steal a few points during this brutally difficult stretch, they’ll be in position to pounce if Detroit or Philly collapses.

As for the West, it seems unlikely anyone will fall out at this point, but I guess the Wild? Kirill Kaprizov has 10 goals in 10 March games and it’s at least theoretically possible he just drags Minnesota into the postseason singlehandedly; he has the talent to do so.

Craig: In the East: The surprising Capitals, who could have one of the worst goal differentials of any playoff team in the salary-cap era.

In the West: The Blues. I don’t think Vegas is going to slip out of the playoff picture, but if they do, it will be the Blues and not the Wild that overtake them. St. Louis has the second easiest remaining schedule in the NHL.

Meghan: East: The Washington Capitals should have been better than they were this year. Their goal scoring on the whole was down and they’re peaking at the right time to make a late push. They’re fifth in the league in goals for the month of March.

West: It was unfair (of me) to frame this as a dark horse question because Vegas is going to get in and no one will be surprised. St. Louis can’t overtake them.

Jan 24, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) following his hat trick goal in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Checking back in on the Hart trophy race, who’s your favorite to win the league’s MVP?

Mario: It’s Nathan MacKinnon for me. Leading the league in points, being as dynamic as he is to take over games single-handedly makes him the best player in my eyes this season. But it’s not an easy decision. You can make a solid argument for four or five different guys this year. 

Charlie: I’m still going with Nathan MacKinnon. 2nd in the NHL in scoring, incredible 5-on-5 impacts, and for large stretches of the season, it seemed like he was carrying a thinner-than-most-realize Avs club. He’s my pick.

Craig: It’s Nathan MacKinnon and it’s not as close as people suggest. Nikita Kucherov is having a wondrous season. At the time of this writing, he had 44 more points than the next closest Tampa player and he is going to eclipse his career high in points at age 30. 

Connor McDavid is Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews may eclipse 70 goals, but none of these candidates brings as complete a game to the ice as MacKinnon, and none of these candidates can impact the game from a physical standpoint like MacKinnon. That matters so much in the postseason. He’s a bull with an indomitable will to get to the net. It’s high time he was honored with the league’s top individual award.

Meghan: I just wanted to see everybody say Nathan MacKinnon again. Glad we’re all in agreement here.

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