Draft and develop is the most common way to win in the salary-cap NHL, and with eight of the past 11 playoff MVPs being homegrown, that hasn’t changed.
But the four teams left vying for the Stanley Cup this spring — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators in the East and Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks in the West — all made a handful of significant trades to get to this point. As much as general managers complain that it’s hard to make deals because of the cap, Pittsburgh’s Jim Rutherford, Ottawa’s Bryan Murray and Pierre Dorion, Nashville’s David Poile and Anaheim’s Bob Murray have shown a knack for getting good ones done.
Sometimes the trades have been with each other, with mutual benefit or close to it. Maybe their success will show that trades aren’t so bad or difficult after all.
No team in the NHL has benefited more from big trades than defending-champion Pittsburgh.
Weeks after he was hired, Rutherford acquired Patric Hornqvist from Nashville for James Neal at the 2014 draft. He sent Robert Bortuzzo to St. Louis for Ian Cole during the 2014-15 season. The following summer, he got Phil Kessel from Toronto for prospects and Nick Bonino for Brandon Sutter.
And that was just the start. Last season, he traded Rob Scuderi straight up for Trevor Daley, got Carl Hagelin from Anaheim for David Perron and paid a value price of a third-round pick to acquire Justin Schultz from Edmonton.
The result of those moves was a Cup celebration and parade last summer, and they continue to pay dividends. Kessel has five goals, Bonino a game-winner and Schultz has filled the void with top defensemen Kris Letang and Daley out. Rutherford bolstered his defense at the 2017 trade deadline by acquiring Ron Hainsey from Carolina, and the veteran has proven important as the injuries piled up.
But perhaps Rutherford’s smartest move this season was the trade he didn’t make. Goaltender Matt Murray won the Cup last year and was the No. 1 of the present and future, so Rutherford took calls on Marc-Andre Fleury that “didn’t go very far” before holding on to him.
With Murray injured, the Penguins wouldn’t have gotten this far without Fleury’s play, and as happy as Rutherford is for the veteran, his teammates are over the moon about his playoff success.
“Whoever was in, we had a ton of confidence in,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “Certainly for him, I’m sure there was a little adjustment. He’s handled it great and he looks comfortable in there.”
The Ducks’ desire to dump Bobby Ryan in the summer of 2013 is finally starting to work out for the Senators, who paid a hefty price of Jakob Silfverberg and prospect Stefan Noesen (more on that later) to get the scoring winger. Ryan has had his share of slumps, even this season, but three of Ryan’s five goals this postseason are game-winners — including the overtime goal in Game 1 of the East final to beat Pittsburgh — and he has 11 points in 13 games.
“When we traded for him a few years ago, we were expecting the Bobby Ryan we’ve got right now,” said goaltender Craig Anderson, acquired in a 2011 trade with Colorado for Brian Elliott
The Senators also got third-leading scorer Derick Brassard in a trade last summer with the Rangers, defenseman Dion Phaneuf from Toronto during the 2015-16 season and center Kyle Turris from Arizona in 2011. Ottawa picked up forwards Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg at the most recent deadline for depth.
Hornqvist for Neal has worked out for Nashville, too, but nothing like the three other swashbuckling moves Poile has made: getting then-prospect Filip Forsberg from Washington at the 2012 deadline for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, trading Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen last season and shocking the hockey world by getting P.K. Subban from Montreal for Shea Weber last June.
Subban for Weber looked like a long-term steal for the Predators as they got a younger, more mobile puck-moving defenseman in part because Montreal preferred a safer style of play. Subban is now part of arguably the best blue line in hockey, featuring homegrown Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.
Johansen for Jones was one of the best pure hockey trades in recent history with benefits for the Predators and Blue Jackets, who are happy to have a young right-handed-shooting defenseman like Jones for the long term. But Nashville had never had a No. 1 center, and Johansen was arguably the missing piece of a Cup contender.
The Predators in previous years picked up now-captain Mike Fisher in a deal with the Senators. The price? A first-round pick that turned into Noesen, the pot-sweetener Ottawa used to get Ryan.
As good as the Ryan trade is now for Ottawa, it has been superb for Anaheim as Silfverberg had 18 points in the 2015 postseason and this year is tied with captain Ryan Getzlaf for the team lead in goals with eight, one behind Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel for the most in the playoffs.
The Ducks also got two important pieces from Vancouver: shutdown center Ryan Kesler at the 2014 draft and defenseman Kevin Bieksa a year later. Kesler was crucial in slowing Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in the second round, and the price just happened to include now-Penguins hero Bonino.
Anaheim seemed to steal ironman Andrew Cogliano from the Oilers in 2011 for a second-round pick and have gotten a higher-than-expected offensive output from Nate Thompson, who cost spare parts in a 2014 trade with Tampa Bay. Bob Murray also cleared the way for goaltender John Gibson to be the man, sending Frederik Andersen to Toronto last summer in a trade that could be talked about for years to come if the Dane helps the Maple Leafs on a run like this.
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