It might not've been quite like last Friday's insane flurry of trades that truly resembled the trade deadline, but Thursday, February 24, four days before the deadline itself, has shaped us as another very busy day of deals.
First, the Anaheim Ducks addressed their goaltending problem with Hiller out by trading for Tampa Bay's backup goaltender Dan Ellis. Ellis, 30, was coming off a successful tenure in Nashville over the previous three seasons, but had been shaky at best for the Lightning, who get 27-year-old Curtis McElhinny in return.
Just a couple hours later, Pittsburgh and Ottawa pulled off the biggest deal of the day. Resolving rumors that have been swirling for weeks, the last-place Senators shipped off 18-year veteran Alex Kovalev to his former team. The Penguins send a sixth- or seventh-round selection to Canada's Capital in return.
Next came the largest deal of the day in terms of players on the move. Montreal acquired defenseman Brent Sopel, 34, and LW Nigel Dawes, 26, from the Thrashers. Sopel is a sturdy "D"-man who will help the Canadiens cope with their injury troubles on the back end, while Dawes is a good depth addition. Atlanta, on the other hand, landed center Ben Maxwell, 22, and a fourth-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Lastly, this evening, the Hurricanes and Panthers got into the mix with a noteworthy trade. Florida sent 37-year-old Cory Stillman back to Carolina, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2006, in exchange for Ryan Carter, who was dealt to the 'Canes from Anaheim last fall, and a fifth-round pick.
While none of these deals will rock the hockey world too much, it was an active day for GM telephones. Who came out ahead in each trade? We make our attempt to decipher which side came out better in each transaction.
Ellis/McElhinny Goalie Swap
To us, the advantage is clear in this deal. While McElhinny may have a few more years left in them, we don't expect either of these players to be with these clubs by the time they retire, and Ellis has the edge in experience and reliability.
The Saskatoon native was a late bloomer, not playing his second NHL game until he was 26, but he was a decent goalie for the Predators despite not ever fully taking over the starter role. In his three years there, he posted save percentages of .924, .900 and .909 and goals-against averages (GAAs) of 2.34, 2.93 and 2.64.
Although he had a mediocre .889 save percentage and 2.93 GAA this season for Tampa, eventually resulting in the Bolts' deal for Dwayne Roloson, he was a respectable 13-7-6 with two shutouts. While Ellis is not a goalie that deserves, at least for now, to be a full-time starter, he is a good pickup for the Ducks.
Meanwhile, McElhinny has played just 60 career games and is 15-22-0 in those, along with a below-average .895 lifetime save percentage and miserable 3.21 GAA, raised even more by this season's 3.43 mark.
Kovalev to the Penguins
While Kovalev is 38 and likely to retire this summer, it's hard for a Stanley Cup contender to pass up on such a seasoned goal-scorer. In 1,282 career games, Kovalev has 426 goals and 1,017 points, including 149 goals and 347 points with Pittsburgh from 1998 to 2003.
This season, the Russian has 14 goals—six of which have come on the power play—and 27 points in 54 games for Ottawa, who is last by a long way in the Eastern Conference. The struggling Senators will add a little bit of youth for the future with the conditional pick, which will be either a sixth- or seventh-round choice, but shouldn't expect much from the selection, which may be one of the last in the entire draft.
Although Kovalev wasn't much use to the Sens anymore, and they have no reason to be upset with the return, I think they could've gotten more if they had traded him elsewhere. Additionally, the Penguins add an extremely viable threat to their offense with franchise cornerstones Malkin and Crosby suffering through injuries.
Sopel and Dawes to Montreal
Sopel might not be able to win the Stanley Cup for Montreal, as fellow B/R writer Tab Bamford predicts, but he is a nice upgrade for a vulnerable Canadien defense. In his younger years, Sopel, now 34, was more of an offensive defenseman, scoring 37 and 42 points with the Canucks in '02-'03 and '03-'04, respectively, but he's developed into a conservative third-pairing player.
Although he has just six goals in his last five seasons, four of which came with Chicago before this year's venture to Atlanta, Sopel is a plus-15 over that span. This year, he had seven points and a plus-seven rating for the Thrashers, as well as helping out on the penalty kill (leading the team in shorthanded time on ice per game) and blocking shots (second on the team with 130).
Nigel Dawes, meanwhile, is merely a leftover from a failed experiment in Atlanta. After having a very solid 2009-2010 campaign with Calgary, posting 14 goals, 18 assists and a plus-one rating, he has just one point this year and has played in only nine games. However, he will be able to get a fresh start in Montreal, where we expect him to shine again.
Headed to Atlanta is youngster Ben Maxwell, a former second-round pick who has been a quiet yet talented prospect for the Habs the past few seasons. The 22-year-old was scoreless in 14 games with Montreal last season and had not played an NHL game this year, but he did have 11 goals and 40 points in 47 AHL appearances to date this season. The Thrashers also add a fourth-round pick to their draft board.
Although it seems we tend to always like the team getting the immediate impact rather than the future impact, this one is easy to choose. Atlanta is a team who has struggled over the past month and has fallen to the bottom of the playoff race, so we expected them to go after players who give provide leadership and a spark to their roster. Instead, they went after the build-for-the-future route.
Meanwhile, Montreal landed a good defenseman at a timely moment, as well as a diamond in the rough in Dawes, who was severely underused in Atlanta. A very good move by the Canadiens to build for the postseason, it is.
Stillman Returns To Carolina
Cory Stillman, 37, is heading back to the team where he was best. The former sixth overall pick had two 20-plus goal seasons from 2005 to 2008 with Carolina, and was a huge contributor to the Hurricanes Stanley Cup victory, scoring nine goals, 17 assists and a plus-12 rating in those 25 games to earn his second Cup ring (he won with Tampa Bay, too).
Stillman had landed in Florida as his third team of '07-'08, and he had stayed there since, scoring 17 and 15 goals, respectively, over the last two seasons before scoring seven goals and 23 points in 44 games this year, with a plus-three rating as well. His arrival in Raleigh likely knocks Sergei Samsonov out of a roster spot, who will probably be on the move before the deadline.
Headed to South Florida is a fifth-round pick and penalty-killer Ryan Carter, who is on the final year of a $.625 million contract. He had three assists and was even in 32 games for Carolina, where he arrived after scoring one goal, two assists and a minus-four rating in 18 games to begin the year with Anaheim.
Neither Carter nor almost any fifth-round pick is going to really make an impact on the Panthers, but Stillman could have a huge effect on the Hurricanes, especially if they do make the playoffs. He's not going to be around them past this summer, when his three-year, $15 million contract expires, but Stillman is still a great addition to provide plenty of offense this spring.