BOSTON — The NHL draft is the new NHL trade deadline, and that was evident Monday.
The future of the salary cap is uncertain. The Canadian dollar’s plunge isn’t helping, and the cap for the 2016-17 NHL season might not increase by much, if at all.
We saw this impact the NHL trade deadline Monday. Just 19 trades involving 37 players/prospects and 14 draft picks were made.
Just 12 teams had less than $5 million in cap space, per General Fanager’s estimates, and most of those clubs represented the majority of buyers at the deadline. Just five of the 16 teams currently in a playoff spot entered deadline day with more than $5 million in cap space.
It’s difficult to add impact players and/or retain salary when teams don’t have much cap room. The only playoff team that acquired a player with a cap hit of $5 million or higher was the New York Rangers, but their addition of Eric Staal was made possible by the Carolina Hurricanes retaining some of his salary. Very few players with term on their contracts beyond this season were moved, and none of those players with a cap hit of at least $5 million were dealt.
Therefore, this season’s deadline made headlines more for the players who didn’t move rather than those who did. Loui Eriksson, Dan Hamhuis and Jonathan Droun were the three notable players who didn’t switch teams. In Eriksson’s case, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney believed he didn’t get the “right deal.”
“If you look around the league, I don’t think any team currently in a playoff position traded a player of Loui’s magnitude, and correct me if I’m wrong as well, I think one first-rounder was exchanged,” Sweeney said after Monday’s deadline. “So the deal had to be right. It has to be right for this organization for me to do that, and that’s what I’ve been entrusted to do and I’m going to continue to do that.”
Sweeney is correct: Only one team — the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks — gave up a first-round pick before the deadline. Chicago is in a unique situation, though, because it’s the best team in the league and going for its fourth Stanley Cup title since 2010. The Blackhawks are the epitome of “win now.” The rest of the league didn’t seem willing to give up first-rounders, although the Dallas Stars might have to, based on the conditions of the foolish Kris Russell trade.
Why were no first-round picks dealt on deadline day for the first time since 2010?
Well, for teams close to the cap and that project to be in that position for the next few years, having as many draft picks as possible and using them to select players capable of making an impact on cheap entry-level contracts is the ideal scenario. These are the players who provide valuable depth in your bottom-six and third pairing that’s crucial to playoff success.
The Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have constructed contending rosters built to win now and in the future by surrounding high-priced veterans with cheap, talented young players. For Chicago, it’s been Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and formerly Brandon Saad. For Anaheim, it’s been John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Rickard Rakell.
The draft has become the best time to make deals. By that time the draft order is set and teams know exactly where their picks fall, unrestricted free agents and their cap hits have come off payrolls and general managers are allowed to go 10 percent over the cap as long as they are under it by September’s deadline.
This has the potential to make trade deadlines boring in the future, but it could be the reality until the cap rises at a steady pace.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney makes the first of three consecutive draft picks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center.
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