(Note: The Weekly Reader will return to its normal Friday spot this week.)
At the trade deadline, Michal Kempny was like an art-house flick playing in a multiplex of blockbusters. The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was acquired by the Washington Capitals for a conditional third-round pick a few days before the trading closed. It was a tweak, a minor move involving a little-known player. No one on Erik Karlsson Watch gave it a second glance.
Fast-forward to the Eastern Conference finals, and the Kempny move looks like one of the shrewdest maneuvers of the deadline. Kempny is skating top-pairing minutes with John Carlson, who leads all defensemen in playoff scoring. He got a little offensive too, scoring the opening goal on the road in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He was under the radar the way they played, but his ability to skate and he has such a professionalism about him. He's a high-quality pro," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.
All of this is to say that sometimes it's the smaller moves that make the biggest difference and the biggest moves that make the smallest impact. Everyone is scrambling for the final piece of their puzzle, wedging even the most ill-fitting one into place in the hope that it'll complete the picture, though it rarely does.
Let's look at how some of the biggest moves of the trade deadline actually shook out, shall we? Have these trades been upgraded or downgraded after the regular season and a good portion of the postseason?
Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, Tampa Bay Lightning
These two were acquired from the New York Rangers in a package of prospects, picks and a slightly used Vladislav Namestnikov. McDonagh has paired with Anton Stralman to form the team's second defensive unit behind Victor Hedman, the only Lightning defenseman averaging more ice time than McDonagh (22:11) in the playoffs. But McDonagh hasn't been effective in the postseason, skating to a team-low 48.9 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5, though he does have five assists in 12 games. Miller has two goals and five assists in 12 games, with three points coming on the power play.
Upgrade or downgrade? Upgrade. McDonagh's struggles are a bit of recency bias, as he and Stralman were quite good as a shutdown pair earlier in the playoffs. Miller has added a physical, north-south dimension to the Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov line.
The Bruins gave up a package of players and a first-round pick to rent Nash in hopes that he'd mesh with David Krejci the way a big-bodied Milan Lucic did in the past. The problem is the Bruins were acquiring him for a playoff run, and Nash continued his pedestrian postseason play with three goals and two assists in 12 games, along with a minus-7. Two of those goals came in the same game.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. Nash continues to do everything but score in the playoffs.
Acquired in a deal that involved Ian Cole, the Penguins' first-rounder and some financial wrangling from the Vegas Golden Knights, Brassard had eight points in 14 regular-season games but was a nothing in the playoffs with one goal and three assists in 12 games. Some would argue that he didn't get enough of a look with the Penguins' top-liners. Others would argue that he did nothing to earn that chance.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. With one more year on his deal and a modified no-trade clause giving Pittsburgh some flexibility, Brassard could go from third-line center to employed by a different team by summer's end.
The Jets traded a prospect, a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick to rent Stastny, who famously waived his no-move clause to go to Winnipeg -- perhaps the first time in recorded history a player has done that.
Upgrade or downgrade? Upgrade -- huge upgrade. Stastny had 13 points in 19 regular-season games and has 15 points in 13 playoff games, including six goals. That includes two goals and an assist in Game 7 against Nashville. This was arguably the most impactful move of the deadline (in a positive way).
GM Ray Shero rewarded his surprising Devils with two big deadline acquisitions at forward, trading a prospect and a second-rounder to the Rangers for Grabner and a prospect and a third-rounder to Edmonton for Maroon.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. Maroon was fine, scoring a goal in the playoffs and recording 13 points in 17 games in the regular season. But Grabner tips the scales to the negative side, with two goals in 21 games for Jersey after scoring 25 in 59 games for the Rangers. He was scoreless in two games in the playoffs before becoming a healthy scratch -- a disaster. Both are pending unrestricted free agents.
The rare Canadiens-Maple Leafs trade saw the 35-year-old turtleneck enthusiast join the upstart Toronto team for the playoffs with unrestricted free agency pending.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. Despite two goals and two assists in seven playoff games, general consensus is that Plekanec didn't do much more than any other player in his role would have done.
Kane had nine goal and five assists in 17 regular-season games and four goals and an assist in nine playoff games after the Sharks acquired him from Buffalo for a prospect, a 2019 first-rounder and a 2019 fourth-rounder.
Upgrade or downgrade? Upgrade. His nonsensical suspension in the Vegas series aside, Kane showed that he could play with top-end talent on San Jose and performed well in his first postseason, perhaps to the point that the Sharks will retain his services.
The Predators traded a prospect, a first-rounder and a fourth-rounder for Hartman, 23, who is a restricted free agent after this season. He had three goals and three assists in 21 games, with 14 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he had two goals and an assist in nine games. He was suspended for Game 5 against Colorado after a check to the head and was a healthy scratch for Game 6 against both Colorado and Winnipeg, as well as Game 1 against the Jets.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. GM David Poile likely anticipated some growing pains for Hartman, but perhaps not this many. But Hartman has potential, and it's likely he'll be back next season for another shot.
Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole, Columbus Blue Jackets
Upgrade or downgrade? Upgrade. Cole was fine, and Vanek was great ... in the regular season: 15 points in 19 games and a goal and an assist in the team's six-game loss to Washington.
Tomas Tatar, Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas gave up first-, second- and third-round picks for Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.
Upgrade or downgrade? Downgrade. Woof. Four goals and two assists in 20 regular-season games and just four playoff games with no points before ending up in healthy scratch land. Tatar makes $5.3 million per season through 2021. Yikes.
Jersey Foul of the week
The hot chicken of Jersey Fouls:
- Kathy (@HockeyChick107) May 11, 2018
Political messaging aside, this is remarkable for the sheer scope of it. A four-digit number is quite a feat. A grand attempt to make Jersey Fouls great again.
Meanwhile, there's something rotten in Denmark:
- Shorthanded News (@ShorthandedNews) May 11, 2018
No. 5 for the Danes is Daniel Nielsen, who is very much not Alex Ovechkin. Nor is Alex Ovechkin synonymous with No. 5. To quote Hamlet: "He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"
Here's a truly strange scene from the ECHL playoffs, as the Fort Wayne Komets and the Colorado Eagles get into a pregame scrum with some punches thrown in the Western Conference finals. It's pretty amazing that this didn't escalate into a full-on "Anchorman"-style battle royale, but there was a game to be played.
-- Justin A. Cohn (@SportsiCohn) May 14, 2018
Well, that escalated quickly.
The catalyst for this was an injury to Fort Wayne goalie Michael Houser in overtime of Game 1, who was run into twice by Colorado in that extra session. "It was just making sure we were standing up for ourselves," Fort Wayne's Cody Sol said to Justin Cohn of JG Ice Chips. "They obviously came after Houser, and we didn't like the way they did it. It's a locker room full of teammates here. If they go after one of us, then they come after all of us. It just shows the team chemistry and the team morale here."
The ECHL didn't allow two of the players involved, the Komets' Dennis Kravchenko and the Eagles' Gabriel Verpaelst, to play in the game after the pregame fight, but they were allowed to be replaced. Expect more discipline from the ECHL ahead of Game 3.
Listen to ESPN On Ice
Emily Kaplan and I discuss the Capitals' finally taking out the Penguins and the Golden Knights' push for the Stanley Cup. Plus, ESPN's Victoria Matiash stops by to give her view on the postseason thus far, we hear from Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski about his Boston Bruins fandom and all of your favorite segments of the week! Stream here, and grab it on iTunes here.
The Dubas backlash
Some went with Harry Potter jokes. Some went with Clark Kent references. Mostly everyone went with some "would rather be eating avocado toast" millennial goof.
All of it was inspired by Kyle Dubas, 32 and looking every bit of that relative hockey youth in his dark-rimmed glasses, being introduced as the Maple Leafs' new general manager last week. All of it was, of course, reductive, because Dubas has been a manager since he was 25 and was a player agent before that. He's a hockey lifer; it's just that his life has been significantly shorter than that of other hockey lifers, such as Mark Hunter, 55, who was passed over in favor of Dubas in the Leafs' "Game of Thrones" front-office battle for supremacy.
I thought Dubas did what he could in explaining what the heck happens now with Hunter, as pretty much every Toronto writer who used Hunter as a background source carried water for him at the news conference and on the air. But this choosing of sides is just the start of Dubas' concerns with some in the Toronto media who are drooling over the chance to carve up a young executive with the ferocity of a Phil Kessel takeout piece circa 2015.
Take, for example, that Dubas is ill-equipped for the rigors of the job. There was speculation that someone else would have to handle contracts, despite Dubas' having been an agent. There was a question in the presser that Brendan Shanahan might need to take a more active role in the team because Dubas needs hand-holding, something the Leafs president shut down. Then there was this Dave Feschuk piece on Saturday that speculated that Dubas can't handle Mike Babcock and his considerable gravitas, inflated by that elephantine contract.
Wrote Feschuk: "Dubas' biggest impending challenge is managing Babcock. It's expected Shanahan will soon enough find himself mediating disputes between the newly installed GM and the 55-year-old coach. Though born decades apart, the GM and coach share in common an ageless self-assurance and occasionally disparate views of the definition of a good-looking lineup. Said one NHL source, imagining the outcome of the interplay: '(Babcock) is going to run roughshod over Dubas.'"
Again, what other general manager gets a job and has local media saying it's "expected" that the team president will have to play peacekeeper between that GM and his coach, rather than, you know, seeing how this all plays out and not allowing off-the-record sources with a grudge to fecklessly speculate on the future?
Toronto sure is lovely this time of year.
Oh, hey, here's some disgusting news: The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League tried to trademark "#HumboldtStrong" without actually asking the Humboldt Broncos if that were cool. [CBC]
Vladimir Putin scored only five goals in his "Hockey Legends" game last week, playing on a team with Pavel Bure. Clearly he would have scored more were it not for the occasional Russian interference. [TASS]
In the wake of the Predators' loss to Winnipeg, here are the three ways fans can approach a heart-shattering loss. [On The Forecheck]
Gay ref Alex Valvo offers a first-person account of his experiences: "No current or former NHL player has ever come out as gay. I'm writing this with the intention of inspiring hope for a young hockey player or hockey official struggling with their sexuality." [Outsports]
Behind The Athletic's hockey strategy. [Awful Announcing]
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
How the Golden Knights are getting people who never considered watching hockey to, you know, watch it. [Las Vegas Review-Journal]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
The Vegas Golden Knights have done many incredible things. Putting hockey above the NBA in Vegas sports books is chief among them.