The new year is upon us, as is the midpoint of the season. So it is time for a little reflection on trades good and bad that we thought might shape this season and what those trades have revealed thus far.
(Also: If the Penguins make the playoffs this spring, the Maple Leafs will receive Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 2016, while sending a second-round pick back. If the Penguins miss the playoffs, Toronto will receive Pittsburgh's first-round pick in the 2017 draft and the Penguins receive Toronto's 2017 second-round pick. The Leafs also retained $1.25 million of Kessel's annual salary against the salary cap.)
This was the trade of the offseason. With the Penguins searching for the right chemistry after yet another disappointing playoff exit -- a five-game, first-round loss to the New York Rangers -- the thought of one of the game's pure goal-scorers in Kessel teaming up with Sidney Crosby had the hockey world abuzz with projections of what might be possible. It hasn't turned out that way, not even close. Kessel is on pace for about 25 goals, well off the 40 that seemed to be the baseline for legitimate expectations. He has managed just two goals on the power play and the Penguins have been a train wreck offensively, ranking 24th in goals per game. The inability of the team to find any kind of groove offensively ultimately cost head coach Mike Johnston his job. Still, as we start the new calendar year, the Penguins are ever so slowly starting to figure it out under new coach Mike Sullivan. The Penguins are still touch and go to make the playoffs -- it would be the first time since Crosby's rookie season in 2005-06 that they missed the postseason -- but look for Pittsburgh to find a way into the top eight, after which all will be forgiven if Kessel can help the Penguins exorcise their considerable playoff demons. Plenty of "ifs."
As for the Leafs, this was a deal that was mostly about adding by subtracting. Kapanen might turn into a decent NHL player. Or not. Maybe the draft picks help. Maybe not. Still, the culture in Toronto has changed dramatically under head coach Mike Babcock, even if the team isn't expected to make the playoffs. That makes them a winner on many levels -- even if it did cost them their most gifted offensive player.
This trade has to be examined in the context of Dallas' signing of free-agent defenseman Johnny Oduya as well. Dallas general manager Jim Nill was looking for players who could not just contribute on the ice but contribute to changing the culture in the dressing room. Sharp, a three-time Stanley Cup winner in Chicago and a member of Canada's gold-medal team at the 2014 Olympics, brings a winner's mentality to the proceedings, as does Sharp's former teammate in Chicago, Oduya, who won two Cups as a Blackhawk. So far, so good for a Stars team that leads the Western Conference by a country mile and is vying for a Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the NHL. Sharp took some time to fit in but has become a key figure with 16 goals, 34 points and a team-best five game winners. The true value of this deal for Dallas, of course, will be revealed in the spring as the Stars are looking to go on their first long playoff run since 2008, when they reached the conference finals, and perhaps take a serious run at their first Stanley Cup since 1999. Since 2009, Sharp is second only to Patrick Kane in postseason goals, so that bodes well for the Stars.
As for the Blackhawks, Garbutt has chipped in just one goal but his grit and versatility could come in handy in the playoffs. Daley, meanwhile, never really fit in for Chicago and was recently traded to Pittsburgh for Rob Scuderi. That move will have a ripple effect for Chicago GM Stan Bowman, who opened up more cap space to potentially make another move before the trade deadline.
The other "it" trade of the offseason also involved Chicago GM Bowman. Fearing an offer sheet being presented to restricted free agent Saad, Bowman made a preemptive strike with this shocking trade. Long-term, Columbus would seem to have gotten the best player in the deal, although Saad, just 23, and the rest of the Blue Jackets struggled through a miserable first half of the season that cost head coach Todd Richards his job and have made the playoffs a mirage for the second straight season. But in talking recently with Bowman, we know that he has coveted Anisimov for some time and the rangy 27-year-old center has been terrific for Chicago. In fact, Bowman credits Anisimov and linemate Artemi Panarin for helping Kane to what could be his first scoring title. Anisimov is actually just one goal behind Saad with 15 and probably few would have predicted that. This was a deal Bowman felt he had to make to keep his team in the hunt and they are definitely a Cup contender once again. Dano is also a skilled player who could prove a factor down the road. As for Columbus, this is already a lost season, but Saad, who already owns two Stanley Cup rings, should prove to be a cornerstone offensive player for this team moving forward.
This was a straight-up hockey deal made by two teams who have known their fair share of playoff disappointment and were looking to shake things up. In terms of straight-on hockey talent, you'd have to give the edge to Washington. After a slow start, Oshie has fit in nicely, playing mostly with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Oshie has 14 goals and 25 points, although we know GM Brian MacLellan thinks there's more coming from Oshie, whom he would like to see be a little bit more selfish around the net. Brouwer, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, is playing in a less prominent role in St. Louis and has produced just six goals and 14 points. Although he had a disappointing playoff with the Caps last spring after a 21-goal regular season, Brouwer is still a prototypical Ken Hitchcock player with good offensive skills and a nose for hard work. He is also the kind of player whom the Blues need to come up big in the playoffs, something they haven't had enough of in recent years. Oshie has one more season remaining on his deal at a $4.5 million in cap hit and his contributions have helped the Capitals to their best start in franchise history as they sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. If Oshie keeps this up in the playoffs, the Caps will be a Cup favorite. Is it too much to imagine a Blues-Caps Cup finals? Not really.
This was a mostly overlooked deal made at the draft but it looms large for both teams thus far this season. The Ducks, of course, are off to a miserable start in large part due to the team's deep offensive lineup's inability to score. They are 30th in goals scored per game as they try to claw their way back into the hunt in the tepid Pacific Division. Palmieri simply didn't fit in GM Bob Murray's plans, especially as he heads to restricted free agency at the end of this season. But given more opportunities with the Devils, the New Jersey native has been a boon to first-year NHL coach John Hynes, leading the surprising Devils with 17 goals. Among that total are a team-best six power-play goals, as the Devils have been one of the surprise teams of the first half, staying very much in playoff contention. His 17 goals would rank first on the Ducks, three more than Corey Perry's 14. Just saying.
If there was a player destined to stay a Boston Bruin, it seemed to be Lucic. But if not a Bruin, then certainly the hard-nosed Lucic was built to be a King. With Lucic set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, new Boston GM Don Sweeney felt he had to move the big forward sooner than later. He then flipped Jones to San Jose for a first-round pick in 2016 and prospect Sean Kuraly. The Kings are looking to re-up Lucic, which tells you his value to GM Dean Lombardi moving forward. Lucic has settled into a productive role with the Pacific Division-leading Kings, playing with Jeff Carter after there was a lack of chemistry with Anze Kopitar. Lucic has 11 goals (tied for second on the team) and is tied for the team lead with four game winners. More importantly, Lucic's presence has reinforced that the Kings are back after a tumultuous 2014-15 season and a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs. Lucic's history with the Bruins -- he has 61 postseason points in 96 games -- suggests he can elevate his game come playoff time, which is exactly why the Kings felt he would be a good fit.