The 2021 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday was quieter than usual. There were 17 trades, the fewest since 17 in 2013, involving 26 players, the fewest since 23 in 2000.
“It was a different year,” Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said. “Yesterday I was sitting here going, ‘Jeez, no one is calling,’ and I was hearing that was kind of common around the League.”
But this trade deadline came amid the coronavirus pandemic with a flat NHL salary cap and quarantine requirements, plus protection issues ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken.
And if you look at the past three weeks, not just deadline day, Stanley Cup contenders still found ways to add pieces. Rebuilding teams still added assets for the future. Some were creative maneuvering under the cap by retaining salary or using cap space to help broker deals.
Eric Staal went to the Montreal Canadiens, Kyle Palmieri to the New York Islanders, David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nick Foligno to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jeff Carter to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Taylor Hall to the Boston Bruins, Sam Bennett to the Florida Panthers, Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals and more.
“There were quite a few done, and people tended to their business, and we’ll see now,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said. “Certainly, with visas and international travel, that’s going to be a hiccup. But we’ll get through it and move forward.”
Bottom line: The pandemic hasn’t dampened the competition. In some ways, it has even heightened it.
When the deadline arrived at 3 p.m. ET Monday, the top six teams in the NHL were separated by two points, the top nine teams by four points. The division races had a unique dynamic.
The NHL realigned temporarily this season because of travel restrictions amid the pandemic. Teams are playing within their division in the regular season. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs, and teams will play the first two rounds within their division.
“There are a lot of teams in the mix,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. “With the new format we’re playing in, because of this COVID season, you can move up and down in the standings very quickly. You’re playing head-to-head every night. Those things really do impact the deadline.”
In the eight-team MassMutual East, the top three teams were separated by two points. The Capitals added Mantha and forward Michael Raffl, and the Islanders added Palmieri, forward Travis Zajac and defenseman Braydon Coburn. The Penguins added Carter, a 36-year-old forward who won the Cup twice with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014) and gets to chase it again with Sidney Crosby.
“I think the quote was, ‘I’m all-in. I can’t wait to get there,'” Penguins GM Ron Hextall said.
The fourth-place Bruins added Hall, forward Curtis Lazar and defenseman Mike Reilly. Hall might be the most interesting acquisition anywhere. He scored 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games with the New Jersey Devils and won the Hart Trophy voted as the NHL MVP in 2017-18 but scored 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 37 games with the Buffalo Sabres this season. Can he bounce back with a better team?
In the eight-team Discover Central, the top three teams also were separated by two points. Though the Carolina Hurricanes stood pat, the Lightning added Savard to bolster their blue line. The Panthers traded for Bennett up front and Brandon Montour at defenseman, and signed forward Nikita Gusev as an unrestricted free agent. The fourth-place Nashville Predators added defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
In the eight-team Honda West, the Colorado Avalanche added depth down the middle (Carl Soderberg), on the back end (Patrik Nemeth ) and in net (Devan Dubnyk ). The second-place Vegas Golden Knights picked up forward Mattias Janmark, giving them speed on the wing in their middle six. The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues were quiet, but for the Blues, that was big. A week ago, they were on a seven-game skid (0-6-1) and looked like sellers. Now they’re on a three-game winning streak and back in a playoff spot.
“Each trade deadline has its own uniqueness, but this one certainly, with the shortened season, our fluctuation in play, it had our minds going in different directions,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. “Certainly, the play of the last three games and being in a playoff spot today was a [reason for] really deciding to stand pat with this group.”
The first-place Maple Leafs were the story in the seven-team Scotia North, adding depth up front (Foligno, Riley Nash), on the back end (Ben Hutton ) and in net (David Rittich ). No Canada-based team has won the Cup since the Canadiens in 1993. Toronto has not won a playoff series since 2004. Because of the format this season, a Canada-based team will make the final four, and the Maple Leafs have the largest lead in any of the divisions, six points ahead of the second-place Winnipeg Jets.
“We were excited to be able to, we believe, add the pieces that will continue to enhance our ability to be as competitive as possible as we go into the playoffs,” Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said, “and roll from there.”
NHL.com staff writers Tom Gulitti and Tracey Myers, and independent correspondents Wes Crosby and Louie Korac contributed to this report