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Did The Bruins Win The Trade Deadline? And Will The Canucks Ever Play Again?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): One of hockey’s annual big events came and went earlier this week, with Monday’s trade deadline. Though the deadline brought fewer players on the move than usual, it did offer some moves that ranged from “intriguing” to “borderline blockbuster.” So let’s quickly unpack what happened and then talk about what we’re looking forward to down the stretch of the regular season (whenever it may end).

First of all, which move on or around the deadline did each of you love?

terrence.doyle (Terrence Doyle, contributor): I am willing to bet that Emily and I both loved the same big trade …

emily (Emily Scherer, designer): 🎉 Bruins got a scorer. 

terrence.doyle: This goal was so tasty for so many reasons. First off, David Pastrňák’s ability to handle a bouncing, spinning puck and see a pass to Taylor Hall was just world-class stuff. 🍝 Even then, it looked like the defenseman had the angle, but Hall just blows by him, waits for Semyon Varlamov to commit and fires through the five-hole, all without breaking his stride. I fist-pumped so hard I thought I’d need rotator cuff surgery. It’s precisely the reason the Bruins acquired him.

emily: Love the Hall trade for Boston. What a wild, winding way for the 2010 draft to reach its conclusion. The general gist floating around is that Hall wanted Boston, and Boston used that to not give up anything hugely substantial. They kept their young goaltenders and didn’t even give up a first-round pick. And for Hall, he’s landed in a place where there’s no pressure. He doesn’t have to be The Guy on a team that has an entire line that functions as Their Guys.

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terrence.doyle: He also looks motivated, suddenly. Going from one of the decade’s worst franchises to one of its best will do that to a player, though.

neil: Yeah, this seemed like the trade most primed to see a player suddenly change the course of his season. Hall wasn’t going to keep shooting 2.3 percent forever.

terrence.doyle: Regression, etc., etc., etc.

emily: Happy players just don’t shoot 2.3 percent, they just don’t.

terrence.doyle: Living in Boston and (begrudgingly) listening to sports talk radio/my friends, the one thing people have been whining about (for, like, a decade!) is Boston’s inability or unwillingness to spring for honest-to-goodness secondary scoring. Welp, can’t really whine about it anymore.

The Bruins have been just about the best defensive team in the league this season and have gotten some pretty good goaltending. The issue, as I keep yammering on about, has been 5-on-5 scoring. So, yes, this one feels like the most significant trade, and the one that could be most consequential in terms of Stanley Cup hopes.

emily: I like the Mike Reilly move to beef up the blueline going into the playoffs, too. The Boston D still feels so young to me.

terrence.doyle: Same 👆

neil: Yeah, that’s an underappreciated move to add a guy who had a +6.4 percent relative Corsi despite 59.3 percent defensive zone starts for a bad Ottawa team.

OK, because I have to ask — any non-Bruins candidates for trades you loved?

terrence.doyle: I thought the Anthony Mantha deal was good for Washington.

An overhead shot of Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers scoring on Philadelphia’s Carter Hart, who is splayed out on the ice.

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neil: Interesting! Despite what they gave up?

terrence.doyle: It’s a good question!

neil: (Because I thought that was a home run for Stevie Y. and the Red Wings)

terrence.doyle: I’m not too concerned about losing Richard Panik at the Disco (thank you Geoff Foster for that reference), but yeah, Jakub Vrána is a nice player. But their production sort of cancels one another’s out.

neil: Certainly Mantha gives them a lot more size; he’s 6-foot-5, compared with the 6-foot Vrána.

terrence.doyle: Mantha is bigger, heavier, kind of fits into that Washington ethos. It’s a weird one to judge, really. Both are very good shooters, but Mantha creates more goals per game, historically.

neil: I also have to respect anybody who scored 25 goals on what was a truly awful Red Wings team a few years back.

terrence.doyle: Haha yeah, I mean in terms of the current Red Wings, Mantha might as well be Sergei Fedorov.

neil: Hey, maybe all those draft picks will jump-start their rebuild! That’s probably why this could be a win-win for both teams.

terrence.doyle: I agree that the Caps lose a very good player in Vrána, but I think they get a player that makes more sense for the way that they play, if that makes sense.

neil: Hockey is a sport that seems to be all about how certain combinations fit, for sure.

terrence.doyle: Another one I liked: Islanders getting Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. The former is pretty much good for 25 goals a season, and the latter isn’t going to light the ice aflame, but he’s a nice 45 points per season type. He also creates 0.20 goals per game, which is not something to turn your nose up at.

emily: I also liked the Avalanche picking up Devan Dubnyk and bringing back Carl Söderberg. I have a soft spot for the One-Eyed Yeti.

Meanwhile, the Predators were … buyers? Sort of?

neil: Both Erik Gudbranson and Erik Gustafsson changed teams on deadline day. Very confusing.

terrence.doyle: 😂

neil: It makes sense, given how the Preds are right there in that playoff mix. (Fifty-five percent, per Elo odds!) And you love to see that after the start they had to the season.

emily: Short term, I think it’s fine? But why go all in if you’re likely facing Tampa Bay in the first round? Long term, I don’t like it. They’re still sort of just there in the middle and each year their window gets smaller and smaller.

terrence.doyle: Are the Preds the new Blues?

emily: They are both hockey teams in the South with music iconography on their jerseys with blue and yellow branding …

terrence.doyle: Case closed.

Another trade that might bear fruit is Nick Foligno to Toronto. He’s a decent goal scorer. He’s played in 50 playoff games. Again, he creates 0.20 goals per game, historically. That’s the kind of player you need to make a run.

neil: Any teams that should have made bigger moves but didn’t?

terrence.doyle: I think the Penguins fall into that category. Jeff Carter? He’s still playing?

neil: Lol. Yeah I think we all forgot about him as L.A.’s fortunes declined over time. 

emily: That move did get the most explanatory text on CapFriendly though — two conditionals!

terrence.doyle: Fair! 

Plus, I guess he could provide a little extra scoring touch? Not that the Pens really needed extra scoring.

neil: Yeah, he’s still putting up OK numbers — 16 adjusted goals and 38 adjusted points this year.

terrence.doyle: And you know, he’s also been there, done that, having won two Cups. Bringing more Cup experience to a team with tons of Cup experience isn’t a bad thing.

neil: Brian Burke seems like the kind of exec who would put a lot of value on that playoff experience. 

emily: You know, teams have their forwards, defensemen, goalies and locker room guys.

neil: The latter being the most important, obviously.

terrence.doyle: I like to think I’d be a locker room guy. Just a talisman who brings the vibes.

emily: Would you take the form of a weird hat, giant belt, dorky necklace, shared jacket or fur coat?

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terrence.doyle: Shared jacket, always hugging my friends.

neil: Awwwwwww

OK, enough about the deadline. Let’s pivot to looking at the remaining month or so of the regular season. What do you think the NHL will do around the Vancouver Canucks? They were originally going to resume play tonight after a 23-day pause that saw practically the entire team test positive for COVID-19 — but that was delayed again after players said they felt unprepared and unsafe for the return. The league had already pushed back the end of the North Division schedule to May 16, four days after the other divisions conclude the regular season. 

Are we really going to see playoff games from those other divisions while the Canucks play out the string? Why not just cancel some of those games and use points percentage to determine the seedings?

terrence.doyle: I think your idea is the most logical one, which means the NHL absolutely won’t do it.

neil: Heh

emily: Shut it down and pull the plug. We’ve seen teams in other leagues do it: The Orlando Pride withdrew from last year’s NWSL Challenge Cup, the Connecticut Whale pulled out of the NWHL Lake Placid tournament that was then subsequently postponed. It’s not worth it.

terrence.doyle: Seconded.

First, these players haven’t played in almost a month at this point, and haven’t practiced much (or at all) either, so returning to play against teams that are in midseason shape is dangerous. Second, the NHL doesn’t always operate with the players’ best interest in mind, so there’s no way that any decision they make — short of shutting it down — will be safe or good for players.

neil: So just not play any more Canuck games at all?

To play devil’s advocate, is that unfair to the teams that were supposed to play them and are jockeying for seeding? Montreal, for instance, has already played all of its Vancouver games, but other teams in the mix haven’t yet.

A hockey puck with a word bubble reading: “‘Can’t score, can’t stop being scored on’ is bad. Got it.”

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terrence.doyle: I think there’s a case for that, Neil, for sure. But your aforementioned idea of using points percentage, or some version of it, will have to do, imo, because there’s too much at stake to play these games.

neil: I guess there’s also the question of Vancouver itself. They still have a shot at the playoffs, albeit small (8.5 percent in our model, which does actually assume points percentage would be used for teams that played fewer than 56 games). So I don’t know what you do with that.

emily: We’re still in a pandemic! Reading about the lasting effects of COVID-19 on athletes is heartbreaking. The safety of the players and staff is more important.

terrence.doyle: My official answer is: 😬.

neil: I do kind of think the league will make Vancouver play again but maybe will relent on the 56-game rigidity. That part seems completely unnecessary and also infeasible at this point. 

(But there will be other North teams who complain, because of course there will be.)

terrence.doyle: Yeah. Knowing the NHL, they’ll make ’em play six games in eight days.

neil: That’s … not too far from what they were actually looking at before this latest decision.

terrence.doyle: Yup. 

neil: Nineteen games in 31 days.

terrence.doyle: SMH

[Clears throat, which is sore from so much throat clearing] THE BAD SEASON IS BAD.


neil: All right, let’s finish up with some on-ice concerns. What’s the biggest question you’re each thinking about that needs to be answered before the playoffs? Mine is about the defending champs — the Lightning have looked pretty listless for the past three weeks, and they are no longer favorites to repeat, having been supplanted in our Cup odds by the Avalanche.

So I’m wondering whether this is just the Lightning conserving themselves for the postseason or a sign that they peaked at the wrong time. What is on your minds as we look toward the playoffs?

terrence.doyle: That’s a good question. I think they’ll be fine, and I still feel like they’re the most dangerous and best team in the league. But we all saw what happened to the Bolts two years ago, and that was after they went into the playoffs on a relative hot streak.

emily: Yeah, I think looking at where the teams are at post-deadline, the Lightning and Avs didn’t make huge moves to further increase their chances but made solid moves that secured their standing up top.

terrence.doyle: I guess I’ll circle back to the Hall trade for what I’m watching. The Bruins have sorely needed secondary scoring, and they went out and got a guy who’s been considered a primary scorer for his entire career. Like Emily said, he doesn’t have to be the guy anymore, just the other guy. If the Bruins start figuring out how to score 5-on-5 goals, they’re gonna make for a hell of a difficult playoff matchup. They probably go as far as the chemistry between David Krejčí, Craig Smith and Hall goes.

emily: The Hall move was big (but not so big it cost a first rounder!). As Terrence said, it changes some of the questions re: the Bruins, but there still are questions there.

neil: Well, at least we have already answered the most important question of all: Terrence’s preferred locker-room talisman. Next chat, we’ll start rotating that jacket!

emily: Neil, I think we should go for the pigeon.

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Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Emily Scherer was FiveThirtyEight’s senior designer.

Terrence Doyle is a writer based in Boston, where he obsesses over pizza and hockey.