The NHL trade deadline comes at you fast.
In the time I spent writing this column, one of the players I had listed was traded: Calle Jarnkrok of the Seattle Kraken, who was sent to the Calgary Flames in a Wednesday night swap. I made a joke about believing “Jarnkrok” in Swedish is “versatile, middle-six, two-way forward.” I share this joke with you now because it’s writers code to utilize every part of the column, even if it’s stale, and to admit that nothing I had written could match the goofy glory of the Flames’ “WELCOME TO CALLE-GARY!” tweet.
In the time you spend reading this column, other players could be checked off the list. Some will be traded. Some will be retained, when their teams realize they won’t know what they’ve got ’til it’s gone. These eight players are special. They’re different. When you check the receipt on Monday night and see all that was spent on inferior talent and ineffective players, you’ll wonder how these guys didn’t earn double the bounty.
Here are eight players who are diamonds in the rough at the NHL trade deadline. Not the biggest names, but maybe the most important ones when it comes to players who can actually help push a team closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup.
More: Deadline guides for all 32 teams
Best players at each position
Trade tracker | Teams at a crossroads
Tomas Hertl is, of course, the guy you wanted from the Sharks. He has offensive prowess, physicality and a penchant for big playoff moments. He also has the jovial comportment of an anime sidekick. That’s why the Sharks signed him for eight years on Wednesday. There’s been a lot of buzz around defenseman Jacob Middleton, for he is large (6-foot-3), his contract is reasonable ($725,000) and he was carried by Erik Karlsson.
There’s been less buzz around Barabanov, 27, who has played well with 30 points in 51 games. He contributes on the power play and is third behind Hertl and Timo Meier in individual puck possession per game among Sharks forwards (1:06). He also is second to those two in goals scored above average (6). Barabanov has played the majority of his time with those two players this season, but he earned that chance. He also has only 10 penalty minutes this season. At $1 million against the cap, the forward’s contract is a bargain value for someone’s middle six — unless the Sharks ink him to remain with Hertl.
There are going to be absolutely silly returns for defensive defensemen at this deadline in the name of playoff “grit” and “jam” and the like. Josh Manson earned a second-rounder in a deep draft and an NHL-ready top prospect from the Avalanche — although salary retention was a factor. Ben Chiarot has somehow become David Savard with a better press agent despite absolutely woeful underlying numbers this season.
Braun led the Flyers in zone denials (47.2%), which was better than Chiarot (41.7%). Braun is better in expected goals against (2.51 to 2.96) per 60 minutes. He stays out of the penalty box better than Chiarot too. Braun has played over 20 minutes in 12 of his past 13 games as the Flyers showcased him, and he has handled the uptick. He averages 2:23 per game short-handed, as well. Braun has appeared in 100 playoff games during his career, and that can’t be undervalued. As a pure rental, he is a blueliner I’d covet.
The trade deadline was made for guys like Andrew Copp. He has been in the league since 2015. He has never scored 20 goals in a season. The 2021-22 campaign is his best chance to cross 40 points as, obviously, it’s a contract year.
All of this is to say that no one outside of Winnipeg has really spent all that much time discussing the virtues of Andrew Copp, until they realized their team could acquire him. And so we’ve gotten more biographies and scouting reports on him in four months than we’ve gotten in eight seasons.
In the ongoing search for teams to find “the next Blake Coleman,” Copp is an interesting candidate. Copp has been called “a Swiss Army knife,” and that’s not a bad way to describe someone with the versatility to play in the top six as a center or play down the lineup in a defensive role. He plays on the power play! He kills penalties! He also is a player whose fundamentally strong defense was the foundation on which he built his offensive game. If the Jets want to part with him — and they might have to, if Copp opts not to re-sign — then he’ll be a key addition for someone.
Hagel is one of those players whom we can’t really believe would be available but apparently is. He is a young forward with terrific traditional stats (21 goals in 55 games) and underlying numbers whose cap figure ($1.5 million average annual value through 2023-24, after which he is a restricted free agent) is the stuff that championship rosters are made of. Are the Blackhawks not buying it after just one breakout season? Or does — shudder — a 23-year-old not fit the timeline of the rebuild?
Whatever the case, a player that young with a controllable contract and 13.2 goals scored above average doesn’t come around too often, especially with Hagel’s versatility and tenacity on the forecheck. I’d pounce on the chance to add him, but then Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson knows that many of his colleagues would too.
The goalie market at the trade deadline is like thumbing through a bin at Comic-Con. There are issues you already have and ones you don’t need. The few comics you might actually want to bring home apparently aren’t for sale. Then you find one that no one realized was in the bin — low-issue number, maybe a variant cover. And you realize while everyone is overbidding on their comics, you’re the only one actually completing your collection.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that if my team needed a goalie, the first call I make is to Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion in the hopes that the Matt Murray renaissance means that Forsberg is available. Forsberg is 29, makes $900,000 against the cap and is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Clear Sight Analytics has him 13th in goals saved above expected for goalies with a minimum of 700 scoring chances faced. He steals games.
Larsson has been out since Jan. 25 after sports hernia surgery, but his recovery timeline should have him back on the ice in early April. That surgery interrupted a really solid 29-game start that saw Larsson outpace his expected goals and generally outplay his teammates.
Is he going to shoot 20% for the season? Probably not, but that’s never been his calling card anyway. Larsson is a terrific defensive forward who could benefit anyone’s bottom six. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent who will turn 30 in July. It seems like the time is right for a contender.
Sometimes, a player’s value is best expressed by the intensity of a fan base’s desire for him to stay. Canadiens media and fans have expressed that desire, as trade talk about the 26-year-old forward has swirled. Lehkonen can play both wings and makes $2.3 million against the cap in his last contract season before restricted free agency. Why move him? Well, president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton has been known to flip a productive player for future assets at the trade deadline, so this fits into that philosophical purview.
Oh, and about that production: 13 goals and 15 assists in 56 games, with metrics that show him being equally good on defense and offense. Lehkonen has 6.7 goals scored above expected, which is second best on the team. I think he is worth the late first-rounder he’d cost. In a trade deadline full of “maybe Blake Colemans,” Lehkonen might be the closest to the genuine article.
I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my brain around Zacha. I was high on him when he was drafted sixth overall in 2015. Probably too high. Like, “Hey, the Devils need a center to build around, and this guy had 34 points in 37 games for Sarnia” high. That was in the before times. Before Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
Zacha has never really come close to reaching his offensive potential in the NHL. He has never hit 20 goals. His best points-per-60-minutes average (2.4) came in the anomalous 2020-21 season. He is a solid contributor and an above-replacement-level defensive player. He also is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights who will turn 25 next month. Anyone trading for him will get a player on the upswing who’s finally putting it together. Which means the Devils might want to hang onto him too.
Not every player traded at the deadline has the star power of Claude Giroux and Marc-Andre Fleury or the gravitas of Mark Giordano. Those moves are important, no doubt. Adding the right smaller names is vital. They’re lanterns that illuminate the path to the Stanley Cup. You just have to know which ones to spark.
From the Center of the Hockey Universe:
That’s some serious wishful thinking. 😂
📸: Rob Dale pic.twitter.com/DS5oCo0TXf
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 11, 2022
There’s a strain of Jersey Fouls called “The Conjuring Foul.” It’s a hopeful — some might say delusional — foul in which the wearer is attempting to manifest something into existence.
We saw it with those Connor McDavid jerseys at Buffalo Sabres training camp back in the day. For an older-school example: Montreal Canadiens Vincent Lecavalier jerseys. While neither of them were successful in conjuring those players to those teams, perhaps this Arizona Coyotes Auston Matthews jersey will magically lead to the native son returning to play in the desert.
He’s a free agent in 2024, meaning he’ll be available for the Coyotes’ third season playing in a local university rink.
Video of the week
In honor of the trade deadline on Monday — and please watch our coverage on ESPN+ from noon-5 p.m. ET, which will be simulcast on ESPN2 from 2-4 p.m. ET — here’s a look at an actual NHL trade call.
It’s from 2013, courtesy of the Vancouver Canucks. That’s their assistant GM Laurence Gilman completing a trade with Dallas Stars assistant GM Frank Provenzano, one that sent center Derek Roy to the Canucks for a second-round draft pick and defenseman Kevin Connauton, aka “I will send you Kevin’s contact information after we have informed him.”
My favorite part of this clip is the discussion about when to announce the trade, wherein Gilman ponders why they’re even discussing the timing of an announcement when the trade’s already been on Twitter and trade central shows for an hour. The number of players that told me over the years that they found out they were traded because they saw it on television has been hilariously high.
As an aside: Does every NHL executive have a squeezy stress ball?
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: Washington Capitals fans
When Alex Ovechkin failed to score career goal No. 767 on the road, it set up the chance for him to do it in front of his former coach (Barry Trotz), against his former teammate (Semyon Varlamov) and with Capitals fans filling every seat in the arena on Tuesday night.
I couldn’t help but think about all the moments that fan base — which Ovechkin helped cultivate — has shared with their franchise legend. The atmosphere against the Islanders after that goal felt like a playoff game; or, more to the point, what “Rocking the Red” sounded like at its apex. Ovechkin tapped his heart and waved to the crowd after the game. They’ve been on, and will be on, this journey together.
A very special congratulations from Jaromir Jagr to Alex Ovechkin (plus a little surprise at the end). 😉 pic.twitter.com/HGgSlqRTaQ
— NHL (@NHL) March 16, 2022
Jaromir Jagr, who Ovechkin passed on the all-time goal-scoring leaderboard, remains an absolute beauty — and not just because he helped raise money for Ukrainian refugees while Ovechkin was offering vague platitudes about a war started by a man for whom he campaigned.
There was also this hilarious video Jagr made, in which he threatened to return to the NHL to begin chasing Ovechkin’s goal total. Which got us thinking about those three seasons (2008-09 through 2010-11) when Jagr took his talents to the Kontinental Hockey League. We ran the numbers once, and that’s around 69 goals that Jagr left on the table for three seasons in Russia. It’s a shame we didn’t get his full run in the NHL, not only for the goals record chase but for the points one as well.
Winner: Cam Talbot, Kaapo Kahkonen
Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin gave his goaltenders another vote of confidence on Tuesday, saying that he trusts their “character” in being able to level up their games. “The numbers aren’t telling me I should, but I do,” he said.
While that might be code for “the prices for replacement goalies are way too high,” it’s a nice bit of job security on a very good hockey team for these netminders.
Loser: Jack Campbell
The Maple Leafs goaltender has gone from potential Vezina Trophy finalist to three straight sub-.900 months to injured reserve to getting “Brady/Bledsoe’d” by a seventh-round draft pick named Erik Kallgren.
Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs fashion
Welcome to the Hammer 🔨@StelcoCanada | #HeritageClassic | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/gGh3GAbAcU
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 13, 2022
Not only were the Leafs’ Heritage Classic jerseys straight fire, their “construction workers with Tim Hortons cups” ode to the city of Hamilton was just wonderful. Again, the embrace of outdoor game pregame outfit gimmickry is a wonderful trend in the NHL that has yet to wear out its welcome.
Loser: The Drip
which fit would you rock? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/orGbLj8C0A
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) March 16, 2022
How did we reach the point where players are rolling up to games looking like they just walked their dog on a chilly spring morning, and team accounts are treating it like they’re Patrik Laine at the Met Gala?
Winner: Brad Treliving
Kudos to the Calgary Flames general manager for making the Tyler Toffoli trade for a reasonable return weeks before the NHL trade deadline, and then acquiring the very useful Jarnkrok on Wednesday. The further away from silly season you can get, the better it is.
Loser: past sins
Retaining Tomas Hertl was a no-brainer for the San Jose Sharks. He’s in his prime, he’s an outstanding player and he obviously loves playing for the franchise. The problem is that his contract is added to the bloat that is the other contracts the Sharks have handed out to veteran players.
To put this in a sharper focus: The Sharks have $42,637,500 in salary already committed to the 2024-25 season. A Martin Jones buyout accounts for $1,666,667 of it. The rest is dedicated to Logan Couture, Hertl, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. That’s half of the current cap, dedicated to five players. Good luck!
From your friends at ESPN
Our NHL trade deadline guide for all 32 teams. See you on Monday!