General Managers Going For Broke At NHL Trade Deadline

By Neil Becker

The NHL trade deadline can be best described as an exciting and gut-wrenching time for hockey fans. This much-anticipated event, which took place this past season on March 3, 2023, is when teams either load up with key acquisitions for a run at the Stanley Cup or look to the future by trading players for draft picks.

Every year, NHL Trade Deadline Day draws excited hockey fans all over the world to their television sets, where they anxiously watch and keep track of the transitions their respective teams make up until that much anticipated 3 p.m. deadline. An examination through the decades has shown how various trade deadline moves made by such teams as the 1980 New York Islanders, 1994 New York Rangers, and the 1997 Detroit Red Wings, to name just a few, have proved key in helping them win the Stanley Cup.

Islanders’ fans of a certain age might remember how back in 1980, at the deadline, they swung a key deadline deal which saw them ship forward Billy Harris along with defenceman Dave Lewis to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for 29-year-old forward Butch Goring. Sparked by that trade, the Islanders went on a run which saw them go 8-0 with four ties in their next 12 games before making franchise history by winning their first of four straight Stanley Cups.

Goring played a huge role in the team’s success as he scored six goals and 11 points in those first dozen games as an Islander before scoring seven goals and 19 points that spring in helping the Islanders win the team’s first-ever Stanley Cup in franchise history.

A year later, Goring was once again clutch as he scored ten goals and 20 points in 18 playoff games, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and helping the Islanders win their second straight Stanley Cup.

Back in 1994, there was once again strong excitement in New York after the NHL Trade Deadline, but this was among Rangers fans. Rangers GM Neil Smith made a bold statement at that time by pulling the trigger on what ended up being significant moves which resulted in the team snapping its 54-year Cup drought.

Heading into that deadline, the Rangers were an exciting elite team featuring such future Hockey Hall of Fame stars as power forward Mark Messier and defenceman Brian Leetch to name just two.

In a gutsy move, Smith traded talented young goal scorer Tony Amonte and Matt Oates to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for grinders Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan, who both ended up playing instrumental roles in the Rangers cup run.

Matteau, who all these years later is still an iconic figure in New York, ended up that spring making his mark with two Eastern Conference Finals overtime goals, including the series winner against the New Jersey Devils. During that magical spring, Matteau brought sandpaper, played strong defensively and, with six goals and nine points, provided some offensive punch.

Meanwhile, Noonan had some key playoff moments as well and ended up producing four goals in helping the Rangers end that dreaded 54-year curse and finally winning the Stanley Cup. It’s safe to say that the Rangers would not have lifted the Cup in 1994 if not for the acquisition of Matteau and Noonan.

In going for broke, Rangers GM Neil Smith made another huge deadline move in trading future Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gardner to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for another Hockey Hall of Famer and multiple Stanley Cup winner, Glenn Anderson.

Anderson, who had previously won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, added that Stanley Cup pedigree and veteran leadership along with that offensive flair. As a Ranger that spring, Anderson scored three goals and six points along with 42 penalty minutes.

The Rangers acquired another multiple Stanley Cup winner and a past Oilers teammate of Anderson in forward Craig MacTavish. When traded, MacTavish had three Stanley Cups with the Oilers under his belt and came to the Rangers in exchange for Todd Marchant.

During the 1997 trade deadline, the Red Wings made a move that might not have grabbed the headlines but proved pivotal in winning their first Stanley Cup since 1955. Looking for a veteran defenceman, the Wings pulled the trigger when on March 18, 1997, they acquired future Hall of Famer Larry Murphy from the Toronto Maple Leafs for future considerations.

Murphy, who at the time was being booed in Toronto, proved to be that final move in putting the Wings over that hump. In the playoffs that spring, Murphy led the Wings defenceman with 11 points and ranked first with a + 16 rating. The following season, Murphy again played a vital role on the blue line, producing 52 points and a solid +35 mark.

Acquiring Murphy at the deadline not only proved vital in the Wings winning back-to-back Stanley Cups but also helped to develop a young future Hockey Hall of Famer in Wings defenceman Nicklas Lindstrom.

Years from now, when hockey fans look back on the 2023 NHL trade deadline, one team which could find itself being talked about is the Dallas Stars.

Making what is looking like a genius move, Stars GM Jill Nill pulled the trigger a day before the deadline when on March 2, he acquired veteran forward Max Domi and goalie Dylan Wells from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for veteran netminder Anton Khudobin and a 2025 second-round pick.

A big reason why the Stars have made it to the Western Conference Finals this spring is due to Domi’s consistent play, who sits fourth in team playoff scoring with 11 points. Domi, who, when being traded to the Stars, produced two goals and seven points in 20 regular season games. Time will tell if that Domi deadline deal will be remembered as General Manager Jim Nill bringing in that one missing ingredient for a Cup.

This past NHL Trade Deadline was no different compared to those in the past, where General Managers from contending teams looked to swing for the fences by making those blockbuster deals.

In visioning playing deep into the playoffs, these blockbuster deals General Managers make at the NHL Trade Deadline can either make them look like geniuses or end up with them either losing their jobs or having fans calling for them to be fired.

This past year, various General Managers made all-or-nothing trade deadline deals, which resulted in Leafs General Manager Kyle Dunas losing his job in Toronto. 

The Leafs, who finished second in the Atlantic Division and fifth overall with 111 points, were seen as possible Stanley Cup contenders despite not getting past the first round since 2004. Dubas made the team even better by first solidifying the blue line by adding some toughness in veteran and former Leafs first-round draft pick Luke Schenn from the Vancouver Canucks, along with two other veterans in Erik Gustafsson and Jake McCabe from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Up front, Dubas also added some sandpaper and secondary scoring as he made a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks for Sam Lafferty. Dubas also gave the green light on a deal with the St. Louis Blues for former 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari.

Despite adding team toughness and more secondary scoring, the gamble didn’t work out. The Leafs were eliminated in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference second-round series against the Florida Panthers.

Not long afterwards, Dubas was no longer the Leafs General Manager.

Three other teams who loaded up at the deadline only to fall short of expectations were the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins and Rangers.

The Oilers got some more secondary scoring when on March 2, a day before the deadline, they made a deal with the Arizona Coyotes for depth forward Nick Bjugstad who, as an Oilers, scored four goals and six points in 19 regular season games.Later that spring, Bjugstad contributed with three goals and 16 penalty minutes in 12 playoff games played.

With all due respect to Bjugstad, the deal Oilers General Manager Ken Holland made, which had all of Oil Country excited and dreaming of a possible Stanley Cup victory, was when they acquired defenceman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators. This 33-year-old, who had carved out a solid career with the Predators, needed practically no time to get used to playing with the Oilers.

Ekholm proved to be a huge addition on the blue line as he scored four goals and 14 points in 21 regular season games while playing solid defensively and helping young defence partner Evan Bouchard improve. In the playoffs, Ekholm scored only one goal and seven points before the Oilers were officially eliminated during Western Conference second-round action against the Vegas Golden Knights.

As already mentioned, two other teams who, at this year’s deadline, really went for broke only to be eliminated early were the Bruins and Rangers.

The Bruins simply dominated this season by racking up 135 points in winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Striving to get even better, the Bruins were busy starting a day before the Friday, March 3, deadline when General Manager Don Sweeney improved the blue line by acquiring offensive-minded defenceman Dmitry Orlov and hard-hitting forward Garnet Hathaway from the Washington Capitals in a blockbuster move which involved Boston surrendering Draft picks including their 2023 first-rounder.

Sweeney also surrendered the Bruins 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 fourth-rounder to the re-building Detroit Red Wings in exchange for rugged 28-year-old rugged scoring forward Tyler Bertuzzi.

Naturally, there was strong excitement among Bruins fans, just like there was among Oilers and Leafs fans when their respective General Managers made their big moves.

The Bruins, who again had Stanley Cup aspirations, built up a 3-1 best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series lead against the Florida Panthers before expectantly losing three in a row.

Days before the deadline, Rangers General Manager Chris Drury made a statement by making a series of moves, including acquiring from the Chicago Blackhawks future Hockey Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup winner forward Patrick Kane.

In early February, less than a month until the deadline, New York got an early jump on the competition by obtaining two key pieces in defenceman Niko Mikkola and scoring forward Vladimir Tarasenko to give them some more scoring punch. Also coming to the Blue Shirts was reliable fourth-line forward Tyler Motte. On February 23, 2023, this veteran was traded from the Ottawa Senators to New York.

At last year’s deadline, these were just some of the NHL General Managers who swung mightily at improving their chances at winning the Stanley Cup.

Time will tell if the Stars can complete the mission, which would go a long way toward General Manager Jim Nill cementing his legacy in the Lone Star state. Cementing a legacy on Trade Deadline Day is something all NHL General Managers aspire to do.

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