The NHL trade deadline (March 3) is still more than three weeks away. But big deals are already happening, with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring center Ryan O’Reilly, the New York Islanders trading for Bo Horvat and the New York Rangers bringing in Vladimir Tarasenko.
We’re breaking down and grading all of the biggest moves from now through the deadline.
The trade: The Predators trade winger Nino Niederreiter to the Jets for a 2024 second-round pick.
In a vacuum, a second-round draft pick is a reasonable price to pay for the services of a reliable 30-year-old forward with another year on his contract. But Niederreiter brings a lot more to the table than that.
The Swiss winger has eclipsed 20 goals six times in his career and is on track for a seventh, with 18 goals in 56 games for the Predators. Look up “analytics darling” in the hockey glossary, and you might find his photo. Niederreiter is a play-driving, shot-generating forward whose teams haven’t had less than 57% of the shot attempts with him on the ice since the 2014-15 season.
Niederreiter has been an average defensive player at 5-on-5. While he’s a solid finisher — his 15 even-strength goals put him in the neighborhood of Nikita Kucherov and Matty Beniers — he has never been an exemplary playmaker. He’s also not much of a contributor on the power play. Despite averaging 2:13 per game with the man advantage, he has only five points in 56 games this season. The Jets are 13th (21.9%) in power-play conversion. They might be left wanting here.
Niederreiter could slide next to Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, or he could play down the lineup. He does have the ability to play both wings as well. His $4 million cap hit next season is manageable, but we have to knock the grade down a little for the lack of salary retention, given that he’s signed for 2023-24 as well.
The Jets were reportedly in the hunt for Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks, a player who would have had a dramatically bigger impact but would have cost a lot more than a 2024 second-round pick. (Winnipeg traded its 2023 second-round pick to the Washington Capitals in the Brenden Dillon trade in 2021.)
Niederreiter isn’t a perfect player — and sometimes the results don’t seem to square with the analytics — but he’s a strong addition for a contending team.
The Predators signed Niederreiter to a two-year, $8 million contract last summer with the assumption that they’d be a playoff contender. They still have an 18% chance of making the cut in the Western Conference, but that climb got much steeper recently with the news that center Ryan Johansen will miss around three months after leg surgery.
So kudos to GM David Poile for understanding who the Predators are. They’re not a true contender. To become one, they need fundamental changes to this lineup that can be facilitated only with trade capital. Adding a 2024 second-round draft pick for a player who no longer fits into their plans — specifically one signed beyond this season — is a nice bit of business. Nashville is now in possession of eight picks in the 2024 draft — one in each of the first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds and two in the second round.
It’s not easy to find a team that’s willing to take on the full freight of a $4 million AAV for two seasons. Poile did so without any salary retention. Disappointing season, good pivot for the Preds.
The Washington Capitals traded Dmitry Orlov to the Minnesota Wild for C Andrei Svetlakov, retaining 50% of Orlov’s salary. The Wild traded Orlov to the Boston Bruins for a 2023 fifth-round pick, retaining 25% of his salary. The Capitals traded forward Garnet Hathaway and Svetlakov to Boston for a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL draft, a second-round pick in the 2025 NHL draft, a third-round pick in the 2024 NHL draft and forward Craig Smith.
Two words: Let’s go.
The Bruins are challenging the NHL records for wins and points by a team in a single season. But as winger Brad Marchand told me this week, none of that matters inside their locker room. “If you asked any of the guys on this team who owned any of those records, nobody would know, because nobody cares. Because it’s not about the regular season,” he said.
That mindset is at the heart of this trade. The Bruins are a steamroller that just got lot more steam.
Orlov, 31, is a top-pairing defenseman who was averaging 22:43 per game in his 11th season with the Capitals. He has 19 points in 43 games, which is offensive production in line with previous seasons. Orlov gives the Bruins that rare combination of physicality and excellent puck-moving ability, excelling in skating the puck out of his own zone and controlling entries into the attacking zone.
The Bruins had been in the market for a left-shot defenseman who could be paired with star Charlie McAvoy, which would allow Matt Grzelcyk to drop down the lineup. The heavy speculation was that player was going to be Vladislav Gavrikov of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who once again have managed to take a solid but unspectacular defenseman and build a robust trade market around him as a pending unrestricted free agent. When that deal didn’t materialize, the speculation turned to the Bruins working on something else. Which turned out to be this Capitals trade.
Patience is a virtue: Orlov is better than Gavrikov. Better offensively, around the same level of effectiveness defensively and with a truckload more playoff experience.
Don’t sleep on Hathaway, either. The 31-year-old is the kind of quintessential bottom-six winger who brings energy and physicality every night while pitching in on offense. Jake DeBrusk, David Pastrnak, Nick Foligno and Hathaway down the right side is as solid as it gets in the East. But pour one out for Craig Smith, whose $3.1 million cap hit had to go to make this deal happen, but who leaves a team with eyes on the Stanley Cup and goes to one raising the white flag on the season.
Svetlakov is a center playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. The 26-year-old was a sixth-round pick in 2017 and projects to be a capable bottom-six forward if he ever makes the jump.
Giving up a first-round pick for a rental — or even two them — is rarely advisable. But the Bruins are the best team in hockey. Their window is open now. The post-Patrice Bergeron landscape will sort itself out. The Big Bad Bruins have gone even bigger.
Subban: Bruins look ‘impossible to beat’ after trade for Hathaway, Orlov
P. K. Subban says the Bruins look even better after trading for Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway.
First of all, kudos to GM Brian MacLellan for making that most difficult of choices for an NHL executive: To trade expiring contracts of reliable veterans even though their continued presence could bolster the artifice of championship contention.
Of course, the Capitals do have the luxury of Alex Ovechkin’s goal-record chase as a reason for fans to keep showing up for games this season, even if they’re sellers …
No matter what happened this season, it was going to be a transitional one for Washington. The Capitals had 11 unrestricted free agents before trading Orlov and Hathaway; in acquiring Smith, they still have 10 of them. That’s a significant amount of cap space and roster spots that MacLellan can use to reshape the team this summer.
Now he has two first-round picks in 2023, two third-round picks in 2024 and two second-round picks in 2025 as additional capital for the Capitals’ reload; or, if he chooses, to start laying the foundation for a post-Ovechkin franchise. It’s hard to believe that he’ll take the latter path, given the age and contract status of the rest of his core. But the point is that Washington smartly turned two players who wouldn’t return in 2023-24 into solid picks.
As MacLellan put it: “This trade allows us to acquire draft capital, infuse youth and restock our system. While this season has proven challenging with injuries to our significant players, we are in a position to use some of our current assets to retool our club and build a competitive team moving forward.”
Orlov and the Capitals were far apart on terms for the defenseman, who turns 32 this July. They didn’t want the long-term deal that he wanted. So off he goes to the Bruins.
If there’s a criticism to be made about the Capitals’ return here, it’s that they didn’t pull Jakub Zboril or Connor Clifton off the Bruins’ roster, two under-30 players who could have given them a body on a blue line that has only John Carlson signed beyond this season.
But otherwise, it’s a smart move on two players no longer in the plans. Even if that first-rounder from Boston is going to be, ahem, rather late in the round.
If the Arizona Coyotes are the team that acquires contracts with “dead cap space” — as they recently did in picking up Shea Weber’s contract from Vegas — the Wild are officially the NHL’s Third-Party Trade Broker.
The Capitals retained 50% of Orlov’s $5.1 million cap hit. The Wild then picked up 25% of that, bringing his AAV down to $1.275 million by the time the Bruins landed him.
This was the same play GM Bill Guerin used in helping to facilitate the Ryan O’Reilly trade between the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs. In that deal, the Wild sent forward Josh Pillar, a 2019 fourth-round pick, to Toronto in exchange for the Leafs’ 2025 fourth-round pick. In this deal, they sent Svetlakov to the Capitals while receiving a 2023 fifth-round pick.
Michael Russo of The Athletic notes that the Wild are spending $86,000 in actual dollars to buy a 2023 fifth-rounder from Boston; they spent $74,000 for a 2025 fourth-rounder from Toronto. All in all, more smart use of cap space to facilitate two trades for pending unrestricted free agents. More teams should take notes.
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire center Ryan O’Reilly, forward Noel Acciari and forward Josh Pillar; the St. Louis Blues acquire center Mikhail Abramov, forward Adam Gaudette, the Leafs’ 2023 first-round pick, the Ottawa Senators‘ 2023 second-round pick and Toronto’s second-round selection in 2024. The Minnesota Wild acquire Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 2025. St. Louis retained 50% of O’Reilly’s salary while Minnesota will retain 50% of his remaining salary before trading him to Toronto.
Any discussion about this trade begins with those nebulous, unmeasurable things called “intangibles.”
The Maple Leafs have been eliminated in the opening round of the postseason for six consecutive seasons and haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. O’Reilly, 32, is four seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup with the Blues and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the process.
They can’t win in the playoffs. He walks into their dressing room with a Stanley Cup ring, a captain’s ‘C’ and a pedigree most of his new teammates are still chasing.
Intangibles are funny: If the Leafs finally get past the first round, it will be due to absorption of O’Reilly’s playoff savvy, obviously. If the Leafs go out in the first round … well, not even O’Reilly and his ring of power can push Toronto into Round 2! What hope do they have?
Moving on to things that can be measured, O’Reilly adds some interesting dimensions to Toronto’s lineup. He’s an accomplished defensive center, winning the Selke Trophy in 2018-19. The Leafs are 18th in defensive zone faceoffs (49.2%); O’Reilly wins them 52.5% of the time. He kills penalties. He’s been used as a shutdown center in the playoffs, despite playing on the Blues’ top line. His defensive game has suffered a bit this season — as almost everyone’s underlying numbers have in a lost season in St. Louis — but Toronto is an environment where it can flourish again.
Offensively, O’Reilly’s 19 points in 40 games is uncharacteristically low, giving him a 1.5 points per 60 minutes average for a player that hasn’t been under 2.0 points per 60 since 2010-11. O’Reilly’s assists per 60 minutes (0.6) dropped dramatically from last season (1.5). It’s not that O’Reilly isn’t trying to create; it’s that he didn’t have a player like David Perron to convert those chances after he left for Detroit as a free agent. Again, going from the 18th best offensive team in the NHL to the 8th best should help.
Acciari helps the bottom six. The 31-year-old pending UFA forward had 18 points in 54 games for the Blues, playing 14:35 per game. He has played 54 career postseason games. He won’t give Toronto much offense, but he’s a versatile addition to their roster.
The Leafs gave up a bit to make this trade happen, both in acquiring O’Reilly and getting his cap hit down from $7.5 million to $1.875 million AAV. Please recall that O’Reilly is likely a rental, with unrestricted free agency pending this summer.
The first-rounder they sent to St. Louis isn’t lottery protected, but Toronto has a 99.5% chance of making the playoffs, per Money Puck. They gave up Ottawa’s third-rounder this season, which could end up being like a low second-rounder, their own second-rounder in 2024 and a fourth-rounder in 2025 to the Wild.
What they didn’t give up: Top prospect Matthew Knies, which was a concern from the Leafs faithful. They did give up Mikhail Abramov, 21, who has put together a promising season in the AHL this season. Gaudette, 26, has 34 points in 40 games with the Toronto Marlies, but wasn’t in the plans.
Pillar, 21, is an unsigned 2021 fourth-round draft pick by the Wild, skating for the WHL Saskatoon Blades. He’s a strong skater and an intriguing throw-in from St. Louis via Minnesota.
Overall, it’s a considerable price for O’Reilly. But this is the kind of swing you’d expect from a general manager without a contract beyond this season, which is the spot Kyle Dubas is in.
The concern here is that O’Reilly is in the kind of decline that a change in scenery won’t fix. It’s understandable if Leafs fans are getting flashbacks to the Nick Foligno trade in 2021 — acquiring a 33-year-old captain for draft picks and still not getting out of the first round. It has not been a good season for O’Reilly. That’s undeniable.
But if he regains his form, O’Reilly is the kind of player the Leafs need to level up. He can round out their top six or give them center depth that rivals that of the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Most of all, he’s a reinforcement that reinforces the faith that management has in this group to finally break through the first round — and keep it rolling for rounds after that.
The Blues and O’Reilly hadn’t had any recent contract negotiations. His camp hoped that the March 3 NHL trade deadline might act as a pressure point to get GM Doug Armstrong to come back to the negotiation table with one last extension offer. Instead, Armstrong remained unsentimental about his team captains: He let David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo leave as free agents and now O’Reilly is a Leaf.
(Don’t weep for O’Reilly not getting a new deal in St. Louis. With Bo Horvat signed by the Islanders and Dylan Larkin still expected to re-up with the Red Wings, O’Reilly is the best unrestricted free agent center available this summer.)
This is the second huge trade Armstrong’s made this month. For Vladimir Tarasenko, 50% of his salary and defenseman Niko Mikkola, the Blues picked up Sammy Blais, middling prospect Hunter Skinner, a conditional 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 fourth-rounder from the Rangers.
The Blues retained 50% of O’Reilly’s salary, too, and again shipped out a roster player (Acciari) with him. This time, they picked up a first (2023), a second (2024) and a third (2023, from Ottawa). They acquired a prospect with upside in Abramov — he’s a playmaker who needs more growth on the defensive end — and a minor leaguer in Gaudette.
This trade gives the Blues three first-round draft picks in 2023: Their own, the lower of the Rangers and Stars, and the Leafs. Considering the quality in this draft class, that’s a good place to be — either for the Blues to add prospects as they move into their next phase or for Armstrong to flip for more immediate help.
In a league with more than a few teams still determining if they want to buy or sell at the NHL trade deadline, you have to respect Armstrong’s brutal honesty through these trades.
The Wild spent $1.875 million in cap space to pick up a 2024 fourth-round pick from Toronto, sending Pillar out to make the O’Reilly transaction happen.
On the surface, that’s nothing to pop champagne about. But give GM Bill Guerin credit: He had the cap space to keep a share of O’Reilly’s salary and picked up a draft asset for the trouble. Third-team salary retention deals aren’t going to produce a blue-chip prospect or a first-round pick. This was a nice bit of business from the Wild that other teams would be wise to emulate.
It’s just a shame that the Minnesota Wild finally traded for the center they’ve always needed and he was gone in the same night …
Rangers acquired forward Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 draft, a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2024 draft, forward Sammy Blais and defenseman Hunter Skinner.
In the end, it wasn’t Patrick Kane who slides across from Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad on the Rangers’ top line. Instead, it might be someone who can help them even more in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup this season.
Tarasenko’s journey out of St. Louis was an unpredictable one. He won the Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2018-19, scoring 17 points in 26 games. But he asked for a trade in the summer of 2021, citing his displeasure with how the team handled multiple surgeries on his shoulder and a lack of trust in team management because of it.
Because of those injuries — Tarasenko played just 34 regular-season games from 2019 to ’21 — his trade value was low and the Blues held on to him. Then came the Tarasenko-ssance in 2021-22: 34 goals and 48 assists for 82 points in 75 games.
His value was high, but the Blues held on to him again. They expected to be a playoff team. They needed all the veteran scoring they could muster after David Perron left for Detroit as a free agent.
This season was a regression, not only for the Blues but for Tarasenko. He has 29 points in 38 games, including 10 goals, skating to a minus-18. He’s still a strong top-six winger despite that fall in 5-on-5 production, especially when it comes to shot generation and the ability to create shots off the rush. A change in scenery and linemates, and maybe those numbers trend up.
I had previously heard Tarasenko was open to waiving his no-trade clause for the Rangers, so that this trade happened now isn’t surprising. It’s a good fit.
New York has some natural playmakers in Panarin and Adam Fox who are going to benefit with having someone like Tarasenko who can shoot the puck from anywhere (and will). They’ve basically had a seat open at right wing in their top six the entirety of the season that Tarasenko fills.
Why didn’t Patrick Kane fill that hole? That might have been the most asked question Thursday when this trade was completed. Kane to the Rangers was one of those transactions that felt like it was being conjured into existence by fans and the punditry. The Chicago Blackhawks star is in the last year of his contract for a rebuilding team; the Rangers needed a right wing; and a trade to New York would mean a reunion with Panarin, who blossomed into a star playing with Kane in Chicago.
If not Kane, there was speculation that the Rangers could end up with Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks, a pending restricted free agent who is younger (26) than Kane or Tarasenko and has scored 30 goals in 52 games for the Sharks this season.
The sense I get is that the cost for Kane and Meier was too high for the Rangers, both in what they’d have to give up and in cap implications. Tarasenko’s cap hit was $3.75 million after the Blues retention. Half of Kane’s cap hit would have been $5.25 million. Meier’s would have been $6 million, but the package the Rangers would have had to give up for him would have gotten much heavier if the Sharks also gobbled up part of his salary.
The Tarasenko deal gives the Rangers a top-six wing and more flexibility to do other things before the trade deadline. The Rangers gave up less for Vladimir Tarasenko than they did for Andrew Copp last season.
Well done, GM Chris Drury.
Look, Kane on the Rangers would have been intriguing, especially in a reunion with Panarin. But whatever injury that has nagged him this season is a concern, hurting his offensive production and making him basically a non-playable character on defense. Tarasenko’s offensive decline probably has more to do with the Blues’ descent into deadline seller than it does his own inefficiencies.
Mikkola, meanwhile, is a depth acquisition. He’s a defensive defenseman who has played at a replacement level in 50 games this season, averaging 16:39 minutes per game. But replacement level would be an improvement for the Rangers’ third pairing, as Ben Harpur and Braden Schneider have gotten absolutely cratered at 5-on-5 (38.9% expected goals). Mikkola slides in for Harpur.
There’s a lot to like about both fits for the Rangers, from the lineup to the salary cap to the expiring contracts. But especially because of the cost of doing this business.
GM Doug Armstrong has never been one for delusions of grandeur when it comes to his roster. If he senses the Blues aren’t good enough for playoff qualification, he starts burning up the phones to ship players out. St. Louis has a 3% chance of making the playoffs, according to MoneyPuck.
Hence, Vladimir Tarasenko is now a Ranger.
He wasn’t going to be a St. Louis Blue after this season anyway. It’s hard to believe Armstrong had the appetite to give term to a 31-year-old winger, especially considering the contentious history between Tarasenko and the franchise.
The Blues wanted a first-rounder and a prospect for Tarasenko. But they were trying to work a deal for a pending free agent with full trade protection. The market wasn’t going to be robust.
The Rangers’ offer checked the Blues’ boxes, perhaps as best they could be checked.
The conditional first-rounder will be the lower of the Rangers or the Dallas Stars, which the Rangers acquired in the Nils Lundkvist trade. Keep in mind that the Dallas pick is a conditional conditional: If the pick is a top 10 selection, then it’ll transfer over to 2024 as an unprotected first-round pick. The Stars are currently four points ahead of the Rangers in the league-wide standings and have a 98.4% chance of making the playoffs.
The Blues get a 2024 fourth-round pick that becomes a third-round pick if the Rangers make the playoffs. That feels like the “tax” for salary retention. St. Louis fans will note that Armstrong gave up a 2023 second-round pick for the Detroit Red Wings to retain 50% of pending UFA defenseman Nick Leddy’s salary last trade deadline. So that won’t sit well with them.
Sammy Blais is a popular former Blues forward whose inclusion in the deal is a roster slot swap with Mikkola — both are pending UFAs. He’ll throw a check. People will cheer. The Blues reacquiring Blais brings the Pavel Buchnevich trade full circle, as the Rangers traded the talented winger to St. Louis out of financial concerns for Blais and a second-rounder in 2021. Unfortunately, the Blues are done in their season series against the Calgary Flames, so no Sammy Blais reunion with Milan Lucic.
Which brings us to the impeccably named Hunter Skinner.
The Blues weren’t getting any young player off the Rangers’ current roster. They weren’t getting one of the team’s top prospects like forward Brennan Othmann, defenseman Zac Jones or winger Will Cuylle. Instead they received a 21-year-old defenseman taken No. 112 overall by the Rangers in 2019 who has played for the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL and the AHL Hartford Wolfpack.
Is he a prospect? Yes, he is, although not even among the Rangers’ top three young defensemen. New York’s blueline is stacked, so they’re dealing from a position of strength. Maybe the Blues see something here that we don’t, because this part of the trade is the most disappointing. He’s a project that’s shown some improvement but needs much more of it on the defensive side of the ice. As this point, his ceiling feels like the AHL. That’s not great.
But again, Armstrong was not dealing from a position of strength. Tarasenko had trade protection. As it turns out, Ryan O’Reilly and Ivan Barbashev do not. The Blues could just be getting started for the trade deadline. Buckle up …
The rumor and speculation is now over regarding Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat. The New York Islanders have traded forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty, along with a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 draft (top-12 protected), in exchange for Vancouver’s now-former captain. The Canucks are retaining 25% of Horvat’s salary.
In 49 games played this season, Horvat already has tied a career high in goals with 31. He also was named to the Pacific Division roster for the 2023 NHL All-Star Game this past weekend. His contract expires at the end of this season, at which point he’ll hit unrestricted free agency.
How did both GMs do in this swap? Here are our grades:
Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello likes to keep things quiet. Remember when we heard about the Canucks and Islanders talking about J.T. Miller at the draft last summer? And how the Islanders opted not to do business with Vancouver partially because we had heard about those talks?
Suffice it to say, the Horvat trade happened with nary a peep about the Islanders and Canucks being in conversation. Just the way Lou likes it.
Lamoriello has never shied away from making a significant deal, no matter if his team is challenging for the Stanley Cup or desperately trying to bounce over the playoff bubble, like these Islanders. The significance of this deal isn’t just for the second half of the season but potentially for years to come.
“You have to give something to get something,” Lamoriello said Monday. “But with the depth we have down the middle, we felt this was something that helped our hockey team. Today and tomorrow. This is a 27-year-old player.”
In the short term, Horvat immediately bolsters an offense that ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.85 goals per game. He has 31 goals in 49 games, after scoring 31 goals in 70 games last season. He has 24 power-play goals over the past two seasons, which could be a boon to an Islanders unit that ranks 31st in the NHL in power-play conversion rate (15.5%). He wins 56% of his faceoffs, which will help New York as a middle-of-the-pack faceoff team (15th overall).
He is many things that the current Islanders are not.
But the reason the Islanders gave up what they did to make this move is, in theory, for the seasons beyond this one. Horvat told reporters that there have been no contract extension talks with the Islanders, saying, “We’ll see if we can get something done.”
Lamoriello made it no secret that this was a trade made to keep Horvat with the Islanders after this season.
“Whenever you make a transaction like this, you make it for a player that has character,” he said. “That knows what a team gives up. And certainly feels comfortable in the organization he’s in. All of that, he’ll recognize quickly, and hopefully we’ll get that done.”
Bringing Horvat back on a long-term deal is the whole ballgame here. The Islanders signed Mathew Barzal to an extension through 2030-31. He needs another elite forward to play with, either as a linemate or on the power play or as an anchor for another scoring line. The Islanders believe Horvat is that guy, and they appear willing to pay him the average annual salary that’ll fall between Anders Lee‘s $7 million in average annual value and Barzal’s $9.15 million in AAV.
It’s possible Horvat decides to test the free-agent waters. Heck, it’s possible Lamoriello understands that, sees the Islanders as something less than a playoff team and cuts his losses with a Horvat reflip ahead of the March 3 deadline to another contender. It’s Lou. Everything’s on the table.
(The 25% salary retention could come in really handy if there was a second Horvat trade, as the Isles could pick up another 25% of his salary to swing the doors open to a number of capped-out contenders looking to make a deal.)
But let’s be real: Lamoriello has been doing this for a long, long time — like, since the late 1980s. He is a big trade guy but not a gambler. He is making this trade with some confidence that Horvat is playing next to Belmont Park for the next several seasons or he isn’t making it.
Barzal, Horvat, Lee, Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson and, hopefully, Ilya Sorokin (who is an unrestricted free agent in 2024): That’s a good, but not great, core to build around.
It’s possible that in Horvat and Barzal, the Islanders have two outstanding supporting players in search of a star to orbit around. It’s possible that Horvat is peaking and that an eight-year extension’s cap hit will look mighty different within five years. Adding another player 28 years or older (Horvat’s 28th birthday is April 5) to this roster doesn’t seem ideal.
As for the return to Vancouver, it was time for the Isles to stop waiting on Beauvillier. Raty has been projected by some to be a third-line center; and besides, Barzal and Horvat would have two center spots locked down if the latter re-signs. The hardest thing to surrender was the draft pick, although the Islanders do have some control over when the Canucks receive it. It’s top-12 lottery protected, but if it ends up being No. 12 overall in 2023, the Islanders could send it over now rather than risk a higher pick in 2024.
Lamoriello, of course, probably doesn’t see the Islanders as a lottery team this season or next. He clearly still believes that the Islanders are the team that went to the Eastern Conference finals twice in pandemic-impacted seasons, rather than the one that had a .512 points percentage last season and a .529 points percentage this season. And he believes, rightly or wrongly, that Bo Horvat is someone who can help the Islanders confirm his intuition.
If nothing else, this closes an odd loop in Lamoriello’s trade history. On June 30, 2013, the New Jersey Devils acquired goalie Cory Schneider from the Canucks for the ninth overall pick in the draft. That pick ended up being Horvat, who is now with the same franchise that still employs Schneider. Lou always gets his man, eventually.
The inkling that the Canucks were going to soon be out of the Bo Horvat business came a few weeks ago. President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford talked about how his team had a contract offer tabled for the captain since last summer but that the math on the net contract had significantly changed thanks to Horvat’s (conveniently timed) career-high goal-scoring season. Even if they wanted to up their ante for Horvat, the franchise’s decision to hand out new deals to forwards J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser made that economically unfeasible.
Horvat was a pending unrestricted free agent, and his team wasn’t going to bring him back — and the rest of the NHL knew this.
That established, the Canucks acquired a top-six NHL forward, a top-five prospect in a team’s system and a first-round pick that is lottery protected in 2023 (for obvious reasons) but not for 2024. On paper, that’s the kind of return one expects for a center with Horvat’s numbers, age and situation. For example, Claude Giroux went for Owen Tippett as well as first- and third-round picks at the previous trade deadline, and Giroux is eight years older than Horvat.
But trades aren’t made in a vacuum. There are names attached to those categories. Beauvillier is a bit of a diminished prospect at this point in his career. After a breakout campaign in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season (1.2 goals per 60 minutes), he regressed last season, and he hasn’t played out of that funk in 2022-23, during which he has just 20 points in 49 games. Beauvillier is 25 years old and under contract through the 2023-24 season at a manageable $4.15 million annual cap hit, even if it’s now a bit high for his production level.
At best, the Canucks have acquired a winger who needed a change in scenery to recapture his game. At worst, this is who Beauvillier is going to be: a winger who shows flashes of upside but never consistency — unless we’re talking about being a defensive liability, for which he has unfortunately been very consistent in his career. Still, he is a player the Canucks could move along in another transaction. He has some value.
Raty, 20, had two goals in 12 games with the Islanders this season. Selected at No. 52 in the 2021 draft, he was considered among the top five prospects in the Islanders’ system, which tells you more about the Islanders’ system than it does Raty. He has good ice vision, and he showed offensive flash playing in SM-liiga in 2021-22, putting up point-per-game numbers. He has yet to show that in North America, but again, Raty is 20 years old with a dozen NHL games to his credit. It all adds up to an intriguing prospect acquired in a package for a player who was leaving anyway.
The Canucks retained 25% of Horvat’s cap hit. That’s a bit surprising but necessary to make this particular deal work.
The reason this trade is a solid B for the Canucks is that they are, for lack of a better term, fading the Islanders. The first-round pick is lottery protected for this draft. Assuming the Horvat trade doesn’t turn this season around — and New York currently has a 12% chance of qualifying for the playoffs — that first-rounder could kick over to 2024, should the Islanders choose. Islanders GM Lamoriello is wagering Horvat signs long term and that the roster he has built is one that’s going to be a contender. The Canucks are wagering the Isles won’t make the playoffs and that the struggles with this roster will continue in 2023-24. Which bet are you backing?