2023 NHL Trade Deadline Was a Wildly Lopsided Arms Race

The 2023 Trade Deadline has arguably been the best content for a week or more than it has ever been. There have been multiple trades each day leading up to deadline day. By the way teams have gotten ahead of the curve, got their players in the lineup sooner, and had time to continue making moves, this year could set the stage for similar trade deadlines in the future.

Not only has early movement been a theme at this trade deadline, the blockbusters and multiple impactful moves have also been very evident in the East. The top group of teams in the NHL this season are all from the Eastern Conference, meaning most of the blockbuster deals have been involving those said teams loading up to compete with one another.

Jakob Chychrun Ottawa Senators
Jakob Chychrun, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The West is wide open at this point in time, but the top eight teams appear to be nearly set with the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators sitting five-plus points back of the final wild-card spot. This should’ve provided potentially more trades and playoff-bound teams really loading up. Instead, there have been more average deals coming from the playoff contenders and hopefuls in the Western Conference. What makes this trade deadline so lopsided is the fact that nearly every blockbuster or trade involving a buyer in the East has also featured a seller in the West, meaning there has been a ton of top players flipping conferences to make the East even better. The West has gotten much weaker as a whole and received a lot of draft picks and prospects. The East may be the beast right now, but the West looks primed to dominate in the future after the farms have almost all flipped conferences as well.

Arms Race in the East

The top six teams in the East — the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New York Rangers — all put in work before the deadline. The East appears to be an arms race among these teams as every one of them tried to top the others this season and many teams are acting like this is their one and only year to win the Stanley Cup. These six teams have loaded up simultaneously like never before, and all before deadline day. The timing in which these deals were pulled off ahead of the deadline also plays a big part in the race for positioning and getting the best fit before your opponents.

Related: 2016 Draft Class Being Defined By Trades

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Though there is some separation between the Rangers (sixth) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (first wild-card spot) in the East, the teams jockeying for the final two playoff spots in the East haven’t done so quietly. For a while now there have been seven teams battling for two playoff spots, and more than not, these teams have chosen to add instead of sell, bringing in more talent from the West over to the East. There are arguably two teams in the playoff race in the West that sit outside of the playoff picture, the Flames and Predators. Unlike the teams trying to get into the playoffs in the East, Calgary did very little and Nashville were big sellers.

Top Players Who Have Flipped Conferences

This next section is going to consist of the comparison between the impactful players that headed from West to East and the impactful players that went East to West. Here’s a look at how much the Eastern Conference teams loaded up from sellers in the West and vice versa. It will feature the 10 biggest acquisitions from the other conference.

West to East:

  • Bo Horvat
  • Vladimir Tarasenko
  • Ryan O’Reilly
  • Timo Meier
  • Tanner Jeannot
  • Jake McCabe
  • Patrick Kane
  • Shayne Gostisbehere
  • Jakob Chychrun
  • Mikael Granlund
Vladimir Tarasenko New York Rangers
Vladimir Tarasenko, New York Rangers (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

East to West:

  • Anthony Beauvillier*
  • Evgenii Dadonov
  • Marcus Johansson
  • Gustav Nyquist
  • Joonas Korpisalo
  • Vladislav Gavrikov
  • Lars Eller
  • Filip Hronek*
  • Jonathan Quick
  • Jakub Vrana*

*Not in playoff contention

The difference in talent level is huge between the two groups seeing as some of the biggest players coming over from the East to the West were depth moves and acquisitions by teams not in playoff contention. These lists also don’t cover the rest of the field that was moved from a team in the West to a team in the East.

The East Thinks They Can Win, Does the West?

Not nearly all of the trades for top talent were covered in trades across the conferences, and the East did a lot more to load up. We will now take a look at the individual teams, especially the top six in the East, and see what they have packaged away to make the biggest splash and keep up with the other teams.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins made three trades in the week and a half leading up to the 2023 Trade Deadline, acquiring Dmitry Orlov (75 percent retained), Tyler Bertuzzi (50 percent retained), Garnet Hathaway, and minor leaguers Shane Bowers and Andrei Svetlakov. The Bruins didn’t have a ton of cap space to start off with, but as the fastest team to reach 100 points in a season in NHL history and next year an uncertainty, they had to go all-in and remain the Stanley Cup favourite.

Dmitry Orlov Boston Bruins
Dmitry Orlov, Boston Bruins (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

They indeed go all-in by trading their 2023 first-round and fifth-round picks, 2024 first-round and third-round picks, and 2025 second-round and fourth-round picks. The Bruins also traded away Craig Smith and Keith Kinkaid, but their cabinets are now bare in order to give them the best chance to win now. The team drafts five times in the first four rounds over the next three years.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes, though they are a powerhouse in the East, have a very strong group throughout. This didn’t force them to go crazy at the trade deadline, but they got two players for very good prices. The team brought in Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi in separate trades for a 2026 third-round pick and prospect Patrik Puistola.

Considering the pick will have very little impact for years and Puljujarvi (former fourth-overall pick) is given the chance to fit in with a Finnish-filled team, these deals may fly under the radar but end up being impactful.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils brought in this year’s trade deadline prize in Timo Meier as they were expected to. Not only does it set them up to go on a run this season, they have him under team control and should sign him for multiple years. The big, physical goalscorer is built for playoff hockey. In that deal the Devils also acquired a number of depth/minor players including Scott Harrington (claimed on waivers right after), Zacharie Emond, Santeri Hatakka, Timur Ibragimov, and a 2024 fifth-round pick.

The Devis gave up a boatload, but had to in order to get their prized player along with 50 percent retained this season. They sent Fabian Zetterlund, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Nikita Okhotiuk, Andreas Johnsson, a 2023 first-round pick, 2024 second-round pick (potentially turning to a first), and a 2024 seventh-round pick. That’s two of the team’s top prospects and draft picks that could very well turn out to be the same. On top of that the Devils also got Curtis Lazar for more forward depth in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round pick. The Devils were a surprise this season and made the moves to ensure it isn’t a fluke.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The craziest team at the deadline may have been the Maple Leafs. With the urgency to get out of the first round at the very least, Kyle Dubas went out and made six trades. In these trades they acquired eight players: Ryan O’Reilly (75 percent retained), Jake McCabe (50 percent retained), Luke Schenn, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, Erik Gustafsson, Radim Zohorna, and Josh Pillar. Along with those players, the Maple Leafs also managed to bring back a 2023 first-round pick, 2024 third- and fifth-round picks, and a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Ryan O'Reilly Toronto Maple Leafs
Ryan O’Reilly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

They recovered a good number of draft picks back after initially giving away quite a few. What it cost the Maple Leafs to bring in everything they did was Rasmus Sandin, Pierre Engvall, Dryden Hunt, Adam Gaudette, Mikhail Abramov, Joey Anderson, Pavel Gogolev, 2023 first- and two third-round picks, 2024 second-round pick, 2025 first- and fourth-round picks, and a 2026 second-round pick.

Tampa Bay Lightning

As Toronto’s inevitable opponent for a second straight season in the first round of the playoffs, the Lightning didn’t have the cap space to make many moves or possibly feel the need to upgrade a ton. This didn’t stop them from making two trades and acquiring two forwards, both with team control after the season.

They brought in Tanner Jeannot and Michael Eyssimont while moving Vladislav Namestnikov and half of his contract along with Cal Foote, 2023 third-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, a 2024 second-round pick, and a 2025 first-round pick. Though the Lightning were at the cap and spent a ton, they got the playoff-type player they wanted and who would keep them under the cap and in the race.

New York Rangers

The Rangers rival the Maple Leafs for most trades and most impactful players brought in. Chris Drury was at work since the early half of February and pulled off seven trades, acquiring eight players. Though they only brought in four players who will play games for their NHL squad this season.

Patrick Kane New York Rangers
Patrick Kane, New York Rangers (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Among the players acquired were the two most coveted rental forwards in Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko along with Niko Mikkola, Tyler Motte, Wyatt Kalynuk, Anton Blidh, Cooper Zech, and William Lockwood. The only draft pick they brought back was a 2026 seventh-round pick.

In terms of what it cost them, Kane’s intentions to go to New York lowered his cost significantly, but the Rangers were undoubtedly willing to pay a lot more if it meant bringing in another skill guy. In total, the Rangers traded away Samuel Blais, Julien Gauthier, Vitali Kravtsov, Gustav Rydahl, Andy Welinski, Austin Rueschhoff, Hunter Skinner, a 2023 first-, second- (conditional), and seventh-round picks, 2024 third-round pick, and 2025 third- and fourth-round picks.

I’m sort of counting out the wild-card teams in the East, but that’s because of the gap between the top six and rest of the field along with the upgrades made to the top group. Each team did their best in upgrading to the maximum they could fit under their salary cap and with strong seasons from all of these teams, nobody wanted a season to go to waste. At least two of these teams will be eliminated in the first round, and it could very well be the two that went all out and packaged away the most of their future (Maple Leafs and Rangers). It will be a big surprise if one of the top six teams in the East not only make it to the Stanley Cup Final, but win over whoever comes out of the underwhelming West.

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