Hindsight is always 20/20, but sometimes an NHL trade doesn’t pass the sniff test from the get-go. It smells so bad that you don’t even need the benefit of decent vision. It just so happens the 2018-19 season was rife with those kinds of deals.
While entertaining for fans, it can be heart-wrenching for the executives who have to deal with the fallout from their short-sighted decisions. Looking from the point at which the 2018 Stanley Cup was awarded up to the start of this past offseason, here are the lopsided trades that made five individual GMs cringe the most:
No. 5: Ottawa Senators Get a Lot for Erik Karlsson… Kind of
The Trade: The Ottawa Senators trade Erik Karlsson and Francis Perron to the San Jose Sharks in return for Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Norris, a 2019 second-round pick and conditional 2020 first-round, 2021 second-round and 2022 first-round picks.
Oftentimes, it’s quality that has to make the difference and not quantity. One of those times was when the Senators traded Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks, getting an underwhelming return in exchange.
Granted, the Senators tried and failed to extend Karlsson, meaning they were likely going to lose their franchise for player for nothing, in spite of eventual rumors to the contrary. So, they had to get something for the Norris Memorial Trophy winner, before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
The hope must be that one of the first-round picks they landed (including prospect Josh Norris) ends up being a home run. After all, neither Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo nor Rudolfs Balcers spell “superstar” (or even just “star”) the way Karlsson did in a Senators jersey. The trade only ranks as the fifth-worst, because injuries have seemingly started to take a toll on Karlsson as a Shark.
No. 4: Carolina Hurricanes Part Ways with Jeff Skinner
The Trade: The Carolina Hurricanes trade Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round pick and 2020 third and sixth-round picks.
Like Karlsson, Skinner was poised to become an unrestricted free agent this past summer. Hence the rationale behind the decision to shop the former first-round pick and then trade him. This trade ranks higher on the list, because, while Karlsson disappointed slightly in his first season with the Sharks, Skinner scored a career-high 40 goals and 63 points.
Also like Karlsson, Jeff Skinner got re-signed by his new team. And, even though Skinner’s new eight-year, $72 million deal is an overpay, it’s hard to deny the Sabres got full value and then some out of the assets they gave up to get him as a result: a handful of futures.
Seeing as Skinner is also just 27, there’s less chance for buyer’s remorse on the part of the Sabres, making Skinner more of a steal here. The Hurricanes may very well not regret making the trade because of how far they got these past playoffs without him. However, logic dictates when you have a perennial 30-goal guy in your lineup you try not to trade him for a few magic beans, on the off chance one of them might grow into someone similar one day.
The Hurricanes may not have ultimately been able to afford Skinner or keep him… and then would have lost him for nothing. However, they might have just given him away for nothing too. Time will tell.
No. 3: Minnesota Wild Give up Niederreiter for Rask
The trade: Minnesota Wild trade Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Victor Rask.
Victor Rask wasn’t the only reason Wild GM Paul Fenton got fired, but the forward didn’t help him much, literally speaking if you look at the forward’s point totals. Hoping Rask, who had been struggling with the Carolina Hurricanes for over a season, would turn it around, Fenton pulled the trigger on a one-for-one deal for Nino Niederreiter back in January.
Niederreiter had admittedly been struggling himself, but was still producing somewhat. He had 23 points in 46 games at the time of the trade. In sharp contrast, Rask had just six points in 26 contests. After the trade, Rask scored just three more points the rest of the way. Niederreiter meanwhile broke out of his slump, finishing with 53 points on the season.
Considering Niederreiter’s higher ceiling as a former first-round pick, it was a huge gamble. It didn’t pay off and Fenton paid the price instead.
No. 2: Vegas Golden Knights Give Up on Tomas Tatar
The Trade: The Vegas Golden Knights trade Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in return for Max Pacioretty.
Everyone won with the Max Pacioretty trade. Some people just won a lot more than others, namely Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. He got a top prospect in Nick Suzuki, a 2019 second-round pick and Tomas Tatar, effectively as a throw-in, all for Pacioretty, who had been coming off the worst season of his career.
While Pacioretty upticked his production to score 22 goals and 40 points with the Golden Knights, he actually got outpaced by Tatar. The Slovakian winger scored a career-high 58 points with 25 goals, allowing the the Habs to make out like bandits here.
Considering the Golden Knights had paid the Detroit Red Wings a king’s ransom to acquire the forward (first, second and third-round picks) at the last trade deadline, the Habs are not the only ones. Really, with Tatar consistently ending up a healthy scratch during the Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup, he must have gotten what he wanted too: namely, out.
In fact, so did Pacioretty, who had been looking for a raise after being criminally underpaid for years with the Habs. He re-signed with the Golden Knights for $7 million in each of the next four seasons. The only ones who are likely disappointed? The Golden Knights themselves, who are left holding the bag, hoping Pacioretty has a little something more in the tank.
Pacioretty may very well turn it around. However, even if he regains his scoring prowess, the Habs got a cheaper forward who’s actually producing, with two years left on his deal, in exchange. Suzuki may ironically have turned out to be the gravy instead.
No. 1: Buffalo Sabres Deal Ryan O’Reilly for Spare Parts
The Trade: The Sabres trade Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres in return for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 2019 or 2020 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.
The Sabres make their second appearance on this list, but for all the wrong reasons. It would seem, as GM Jason Botterill giveth, he also taketh away, with No. 1-caliber-center Ryan O’Reilly being the beneficiary of the change of scenery.
Few probably predicted O’Reilly was going to win the Stanley Cup with the Blues after he was traded there at the start of free agency. So, the trade looks that much worse for the Sabres in hindsight. However, similar to with the Karlsson deal, the sheer volume of parts going the other way kind of indicates Botterill knew the quality of the player he was giving up in O’Reilly.
The difference is Karlsson was going to be a free agent. O’Reilly still has four seasons left on his deal that pays the in-his-prime forward a relatively affordable $7.5 million per season. In no uncertain terms, the Sabres didn’t really have to trade him, if you conveniently ignore candid comments he had made, saying at times he had lost his love for the game.
If that was indeed the spark that lit the fuse with regard to the desire to trade him, newsflash: The fireworks going off in St. Louis following the Blues’ Stanley Cup victory would indicate maybe O’Reilly regained what he had lost playing for the Sabres.
Meanwhile, Patrik Berglund, one of the key pieces going the other way, walked away from the Sabres mid-season, also citing a lack of passion for hockey. He eventually went on to sign on to play in his native Sweden. So, passion effectively regained there too.
It’s hard not to see where Berglund was coming from, though. Whereas O’Reilly enjoyed a career 77-point season, Berglund tallied just two goals and two assists in 23 games with the Sabres. Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson combined for 25 points.
Maybe Ryan Johnson, the first-round pick the Sabres got, will pan out. The second-round pick is nothing to scoff at either, but it will be years before either one can even hypothetically contribute on a Sabres team in the playoffs… which they missed altogether in 2018-19. As the real goal is to capture a championship though, the Blues were big winners in more ways than one here. Further proof one team’s bad trade is another’s treasure.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.