As Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has measured his approach to the NHL trade deadline Feb. 24, he has dealt with a number of conflicting indicators and interests.
But on Sunday, a number of new factors arose that pointed in one direction: selling.
On the ice, the Hawks blew another early lead in a loss to the Jets, finishing their road trip 1-4-0 and dropping their playoff chances to a measly 17.2 percent (according to MoneyPuck) entering Monday.
Off the ice, Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald orchestrated two substantial trades that jump-started the leaguewide trade market and set high trade return precedents.
The NHL’s February trade tracker has been oddly quiet, with just two deals — Jack Campbell to the Maple Leafs and Jason Zucker to the Penguins — taking place before Sunday. Last season, 11 trades occurred between Feb. 1 and 16.
Nonetheless, Fitzgerald seems to have moved the needle: The Kings, at least, took the bait Monday, sending Tyler Toffoli to the Canucks.
The Devils sent 37-year-old veteran defenseman and team captain Andy Greene, a pending free agent, to the Islanders for a second-round pick and minor-league player David Quenneville (yes, he’s John Quenneville’s brother).
Hours later, after a rumored deal with the Avalanche fell through, they traded 28-year-old forward Blake Coleman to the Lightning for a first-round pick and prospect Nolan Foote, last year’s 27th overall selection. Coleman has hit the 20-goal plateau in consecutive seasons and has one year left at an affordable $1.8 million cap hit.
To be fair, even before Sunday, the Devils were clear sellers, and the Isles and Lightning were clear buyers. The Hawks, and a large portion of the rest of the parity-laden NHL, aren’t in such certain roles.
Any movement at all is welcome, though, and this movement is particularly exciting.
The Devils received solid returns, well above previously assumed market value, for Greene and Coleman.
The fact teams were willing to pay such steep prices means Bowman also might be able to get more than expected if he sells off some of the Hawks’ movable assets over the next week, especially since prices sometimes inflate further as the deadline nears.
The value of Erik Gustafsson, for one, just jumped tremendously.
Gustafsson, another pending UFA who has had no negotiations with the Hawks, is 10 years younger than Greene, four times cheaper ($1.2 million vs. $5 million cap hits) and arguably better. In Hockey Reference’s Point Shares statistic, a holistic evaluator of player impact, Gustafsson has a 3.4 this year and had a 7.7 last year; Greene scored a 2.5 and 4.6, respectively.
Entering the weekend, a second-round pick was thought to be the most likely return if Gustafsson was dealt. Now, Bowman can reasonably demand a later first-round pick, or a package of a second-round pick and a decent prospect.
Even Duncan Keith, although it’s doubtful he’ll be dealt, is a year younger than Greene and on another tier altogether. Greene has averaged just over 20 minutes per game this year; Keith has averaged nearly 24.
On the forward side, the Coleman trade elevates the potential value of Hawks such as Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad. Coleman has recorded 3.3 Point Shares this season and 3.6 last season; Strome has recorded 2.8 and 4.9; and Saad has recorded 3.3 and 3.9.
The situations aren’t directly comparable. Strome is five years younger than Coleman but a pending RFA, and Saad (at $6 million) carries triple the cap hit of Coleman. Bowman remains unlikely to move either player.
But if he does, the de facto Coleman return of two latter-half first-round picks now seems viable.