It’s official:  the trade deadline has come and gone … not with a bang but a whimper.

Aside from the agonizingly slow pace throughout most of the day, some fascinating moves (and non-moves) took place, for both the Maple Leafs and the league as a whole.

Here are my thoughts, in the aftermath of Deadline Day:

1.  The players we expected to see moved were moved.  Namely, the two pending UFAs, Moore and Antropov, were dealt as expected.  Thus, the Leafs avoid the risk of losing them for nothing in the offseason.

Verdict: successful in terms of being able to net a return for two pending UFAs that the Leafs were unlikely to re-sign.

2.  Draft picks were the focus of Burke’s trades, and he was able to re-stock the cupboard with a couple of 2nds and a 4th.   The Leafs now have picks in every round, including two in the 2nd in what is being called the deepest draft in years.

Verdict: successful in terms of the Leafs acquiring draft picks for a change, instead of giving them up.

3.  First round picks were clearly at a premium.  At the end of the day, the fears over a likely cap decrease in 2010-11 is speculated to have led teams to hang onto their top picks (entry level deals max out at under $1 million).   Only one 1st rounder was moved, and that was Calgary’s in the Jokinen trade.  The Leafs held out right until the last few minutes in the hopes of getting a 1st for Antropov, but at the end of the day not enough buyers were willing to part with that high of a pick.

Verdict: moderately successful in that Burke was at least able to get two picks (2nd + conditional) in return for Antropov when his hopes for a 1st were dashed.   Jokinen – a consistent performer his entire career – garnered a 1st due to his reputation as a “name” player among GMs … whereas outside of Toronto, Antropov – consistent only the past two seasons – simply isn’t seen in that light.

4.  Top prospects were clearly at a premium, also.   It is fun to imagine trade scenarios such as Antropov for Voracek, but put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.  If you are Scott Howson, and you are building a team in Columbus, why deal a possible future star (Voracek, Brassard, etc) for a player who is most likely a rental?  It makes very little sense.  Now, if Columbus was on the cusp of a playoff spot, it would be a more sensible deal, but the way they have been playing lately (currently 6th in West), it is simply not worth the risk to move the long-term future for a short-term gain.

Verdict: neutral — no major prospects were moved on draft day, other than Matt Lashoff, who has looked to be closer to bust than boom thus far at the NHL level.   The reality is, lack of prospect availability was a league-wide phenomena, not something exclusive to the Leafs.  I can live with that.

5.  GMs made trades largely based on “needs” this year, as opposed to “wants”.   Parity would be the reason for this: with so many teams fighting for playoff spots this year (tightest race in a long time in both conferences), GMs were more apt to go after players who filled a need, rather than simply the best players available.  Case in point:  Columbus traded Leclaire and a 2nd for Vermette, and some wondered why Antropov, a better player overall than Vermette, couldn’t have gotten a similar deal (if not gone in that deal instead of Vermette).  Simply put, Columbus identified team speed at the forward position as a critical need, and speed is not a part of Antropov’s game.

Verdict: GMs were responsible on trade deadline day?  Say what?  Truth be told, I would probably say moderately successful here, in terms of the Leafs … when the deal they wanted simply wasn’t available, they found the next best deal they could.  See the verdict for #3 above.

6. Creative trades.  Gotta love that salary cap!  The four-team deal with Edm, Car, LA, and Buf may take a week to sort out, and was quite an impressive feat to pull off.  The Leafs taking on salary to move a mid-range prospect for another mid-range prospect and a 4th was quite brilliant in its own right.  And conditional picks always add to the fun.

Verdict: the late deal with TB moves this into the successful category.  Burke was able to add an extra draft pick, and a prospect, for a prospect who at best is equal to one of those.   All he had to do was take on two injured players who won’t play the rest of the season to make it happen.  Still waiting on the terms of the conditional pick in the Antropov deal … last I heard it was based on NYR’s playoff success, not on Antropov re-signing in NY.

7.  The action was really slow today.   All told, the final number of deals will be in the neighbourhood of 20, which is not bad considering 20-25 was what most were expecting.  However, few of these deals were of the “major” variety, and a large number of the deals did not happen until the final hour.   The reason?  (a) Fears of the 2010-11 cap decline caused teams to decide to commit to their prospects rather than deal them for expensive veterans, and (b) so many teams are in tight in the playoff race, that nobody felt is was worth risking their future players for short-term help.   9 points separate 4th from 10th in the East, and 9 points separate 6th from 13th in the West.   In other words, teams feel they have a great shot, with around 18 games remaining, to make up that existing ground without tampering with team chemistry or giving up a member of the team’s future.

Verdict: The deadline, on the whole, was moderately successful.  Personally, I expected a slow day for the reasons above, and to that point the lack of action highlights the level of parity the league has been seeking to achieve among its clubs.   If there is too little a gap between too many teams, the number of trades will decrease as GMs will generally believe they can compete with their existing rosters.   There are simply too many teams in the middle of the pack, and as a result there were only a couple of buyers who were willing to take a significant risk (Calgary, NYR were the only two teams willing to give up a lot for one player).

Final thoughts: Today was what I expected.   Three Leaf trades, draft picks back to the Leafs, and not much action league-wide.   I was mildly surprised at the lack of 1st round pick availability (less surprised at the lack of prospect availability), but the more I think about it the more it makes sense.  The closeness in the standings among the majority of teams, along with fears of a cap decline two years from now, ultimately served to cripple the trade market at this year’s deadline.   Look for more movement to occur over the offseason (when the cap can be exceeded, buyouts can occur, limited NTCs expire, etc) than we’ve seen in past years.

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