NHL Trade Deadline: Western powerhouses go all in for deep playoff run

NHL Trade Deadline: Western powerhouses go all in for deep playoff run

Most would believe it will be one of three teams to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final, so who among the Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators separated themselves from the rest in a quest for a championship?

anthony-murphy
Anthony Murphy

The trade deadline has come and gone, with team’s making the final adjustments to their rosters as they head down the final stretch of games before the playoffs.

Like every year, teams who felt they had a legitimate chance at making a deep run in the playoffs made moves to add the final piece to their roster they have been missing.

On the other end, a team in a middle of a rebuild, or ones that will miss out on the playoffs, move out players that may fetch them draft picks and prospects for the future.

In the Western Conference, things were no different as each of the team’s towards the top made moves, mortgaging future draft picks and players in hopes of adding that final missing link, or difference maker.

By the time the 3 p.m. ET deadline had come and gone, the top three teams in the West... the favorites to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Final, all made big moves in trying to separate themselves among each other, and in doing so, distanced themselves from the pack in general.

The Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets currently rank one, two, and three in the West, respectively, and after Monday’s deadline did, even more, to separate themselves from the rest of the conference.

Preds add familiar face, grit with upside

Coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance ago, the Predators are set at making another deep playoff run after pulling off one of the more surprising trades of the day.

Predators Trade Breakdown
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Ryan Hartman 2018 1st Round Pick
2018 5th Round Pick 2018 4th Round Pick
Victor Ejdsell

This trade was really made possible by the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks are in such a mess with the salary cap, it was only a matter of time one of their young players was traded out of town.

Suffering from a down season, a first-round pick may have been a little steep to get Hartman, but the upside is certainly there.

Hartman himself was a former first-round pick himself, scored 19 goals (over 76 games) in his first full NHL season last year, and is still just 23-years old.

Ryan Hartman currently has just eight goals in 56 games this year and has slid all the way down the lineup and out of favor of Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.

While obviously in the midst of a setback season, he provides the kind of presence the Predators prefer, a tough, in-your-face, physical style of play. At the time of the trade, Hartman was third among Blackhawks’ forwards in hits.

He also provides versatility, having played all three forward positions over his career - Hartman was sixth among Blackhawk forwards in faceoff wins.

"We wanted a little bit of sandpaper in our lineup that could play at a higher level than a fourth-line type player," Predators General Manager David Poile said of Hartman"We got a guy that scored 19 goals last year, is 23 years of age, is hard to play against."

Nashville also officially welcomed back their captain from a season ago, as Mike Fisher was signed to a one-year, $1 million prorated contract. Looking to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career, Fisher came out of retirement to sign with Nashville.

Jets finally get their center

Over the last couple of days, it has become pretty clear just how respected Winnipeg is around the league.

As they were looking for forwards to add some depth to an already talented group of forwards, opposing teams in the West went out of their way to ensure they couldn’t get their guy.

Winnipeg's deadline day
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Paul Stastny 2018 4th Round Pick
Joe Morrow 2018 1st Round Pick
2020 4th Round Pick
Erik Foley

After being hot in on Derick Brassard, Vegas jumped into things and retained salary so that the Ottawa Senators could work out a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins to land the center.

Moving on to Edmonton Oilers’ center Mark Letestu, Nashville jumped in and traded for him, just to unload him again to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So on the morning of the trade deadline, two of the biggest names available at the center position slipped out of their hands, thanks to interference from their competition, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had to dig deep to improve his team.

He didn’t look at the teams clearly out of the playoff picture, but instead to one fighting for a spot in the postseason.

A pending free agent, Stastny has deadline rental written all over him, except for the fact he is playing on a team that has a good chance of making the playoffs.

Instead, he goes to a team that is going to make the playoffs and already had a roster that could have gone deep but now confirms themselves as a legitimate contender.

Stastny, now 32, is five years removed from his 60-point career season with the Colorado Avalanche but has hit the 40-point plateau in each year since.

He’s also on pace to put up the most points - and games played - since his first year with St. Louis. Stastny has played with and is good friends with, Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler before, but it is expected to slide in on the third line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine.

Jets potential line combinations
Connor Scheifele Wheeler
Perreault Little Roslovic
Ehlers Stastny Laine
Petan Copp Armia

"What he brings to the team is something that's going to be very helpful to us. Can play a lot of roles," Wheeler said of Stastny in an ESPN.com article. "Awesome faceoff guy. Great guy in the locker room."

His arrival gives the Jets perhaps the best third line in the West, and arguably in the league.

Winnipeg made a secondary move by adding Morrow, a former first-round pick by the Penguins back in 2011, in exchange for a mid-round draft pick.

Morrow, now 25, has played in a career-high 38 games this season and has put up 11 points (5 G, 6 A). At the time of the trade, Morrow was tied for third among Montreal Canadiens defensemen in goals and tied with Shea Weber for second in power play points.

Knights go exactly against the plan

All summer Vegas’ blueprint for the season was pretty clear, take all of the pending UFAs they got in the expansion draft and through trades, and move them for even more draft picks.

James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault were supposed to be hot commodities during the 2018 trade deadline.

They would take all of those picks and build a future where the Golden Knights become annual contenders.

Vegas deadline day
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Tomas Tatar 2018 1st Round Pick
Philip Holm 2019 2nd Round Pick
2020 3rd Round Pick
Brendan Leipsic

That was the plan, but no one seemed to tell Vegas that, as they entered the deadline as the most ultimate surprise buyers in the history of the day.

An early trade of Brendan Leipsic seemed like the only thing they were going to do, but instead, they took their first-round pick and used it to land Tomas Tatar, a 27-year old in his prime who is on his way for his fourth straight 20-goal season.

The real kicker with Vegas acquiring Tatar is that he has three more years on his contract after this season. This means they get a player in their prime - and an insurance policy should they not be able to sign Neal and/or Marchessault - under contract for a couple of years.

"He's only 27. He's quick, he's competitive and he can score. He's scored 20 goals a season over the last three years and he's on pace to do it again," George McPhee said of getting Tatar. "We didn't want to trade draft picks for someone that isn't going to be here after the summer and he has three years left on his contract, we're happy about that.

They also added depth, as Tatar will likely play on the third line once Vegas is fully healthy and Neal is back in the lineup.

Who won the day?

When trying to pick who is going to come out of the West, most pick one of these three teams. After the trade deadline, none of that has changed, but did any one of them do enough to separate themselves from the pack?

Vegas still remains the top seed in the West, despite losing to the Los Angeles Kings Monday night. Both Vegas and Winnipeg have exactly 20 games left in the season, while Nashville has a game in hand, and a two-point edge over the Jets for the Central Division lead.

They all gave up a lot, a total of eight draft picks over the next three years (three first-rounders), as well as two prospects, to help them out potential just for this season.

All three added to already great lineups, the Predators get a young, for-now bottom six player who plays their style of hockey. Vegas got somehow even faster, and the Jets got their crafty playmaking pivot on the third line.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs will decide who won the day, and if the anticipation for any of these teams to match up come and it wasn’t high enough, the trade deadline lifted those expectations even more.

Between the Jets, Golden Knights, and Predators, who do you feel had the best trade deadline day? Who is the favorite to win out West? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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