By Thomas Harrington
One year ago today was the NHL trade deadline and Anaheim made several moves. The Ducks traded Mat Clark to the Colorado Avalanche for Michael Sgarbossa, Eric Brewer and a 2016 fifth round draft pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Korbinian Holzer, Ben Lovejoy to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Simon Despres, and Rene Bourque, William Karlsson, and a 2015 second round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for James Wisniewski and a 2015 third round pick. At the time of these moves, many thought Anaheim had one of the better trade deadlines. They picked up three useful defensemen, dumped two players who were doing nothing for them, and only gave up one top prospect, along with a couple of other picks. In retrospect, the moves were solid, but do not look as good in hindsight as many initially hoped.
As the Ducks struggled through injuries and inconsistencies early last season, Murray made a number of deals to try and help out. Some did and some ended up being mistakes. This trade deadline was partly about fixing some of those mistakes.
Of all the deals the Ducks made a year ago, the best one they made was the one that brought in Despres. The Ducks weren’t planning to trade Lovejoy, but when Despres was made available, the Ducks jumped on the chance. When he was first picked up, Despres was expected to be Anaheim’s seventh defenseman. However, Wisniewski was injured at the time of the trade and Despres was given an opportunity and he took it. Despres and Cam Fowler quickly became one of Anaheim’s top defensive pairings. When the playoffs came around, Bruce Boudreau made the decision to scratch Wisniewski and keep the two young defensemen together. Overall, Despres played in 16 games down the stretch and scored one goal and six points. In the playoffs, he appeared in all 16 games and scored one goal and seven points. At the beginning of the season, Anaheim signed Despres to a five year extension worth $18.5 million. Unfortunately, this season hasn’t gone as planned for Despres. He was concussed in the fourth game of the season when Tyson Barrie hit him in the head. He’s since returned to the lineup and has seen a lot of time next to Sami Vatanen. He’s appeared in 19 games for the Ducks and has two assists this season.
The Ducks actually initially acquired Lovejoy from Pittsburgh in February 2013 for a 2014 fifth round draft pick. Before the trade, Lovejoy was Fowler’s long time partner on defense, but was never going to be a top pairing player. He did have one season where he scored five goals and 18 points, but he was known more for his physical, steady play on the ice. Before the Ducks traded him, he played in 40 games for Anaheim and scored one goal and 11 points. He played in 20 games for Pittsburgh and scored once and assisted two others. This season, he’s appeared in 57 games for the Penguins and scored three goals and nine points.
Lovejoy is a solid defenseman, but he’s over 30 and doesn’t have a ton of upside. Despres is still only 24 and should be a solid contributor in the Ducks’ top four for years to come. Safe to say the Ducks won this trade, and the only downside so far was Despres’ concussion early in the season. Now that he’s back in the lineup, it has taken some time, but he’s back to looking like he did at the end of last season.
I became a big Wisniewski fan during his first tour of duty in Anaheim. He’s a warrior who won’t give up on the play and doesn’t back down from the opposition. However, when he was reacquired by the Ducks, he wasn’t healthy and didn’t play until March 9th. The initial plan was to line him up next to Fowler, but given how well Despres and Fowler were playing, that was a duo the Ducks couldn’t break up. The Ducks’ other top pair was made up of Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm, and they weren’t going to be split up either. That meant the only place for Wisniewski was on the third pairing. At the time, Anaheim’s third pairing was Vatanen and Clayton Stoner. Vatanen is like a smaller Wisniewski who doesn’t play as physical a game. Both are right hand shots, have a booming shot from the point, and can quarterback a powerplay. As one of Anaheim’s top young defensemen, Vatanen wasn’t going to be scratched, and he and Stoner worked so well together, that there simply wasn’t room in the lineup for Wisniewski. Overall, he appeared in 13 games for the Ducks and had five assists. He was scratched through the Ducks’ entire playoff run. After not playing at all in the playoffs, the Ducks traded Wisniewski to the Carolina Hurricanes for goaltender Anton Khudobin
Before being traded back to Anaheim, Wisniewski had played over four different seasons for the Blue Jackets. In June of 2011, his rights were traded to Columbus and he signed a six year extension with them. His best season there came in the 2013-14 season when he played in 75 games and scored seven points and 51 points. In the season he was traded to Anaheim, he had played in 56 games and scored eight goals and 29 points.
With the third round pick the Ducks got, they selected center Brent Gates with it. He’s currently in his freshman season at the University of Michigan and has scored three goals and six points in 30 games. His low offensive output isn’t surprising since he’s so young and Michigan is one of the better NCAA teams, so he gets fewer minutes. However, he is developing a strong two way game with them. Expect him to spend at least another year or two before he considers turning pro. When he was drafted, I said that his NHL future was unclear, but that it would probably be as a third line center, and it looks like he’s developing nicely in that direction.
Karlsson was one of Anaheim’s top two center prospects at the time of the trade. The other was Rickard Rakell, who is currently having a breakout season for the Ducks. Karlsson was a second round pick 2011. The battle between Karlsson and Rakell was an interesting one to watch, as both players seemed to jump ahead of the other at different points during the season, but Rakell slowly came out on top as the season progressed. Before being traded, he appeared in 18 games and scored two goals and three points. Karlsson scored two points in three games with Columbus to end last season. This year, he has played in 63 games and scored eight goals and 16 points.
While the Ducks didn’t want to give up Karlsson, they needed to give up something good in the deal, especially since the Blue Jackets were taking back Bourque. The Ducks had acquired Bourque from Montreal for Bryan Allen earlier in the season. At the time, a lot of Anaheim forwards, especially their young ones, were not living up to expectations. The hope was that Bourque would come in and pick up some of their slack, or at least push them to play better. Unfortunately, Bourque, like Dany Heatley, just never fit in. He appeared in 30 games with Anaheim and scored two goals and eight points. While it hurt to lose Karlsson, the fact that the Ducks were able to get rid of Bourque was a nice move by Bob Murray. Bourque had a strong end to the season with Columbus, appearing in eight games and scoring four goals. This season, he’s appeared in 42 games for the Blue Jackets and has scored three goals and six points.
With the second round pick, the Blue Jackets selected center Kevin Stenlund. According to hockeysfuture.com, Stenlund is Columbus’ third best center prospect, just behind Karlsson. Stenlund is currently playing in Sweden and has split time between the SHL and the SuperElit leagues. It remains to be seen if he’ll make it to the NHL. He’ll be 20 in the fall, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Blue Jackets decide to bring him overseas and have him play in the AHL.
Of all the deals Anaheim made at the deadline last year, this is the one they want back the most. Wisniewski was brought in to help the top six and powerplay but never fit in, and the team lost one of the better prospects. However, right now, it looks like the Ducks made the right choice in keeping Rakell, as he has exploded playing with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf this season. The Ducks also dumped a player who wasn’t doing anything for them, and Gates is a solid prospect who could pan out, although that won’t be known for several years. So while the Ducks would like a do over on this deal, it wasn’t a terrible one for them, and at the time, it looked like a very good move.
Brewer was brought in when Anaheim’s defense was beset by injury. Beauchemin was out with a broken bone and Stoner had come down with the mumps. The Ducks had actually traded Allen away just over a week previous, because of how many healthy defensemen the team had. Unfortunately, two games into his Anaheim career, Brewer himself was injured. He broke his foot blocking a shot on December 1st. He returned to action in early February. He played in only nine games for the Ducks and scored one goal and two points. In Toronto, Brewer joined a rebuilding squad. He appeared in 18 games to end the season and scored two goals and five points.
After being acquired from Toronto, Holzer did not appear for Anaheim last season. He was kept as depth on defense, but amazingly enough, after the Ducks’ blueline went through the ringer early in the season, it remained healthy through the end of the regular season and the playoffs. He finally made his Anaheim debut early this season against the Minnesota Wild. Overall, he’s appeared in 18 games for Anaheim and has one assist. He’s also appeared in nine games for San Diego this year and has three assists. Holzer was originally selected by Toronto in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He appeared in parts of three seasons with the Leafs before the trade. At the time of the trade, he had played in 34 games and recorded six assists.
The Maple Leafs elected to not keep the fifth round pick they acquired from Anaheim in this deal. Instead, they sent it to Washington, along with Daniel Winnik, for Brooks Laich, Connor Carrick, and a second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
This was definitely a good deal for both teams. The rebuilding Leafs picked up another draft pick, which they used to get an even higher pick. Anaheim got a player who fit in better on the team as the seventh defenseman. Given the amount of depth on the Ducks’ blueline, Holzer will most likely continue to see time in San Diego through the rest of the season.
The final deal saw the Ducks makes make a minor league move. With Karlsson gone, the Ducks needed to replenish their center depth in the AHL and picked up Sgarbossa to fill that role. He didn’t do much with Norfolk to end the year, but has fit in nicely with the Gulls this season and has 11 goals and 31 points. The 31 points are third on the team and the 11 goals are tied for second. Early this season, he and Nick Ritchie developed some nice chemistry for the Gulls. It’s doubtful he’ll play much, if any, games in Anaheim, but will help the Gulls as they push for the playoffs this season. Sgarbossa played for two years in the Colorado organization before the trade, spending most of his time in the AHL, but did play in nine games over two seasons with the Avalanche.
When Josh Manson was called up when Anaheim was going through injury issues on the blueline, it was clear that Clark had been passed over on the depth chart. With the number of good, young defensive prospects the Ducks have, they could easily part with one to fill a need. The former second round pick clearly didn’t have a future in Anaheim, and went to Colorado. He spent the rest of the season in the AHL and had one assist in 21 games. This season, he is one of the alternate captains for the San Antonio Rampage, as the physical defenseman has found a home with them.
The Ducks could afford to give up Clark and by bringing in Sgarbossa, they immediately addressed a glaring hole in the AHL. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that this deal was a win for Anaheim, but it looks like it was a good one for Colorado too. Both teams are happy as they addressed needs in their respective minor league systems.
A year ago, a lot of people were impressed with the moves that Anaheim made at the deadline. The biggest move, acquiring Wisniewski, didn’t work out, but that’s how NHL trades go sometimes. However, picking up Despres for Lovejoy, as well as getting rid of Brewer and Bourque, made it a good day overall for Murray and the Ducks. It remains to be seen if this year’s deadline moves will turn out better or worse than the moves made a year ago. One thing is for sure, Murray isn’t shy about pulling the trigger on a deal at the deadline, but he does a good job of making sure Anaheim gets equal, if not greater value in the deals he does.
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