There was no drama and little action, but there was some anger and real disappointment – much of it in Vancouver – when the dust finally settled on the 2016 NHL trade deadline.
For most of four hours on Monday, it was the Sergei Plotnikov sweepstakes, an excruciating ordeal. Anyone monitoring the so-called action on either of the two Canadian cable sports networks could only feel sympathy for the hosts and panelists, trying to fill air time as teams dithered and negotiated.
Eventually, deals trickled in. Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles found new temporary homes in Boston. Shane Prince joined the New York Islanders, and Brandon Pirri was sent to Anaheim, where the Ducks surrendered only a sixth-round pick to acquire his rights. Surging Anaheim also landed Jamie McGinn from Buffalo for a conditional third-rounder, adding muscle to a team that's re-established its identity as a heavy, hard team to play against. (The Ducks traded both Patrick Maroon to Edmonton and Tim Jackman to Chicago in order to get roster compliant.)
Officially, there were 19 transactions involving 37 players, but only two deals of any consequence – including one between Calgary and Dallas that had many in Vancouver up in arms.
The Flames sent soon-to-be unrestricted free agent defenceman Kris Russell to the Stars for a second-round draft choice that would be upgraded to a first-rounder if Dallas wins two playoff rounds and Russell plays in 50 per cent of the Stars' games.
"We're going to cheer like crazy for the Dallas Stars," said Flames' general manager Brad Treliving, who also managed to get a depth defenceman in Jyrki Jokipakka and a prospect, Brett Pollock, included in the deal.
The Stars had also inquired about Canucks' defenceman Dan Hamhuis, and that's where things got complicated. According to general manager Jim Benning, the Canucks were negotiating with Dallas about a similar package for Hamhuis.
In the final hour before the deadline, Dallas circled back to the Canucks with another offer for Hamhuis, who was only prepared to waive his no-trade clause for two teams – the Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks – but the offer was for a lesser return and consequently of limited interest to the Canucks.
That left Dallas with Russell and Vancouver standing pat, which had Canucks fans up in arms.
According to Benning, it was a trade deadline like no other, with teams anxious to hang on to their young players and draft choices because of their value in the salary-cap era.
"I talked to other managers through this process – and we've never seen anything like this year before," said Benning. "It seemed hard to get value."
The other semi-interesting deal involved Arizona and Colorado, with the Avalanche receiving soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Mikkel Boedker from the Coyotes in exchange for Alex Tanguay and two prospects – Connor Bleackley, a former first-rounder, and Kyle Wood, a former third-rounder.
This deadline reinforced the trend of GMs doing their shopping ahead of time, rather than waiting until the 11th hour.
In 2010, there were 31 deals on the final day – and then it dropped precipitously until last year, when it inched back up to 24.
The vast majority of trades that could impact this year's Stanley Cup playoffs were completed ahead of the deadline: Chicago acquired Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg as it tries to defend its Stanley Cup championship, getting the former Winnipeg Jets captain for a first-round pick and a prospect. Florida added three pieces over the weekend, including Jiri Hudler, last year's No. 8 overall scorer, in its bid to make the playoffs for only the second time in 15 years. The New York Rangers landed Eric Staal, adding necessary depth at centre. A revitalized Staal could tilt the balance of power in the East, where it currently tilts heavily in Washington's direction.
There was speculation that Boston would move Loui Eriksson and Tampa might trade Jonathan Drouin. Neither of those deals happened. Ultimately, Boston gave up four future picks – a second, a third, a fourth and a fifth – to get Stempniak and Liles, expensive rentals and a sign that Boston thinks it has a chance to win a playoff round or two.
Tampa, meanwhile, did nothing, but general manager Steve Yzerman held out an olive branch – the Lightning would happily welcome Drouin back in the fold, if he wants to play hockey again this year.
The Flames took Minnesota's third-string goalie, Niklas Backstrom, in a salary dump along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for winger David Jones, meaning all three of Calgary's future unrestricted free agents are now gone.
All the teams that went into the trade deadline period with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations – Chicago, Anaheim, Washington and New York, among others – emerged as strong or stronger.
But the fact that so few teams were prepared to mortgage their futures the way they might have in the past suggests that caution is now the dominant trend. No matter how good teams think they may be, in the end, only one ever finishes in the winner's circle.
As Benning suggested, everyone hedged – a real sign of the NHL's changing times.