Top 10 questions after a wild NHL trade deadline
Should the Sharks have found a way to trade Erik Karlsson? That's one of the biggest questions coming out of the trade deadline. Photo by Jess Rapfogel/AP.

The sands are bound to have shifted after an NHL trade deadline period as epic as that one.

With a sixth of the league going all-in to win, a couple of franchise icons finding new homes and some perennial buyers becoming sellers, we’re left with a lot to ponder as the regular season kicks into the stretch drive.

Here are the top 10 questions remaining after a wild deadline window:

1. Was it a mistake for the San Jose Sharks not to move Erik Karlsson?

The notion of trading a contract as bloated as Karlsson’s would have been laughable as recently as last fall.

Then the 32-year-old embarked upon a renaissance season that will almost surely see him topple 100 points and likely land a third Norris Trophy.

It also opened up a window to move a previously unmoveable player, with Edmonton expressing interest on multiple occasions. The biggest reason those talks didn’t get off the ground is because San Jose wouldn’t entertain retaining even 30% of the remaining value of Karlsson’s contract.

While that’s understandable because it would have cost $12 million in real dollars — plus the accompanying cap space — it’s a decision we may reflect on down the line.

It’s easy to theorize that Karlsson will be more movable this summer with additional cap space league-wide and more of his current deal completed, but that fails to account for how ridiculously well he’s playing right now.

The real value in a potential Karlsson deal was getting him in this form. At this deadline.

If his play falls off even a little bit, will the Sharks be able to move him with anything less than 50% retention? That's a question for another time.

2. Did the Toronto Maple Leafs do too much?

After turning over a third of the playing roster, this is a fair question to ask. But it’s a damn tough one to answer.

We’ve seen a team as recently as last year’s Colorado Avalanche make a big splash at the deadline and enjoy immense success while integrating numerous veterans into the lineup.

But the list of general managers who came up empty following a busy deadline period is lengthy, and it includes Toronto's Kyle Dubas circa 2021.

It certainly doesn’t help that one of the Leafs most important acquisitions this season, Ryan O'Reilly, is going to miss at least the next four weeks after having surgery on broken fingers in his left hand.

That’s another significant layoff for a guy who missed all of January. It also costs him valuable time to get better acclimated with a new club.

As for the rest, it’ll be interesting to see if Sheldon Keefe can establish any rhythm with a roster that now features nine defencemen — eight of which have designs on playing regularly, including deadline buys Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson.

3. Did the Carolina Hurricanes do enough?

I hate the winners and losers question we get every deadline day because you can really only make those calls in real time on who made a big splash and who didn’t.

And sometimes the patient approach is a winning approach.

Enter the Hurricanes, who were aggressively pursuing Timo Meier during this deadline window and ultimately settled for two more cost-effective buys (Edmonton's Jesse Puljujarvi and Arizona's Shayne Gostisbehere) after missing out on the big winger.

On the surface, it seems underwhelming for a team that's been knocking on the door for years and always seems to be short a couple of goals when it matters most. Remember that they’d also been counting on Max Pacioretty as an in-season deadline-esque addition, only to lose him to another unfortunate Achilles injury.

Still, let’s not look past what has turned Carolina into a top organization: the ability to continually make clear, well-reasoned decisions and a willingness to zig when everyone else zags.

In this case, they elected not to tilt for a more shiny secondary option after missing out on Meier. With all of the other top teams in a spending spree, it was a bold decision.

4. What about Winnipeg?

With so much uncertainty looming in summer 2024 — including the free agent statuses of Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and potentially Pierre-Luc Dubois — it was tempting to view this as a chips-down deadline in Winnipeg.

The Western Conference appears as wide open as ever.

And the Jets possessed free cap space while authoring a bounce-back season under Rick Bowness.

Still, bold is not in the DNA of this particular organization.

In this rare case that should be labelled a feature, not a bug, because of how much homegrown talent they’ve consistently developed.

The Jets wound up surrendering very little to bring in well-travelled wingers Vlad Namestnikov and Nino Neiderreiter — who's been slotted onto the top line beside Scheifele and Kyle Connor — but in this moment you wonder if it was enough.

We may end up reflecting on this as an opportunity missed.

5. How will the New Jersey Devils navigate Meier’s contract situation?

What made Meier so attractive at this deadline was not just that he’s a supremely skilled scorer in the prime of his career, but also that he carried one more year of team control.

The only catch?

It comes with a $10 million qualifying offer attached to it.

After surrendering multiple picks and prospects in a trade with San Jose, it should be no surprise to learn that New Jersey would prefer to sign the 26-year-old long term rather than give him that QO next season and allow him to walk into unrestricted free agency in 2024.

However, it’s no slam dunk they can get it done.

It’s believed there were some preliminary ideas exchanged with Devils management when the trade was completed about how that next contract might look — you can bet it’ll require an eight-year term at a $9-million AAV or above — but the serious negotiations aren’t underway at this stage.

At some point in the coming months, the Devils will face a big decision: hand over a monster extension to a player under no CBA-related pressure to take any discounts or potentially look at packaging him elsewhere.

6. How long will Patrick Kane’s run on Broadway last?

For all of the emotion involved in his drawn-out departure from Chicago, and the strangeness of wearing a new sweater, Kane has ripped the band-aid off.

There’s no turning back now.

That could again make the 34-year-old winger a player to watch as July 1 approaches since he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent.

If things go great in this short dress rehearsal with the Rangers — and if the salary cap and lifestyle and contract needs align — perhaps he'll embark on a longer-term stay in New York. But that’s far from a guarantee.

Take the example of Claude Giroux from last season: After playing his first 1,000 NHL games in Philadelphia, he was dealt to Florida for a 28-game cameo. And then he signed in Ottawa as a free agent last summer.

It’s way too soon to forecast how things will turn out for Kane, but it’s something to watch.

7. Can Jonathan Quick make a positive impact on the Vegas Golden Knights crease?

This falls under the tastiest of storylines after Quick was jettisoned from his only NHL home in Los Angeles to Columbus without any warning. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was then flipped to the Kings' division rival in Vegas.

The Golden Knights have actually fared surprisingly well in the goaltending department this season, but they had a big hole with Logan Thompson sidelined by injury.

Quick had a miserable year in Los Angeles — the team was moving on from his .876 save percentage as much as his $5.8 million cap hit — but the only relevant question now is whether he can channel another short stretch of strong play after having a fire lit under him.

That question becomes especially pressing in the event Vegas draws Los Angeles in a playoff series.

8. Where do the Vancouver Canucks go from here?

This could be the subject of its own article. Or book.

The Canucks continue to suck and blow at the same time — trying and failing to ship out players like J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser to improve the salary cap picture at this deadline, while also trading away a first-round draft pick for 25-year-old right-shot defenceman Filip Hronek, who will soon need a big contractual commitment.

The wider message is obvious: There’s no tear-down rebuild happening any time soon in Vancouver.

But the Canucks remain a bottom-third NHL team and they’re only projected to make one of the first 70-or-so picks in June’s draft.

The immediate path ahead is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

9. Have we entered a bear market for first-round picks?

It depends on which side of this question you’re approaching things from.

First-round picks certainly continue to carry a fair amount of currency for teams in sell mode, with many establishing that as a minimum price of entry to deals involving heavily sought-after players.

That’s why we saw 13 first-rounders traded in the last six weeks alone.

Where the value may be diminished somewhat from recent years is for top teams who are predominantly trading them away. That’s because virtually all of those picks carry conditions in the event they become lottery selections down the road and there’s an understanding that the expected hit rate on a pick falling in the 20’s is considerably lower than one of the top-five selections.

Basically, teams with a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup seem to have decided they can live without them.

10. How can we ensure we get more deadline periods with this much action?

Beyond mandating that each team make a certain number of trades each season, it simply might not be possible.

We caught lightning in a bottle at this deadline with a significant number of heavily committed sellers finding several roll-the-dice buyers to do business with.

It’s notable that it happened during another pandemic-affected season where the salary cap only went up by $1 million and most of the top teams were tight against the $82.5-million ceiling.

That didn’t prevent them from doing business — a number of buyers simply spent extra draft capital to complete retained salary transactions — and suggests that periods of heavy activity are still possible in a hard-cap environment as long as the mood is right.

Really, it’s no different than any other market: You need willing participants on both sides of the trade to make the action flow.

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