To the joy of hockey fans across North America, it was the latter, with significant deals spanning the past 10 days.
Here are the winners and losers of the 2020 trade deadline.
Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
Over the past two months, no team in the NHL has been hotter than the Lightning, who have posted two separate double-digit winning streaks, have lost just four games since Christmas, and have a whopping plus-41 goal differential. And they only got better over the past week and a half.
Players with term were on trend this trade deadline season, and Tampa Bay picked up one of the league's most underrated in Blake Coleman. Rookie GM Julien BriseBois then schooled his peers by winning the sweepstakes for disgruntled former Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian, at a bargain price of a prorated $1.3 million. Oh, and the Lightning added a decent defensive forward in Barclay Goodrow. Has this team finally learned to peak at the right time?
Loser: The inactives
The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators are all jostling for position in their respective playoff races, and none of them did anything to make their teams significantly better.
The biggest surprise of the bunch was perhaps Colorado, which is banged up at forward and has ample salary-cap space. The only thing Avs GM Joe Sakic did was get goalie insurance in Michael Hutchinson and acquire Vladislav Namestnikov, who likely profiles in the bottom six. The Avalanche could have -- and perhaps should have -- done more in a season when they have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup.
The Stars were in on Joe Thorntonbut couldn't get it done. In fairness, the Blue Jackets made the 2019 trade deadline incredibly fun. But GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn't give his team much help to separate it from the Eastern Conference wild-card muck.
And then there are the Maple Leafs, who lost to their own practice goalie/minor league Zamboni driver on Saturday. As Toronto GM Kyle Dubas said later in the day on Monday: "I'm not going to come up and bull---- and say I have some magical solution." Clearly not.
Winner: Putting it on your players
Some of this inactivity is directly tied to the idea of putting the pressure on the players to be the change that they need. One could argue that's the case with the Maple Leafs. The Predators have been "it's on the players" since they fired Peter Laviolette. While the Panthers made a hockey trade for Vincent Trocheck, it's also a clear message that the team expects more from its remaining core.
Loser: Teams holding on to first-round picks
Parity leads to high prices. Six first-round draft picks moved around this year's trade deadline, up from four last season. In 2019, those first were traded for Kevin Hayes, Brandon Montour and two for Matt Duchene. (The second first-rounder was a conditional one that never came to pass after he didn't re-sign.) Players who cost first-rounders this season: Jason Zucker, Blake Coleman, Ondrej Kase, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Brady Skjei and Barclay Goodrow. Yes, Barclay Goodrow!
Winners: Patrick Marleau and Ilya Kovalchuk
Marleau and Kovalchuk have combined for 1,003 career goals (a total that would have been higher were it not for Kovalchuk's five-year Russian stint) and a total of zero Stanley Cups. In fact, Marleau has played the most regular-season games in NHL history without winning one. Now, the 40-year-old Marleau and 36-year-old Kovalchuk have as good a shot as they've ever had, as key depth pieces for the Penguins and Capitals, respectively.
You heard that right. Marleau is riding Sidney Crosby's coattails while Kovalchuk is playing sidekick to Alex Ovechkin, and we are so here for it. Few would have predicted it this past summer, as Kovalchuk was coming off a disappointing return to the NHL via the Kings, and Marleau was bought out by the Hurricanes, after a short stint with the Maple Leafs.
Loser: Joe Thornton's Stanley Cup quest
While Marleau and Kovalchuk will get their respective shots at their first Stanley Cup, Joe Thornton decided to stay put in San Jose. GM Doug Wilson would have granted his wish to leave if Thornton had made it, but the star center has shown little desire to leave the Bay Area during his sometimes-tumultuous time there. So, no full-circle storybook ending with the Boston Bruins, and no reunion with "Little Joe" Pavelski in Dallas, which were both rumored.
Winner: Pierre Dorion
The Senators' GM is often critiqued. Most of it is earned. The team is not competitive. Attendance is low. The fan base is apathetic. Ottawa has now made 40 trades since the start of the 2017-18 season, including saying goodbye to Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Matt Duchene (among many, many more).
Monday, however, might have marked the GM's finest work. No player has yielded as much for doing as little as Jean-Gabriel Pageau. To earn a first- and a second-round pick -- and a slim, but potential chance for a third -- for a rental 27-year-old who has only now reached 20 goals for the first time in his career (thanks to an astronomically high 17.8 shooting percentage)? Take a bow, Mr. Dorion. You had one good day.
Undecided: Lou Lamoriello
On one hand, the Islanders' GM grossly overpaid to acquire Pageau, who could be just a flash in the pan thanks to that wild shooting percentage. On the other hand, Lamoriello addressed his biggest area of need. The Isles' offense is ranked 22nd in the NHL and flamed out in last year's playoffs after scoring only five goals in four games. And Lamoriello salvaged the high price by signing Pageau to an extension, potentially shoring up the Islanders' center depth for the next few years.
And then there was the Zach Parise ordeal. Lamoriello was deep in talks to acquire his former Devils forward, which could have been a big mistake, in our opinion, considering the 35-year-old is under contract through 2025. According to Natural Stat Trick, Parise's 1.33 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 this season is the worst rate of his career. The good news? Lamoriello didn't go through with it.
Winner: Robin Lehner
Robin Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year who just wants to be treated as such. He's looking for a long-term deal and fair compensation. He was hoping it would come with the Blackhawks, who took a one-year, $5 million flier on him after the Islanders snubbed him for Semyon Varlamov this past summer. But contract talks between Lehner's agent and the Blackhawks stalled because of a disagreement on a term. And the Blackhawks -- despite a promising showing before the All-Star break -- don't look like they're going anywhere this season.
Now Lehner gets a terrific opportunity to win the Cup this spring with the surging Vegas Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury has been burdened by a big workload since coming to Vegas, and his save percentage this season is among the lowest of his career. (He's also working through personal tragedy, as his father died this past fall.) Lehner will get ample opportunities to start, and potentially play a lot. And hopefully he can still get what he wants this summer.
Loser: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks were poised to pick up big returns as a seller at the deadline. Instead, they picked up a second-round pick, a third-round pick, a backup goalie and a college defenseman whom our Chris Peters doesn't rank among the Golden Knights' top 10 prospects. If I'm a player on the Blackhawks, that doesn't make me feel great, especially since the two players traded were popular in the locker room.
Erik Gustafsson should have been traded this past summer, when his value was much higher. Meanwhile, Robin Lehner, a reigning Vezina finalist, kept Chicago in many games earlier this season when everything else was falling apart. Since the return on Lehner was so low, it raises the question of why he was even traded at all. Couldn't the Blackhawks have just kept him -- they still are technically in the playoff hunt -- which would have set them up better for re-signing him to an extension?
Winner: Carolina Hurricanes
The day began with the Canes organizing a glitzy New York media tour for emergency backup hero David Ayres. They kept the good publicity and good karma going all day long.
The Canes have been looking for defensive help ever since Dougie Hamilton went down, and it became more urgent with Brett Pesce's long-term injury. They got exactly what they needed, picking up top defensive rental Sami Vatanen and 25-year-old Brady Skjei, the latter of whom is signed through 2024 (term is something the Canes highly covet). What's more: They snagged Vincent Trocheck away from Florida (another player with term!). The Bunch of Jerks have momentum to break through the crowded Eastern Conference wild-card race.
Loser: Bill Guerin's scalpel
The Minnesota Wild did well for themselves in the Jason Zucker trade with Pittsburgh, getting a solid prospect in defenseman Calen Addison, a conditional first-round pick and the expiring contract of forward Alex Galchenyuk.
But that's where the slicing and dicing ended for GM Bill Guerin. Mikko Koivu flexed his no-move clause to remain in Minnesota. Potential big deals for players like Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin never materialized. Most notable was the rumored deal that would have sent Zach Parise, and a contract that expires in 2025, to the Islanders. Multiple reports suggested that he waived his no-move clause to play for Lou Lamoriello. But nothing happened. Well, there's always the draft.
Winner: Boston Bruins
The Bruins' acquisition of Ducks winger Ondrej Kase has the potential to be one of the best of the deadline. He's a talented 24-year-old winger with tremendous offensive upside if he remains healthy -- which, admittedly, is a tall order given his struggles to stay in the lineup during his career. But he makes just $2.6 million through 2021, when the Bruins can re-sign him as a restricted free agent. They moved midrange defensive prospect Axel Andersson and their first-rounder to the Ducks for Kase and Anaheim's willingness to take David Backes' contract -- or at least 75% of it -- off their books.
Boston's second trade with Anaheim, which sent Danton Heinen for Nick Ritchie, was less lopsided and a wash at best for the Bruins.
Undecided: Tom Fitzgerald
The interim New Jersey Devils general manager had a strange deadline.
Getting a 2021 second-round pick and defenseman David Quenneville from the Islanders for the expiring contract of captain Andy Greene was good. Getting a blue-chip prospect in Nolan Foote and a 2020 first-round pick for Blake Coleman was even better. Getting prospects Janne Kuokkanen and Fredrik Claesson along with a fourth-round pick for a banged-up Sami Vatanen was ... maybe not as good as what they got for Greene? And the Wayne Simmonds trade with the Buffalo Sabres, retaining salary for a conditional 2021 fifth-rounder that can become a fourth-rounder is ... maybe a favor for a former co-worker with the Penguins, Jason Botterill?
But the biggest question about the Devils is something that happened on Fitzgerald's predecessor's watch: Given the incredible prices that were paid at the Feb. 24 deadline, did New Jersey make a big goof in trading Taylor Hall back in December?
Winner: Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider wanted to remain with the Rangers, but as Sunday's talks ended, the two sides were still separated by a year on his next contract. He was, by far, the most desirable forward at the trade deadline for a reason: Kreider is the kind of physical scoring forward whom contenders covet. The Rangers are close to being a contender. Had they cut ties with him, they would have searched for a "Chris Kreider type" for the next few years.
So they bridged the gap, and gave Kreider a seventh year at $6.5 million annually, slightly down from the $7 million annually over six seasons the Rangers wanted. But again: Kreider wanted to be a Ranger, and he will be for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Bathroom breaks
The drip, drip of information on trade deadline day leaves fans looking for any signs of what may be forthcoming. Whenever a player abruptly leaves the ice during practice, there's a rush of attention. Your social media stream was probably flowing with news that Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames had trickled off the ice during practice.
False alarm! Said Gaudreau, still a Flame, after practice: "I had to pee. I talked to [coach Geoff Ward] and he said there are only two minutes left in practice. He said it was good to get off, I got off and my phone was blowing up. Nothing to worry about."
NHL trade deadline winners and losers
Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan pick their biggest winners and losers from this year's NHL trade deadline.
Recapping the NHL trade deadline
Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan recount the top stories from the NHL trade deadline, including Robin Lehner being shipped to Las Vegas and Chris Kreider signing a big extension.