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The First Round Debacle - Part 1

Taking a look at all the 1st round picks that were traded this season and how it affects the team if the season is cancelled.

Originally, we all thought the NHL could be back after a month hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but to be honest, that is starting to look very unlikely. There is a very real possibility that the rest of the regular season could be scrapped in favour of a new look playoff format… in July? Maybe? Nobody knows for sure. Regardless, what happens to all the teams who were buyers at the trade deadline? It’s not exactly fair to those teams who loaded up in hopes for a long playoff run, then again life isn’t always fair. Here we will be taking a look at all the trades that involve a 2020 1st round pick and how it may affect the teams who traded them away for one reason or another. Obviously, we won’t be able to answer the real question at the heart of this article which is, will the NHL compensate those teams who traded away their 1st round picks if in fact the season is scrapped? What we will try to do is analyze each trade and think of some of the ramifications of each trade in relation to a scenario in which there is no more hockey this year. This will be a two-part mini-series, part 1 will deal with the trades involving a 1st pick prior to February 20th, while part two deals with the final days leading up to and including the trade deadline.

1. The Trade: On June 22nd, 2019, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded away their 2020 1st round pick (top 10 protected) along with a 2020 7th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Patrick Merleau and a 2020 6th round pick.

Analysis: For those who may not be die hard hockey fans, you may be thinking to yourself, well that doesn’t seem like a very good trade for the Leafs, and you would be right, in theory that is. The Leafs were faced with some difficult decisions that required creative maneuvers in order to be cap compliant by the start of the season. They had to move fan favourite, as well as locker room favourite, Patrick Marleau and his $6.25M contract in order to clear up cap space because Auston Matthew and Mitch Marner's new contracts were set to kick in (combined for a $22,537,000 cap hit). I would like to think general manager Kyle Dubas tried to find a better deal for shipping out Marleau, but it seems like the only way a team was willing to take on his contract (and possibly buy him out) was to add a 1st round pick to sweeten the deal. So, all in all, it cost the Leafs a 1st round pick for someone to graciously take the 40-year-old vet off their hands. Yikes.

Final Thoughts: Considering this deal happened before the season even began with the Leafs full intention of just unloading his contract, nothing should change here, it has no effect on a playoff run like some of the other deals to follow.

2. The Trade: On December 16, 2019, the Arizona Coyotes traded away their 2020 1st round pick (top 3 protected) along with a conditional 2021 3rd round pick, prospects Nate Schnaar, Nick Merkley, and Kevin Bahl to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Taylor Hall and prospect Black Speers.

Analysis: This was an interesting trade considering that the Coyotes seemed to be underdogs for doing any real damage in the playoffs, let alone if they even made it there. At the time of the deal, the Coyotes were 2nd in their division behind the Edmonton Oilers, but were tied in points AND had a game in hand. Things were looking good and they just added the 2018 Hart trophy winner, that seems pretty good too. The issue is, not a lot of people had faith in the Coyotes maintaining their success and were just waiting for them to drop in the standings. As of this article, the Coyotes sit 5th in the division, and six points out of a playoff spot, that stings. Since the trade? The former first round pick and Hart trophy winner has amassed 27 points (only 10 goals) in 35 games with his new club, another stinger. However, Hall proved to be a pivotal player down the stretch for the New Jersey Devils in 2017-2018 and basically carried that team into the playoffs, thus why he won the Hart that same year. I am sure the Coyotes were hoping he would turn on that magic for the final stretch of the season, but we may never know.

Final Thoughts: This is a tough one because the trade happened well in advance of the deadline and Hall did play 35 games with the Coyotes. Another important aspect of this deal is that the Coyotes obviously want to resign Hall, and although he burned a lot of money this year with his mediocre play, his agent, Darren Ferris, is a real stickler (see Mitch Marner and Johnny Gaudreau contract negotiations). His agent made it clear the party would not discuss a possible extension until the season was done.Now that there may not be a season, his agent has revealed they may be open to contract negotiations, and if Arizona can get him re-signed, I think the 1st round pick would be well worth it. Here is the kicker, the conditions on that 3rd round pick can have huge implications for both sides. The conditions are as follows; the 3rd becomes a 2nd if Hall re-signs with the Coyotes OR if the coyotes make the playoffs. More importantly, that 3rd round pick could become a 2021 1st round pick if both those conditions are met. Since the season may be scrapped, it could very well eliminate the possibility of the Devils acquiring another 1st. If Hall ends up walking, then it would not matter all that much, but there are many ways that the cancellation of this season could directly impact the teams involved in this deal. There are certainly a lot of moving parts in this trade, and it will be fascinating to see how the league handles such issues.

3. The Trade: On February 10, 2020, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded away their 2020 1st round pick (with the condition that if the Penguins miss the playoffs, they can send their 2021 1st round pick instead) along with forward Alex Galchenyuk, and prospect Calen Addison to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward Jason Zucker.

Analysis: What a strange season for the Penguins: they traded away Phil Kessel in the offseason for what seemed like scraps, they lose one of their top offensive players in Jake Guentzel for the remainder of the season, their marquee goalie loses the starting job to Tristan Jarry, who that same offseason was apparently on the trading block, and are 3-7-0 in their last 10… However, at the time of the trade, the Penguins were surging, and general manager Jim Rutherford decided to reward their injury riddled team (one of the most injured teams this season) for their hard work by going out and trading for top six forward Zucker. There is a lot to think about in this trade because at first glance, I personally thought that the Penguins gave up quite a bit for Zucker, but let’s take a closer look. Galchenyuk never really found his footing on any team he was traded to after leaving Montreal, so his $4.9M contract became more of a nuisance than anything else (albeit he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason). As we know from the Toronto Maple Leafs, trying to get rid of a bad contract often costs you, so the Wild took advantage. The Wild essentially received a 1st round pick and highly touted defensive prospect Addison for Zucker and Galchenyuk’s contract. Ok, starting to look a little better for Pittsburgh, oh ya, they also get Zucker for this season and three more after… ok it is a really good deal. In 15 games with the Penguins, Zucker potted six goals along with six assists for 12 points.

Final Thoughts: Considering that the Penguins were able to get out from under that Galchenyuk deal (again I know it is only for a few more months but still) while acquiring a solid top six forward who can play with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the next three seasons for what most likely will be a late round 1st round pick and a prospect is great. The key factor in all this is that they will have Zucker for those extra three years, he is not a rental but rather a big part of the Penguins core moving forward - that alone still makes the trade worth it.

4. The Trade: On February 16, 2020, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded away the Vancouver Canucks 2020 1st round pick (which they received from a trade in the offseason that sent J.T. Miller to Vancouver) along with prospect Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Blake Coleman.

Analysis: This is where the trades start to become a little trickier as this deal was made in hopes of bolstering the Lightning’s chance at a long playoff run. They paid a steep price for Coleman, who is on a fantastic deal and playing some of the best hockey of his career over the last two seasons. He brings everything the Lightning want, he’s got speed, skill, grit, and is a fantastic penalty killer, what is there to not like about Coleman? He is in the 2nd year of his current three-year deal that sees him making $1.8M against the cap, so again not a pure rental. The Lightning had to sweeten the deal for all the reasons mentioned above as he brings a lot to the table for a playoff run plus another full season while making less than $2M. The Lightning were first in the league in goals scored (211) before the trade deadline, then they decided to go out and bolster their offence even more by acquiring Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but we will get to him later.

Final Thoughts: If the trade had been Coleman for a 1st round pick straight up, I would not see any issue with this deal. You may lose out on his contribution for a playoff run but you still have him for another go at it the following year. However, Tampa had to also part ways with prospect Nolan Foote who was coming off a great world juniors’ tournament with team Canada, winning gold on top of an already impressive season captaining the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets with 33 points in 27 games as a 19-year-old. That extra year of Coleman definitely makes it a little easier for Tampa’s front office, and fans for that matter, to live with. But unfortunately that is the harsh reality some teams are going to be faced with if the season is ultimately cancelled.

Next we will be taking a look at the trades that occurred either on trade deadline day or the very last days leading up to it. Tune in for part 2 of this series as the trades start to get a little more interesting and a lot more fun.

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