Ken Holland gave two players away for free. Bill Guerin could be excused if he was caught yawning.
The NHL draft floor has historically seen a plethora of trade activity as TV cameras fixate on general managers with phones pressed to ears trying to swing blockbuster deals.
The COVID-19 pandemic and a salary cap that’s barely budged in five years has made that a significant challenge.
Teams got back to wheeling and dealing on the second day of the NHL draft after the quietest opening round on the trade front in 16 years — there were exactly zero moves conceived Wednesday night — but only a couple of GMs were able to make up for lost time.
The Oilers made the biggest dent Thursday, shipping wingers Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin to the Detroit Red Wings for future considerations in a salary dump that gives Edmonton some cap flexibility ahead of free agency.
But that was pretty much it in a league that will see the cap rise US$1 million in 2023-24 to $83.5 million. The number stood at $81.5 million in 2019-20 before the pandemic ravaged NHL business.
“It just gets tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter,” said Holland, Edmonton’s GM. “Teams that have cap space, they’re on the (rise) or they’re rebuilding. They have to decide if they want to spend money or not.”
The Chicago Blackhawks acquired Josh Bailey and a 2026 second-round pick from the New York Islanders — also for future considerations earlier Thursday. The veteran forward was reportedly placed on waivers to execute a buyout of the final year of his contract, which carries a US$5 million cap hit.
Chicago, which secured phenom Connor Bedard with the draft’s first selection Wednesday, also picked up winger Corey Perry from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a seventh-rounder in 2024 in hopes of signing the 38-year-old pending unrestricted free agent.
“That was pretty boring,” Guerin, GM of the Minnesota Wild, said of the lack of trade activity. “Maybe teams just aren’t prepared to move on yet or to just get anything done.
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said there’s very little wiggle room around the league.
“A supply and demand question,” he said. “Somebody might want to pay you a bigger price for what could be a salary dump for another team because they really like the player.
“And sometimes you get two players for free like Detroit did today just for salary cap reasons.”
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving said his goal was to acquire more picks, but even that was difficult.
“That was probably our No. 1 priority … ultimately nothing happened,” he said. “People have talked for awhile of the depth of this draft and the strength of this draft. It was hard to pry it away.”
The Calgary Flames were the first Canadian team to make a selection Thursday, taking defenceman Etienne Morin of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats at No. 48 as the draft pivoted to rounds two through seven on the heels of Wednesday’s 32 picks.
“Whether I was going in the first round or seventh round, I would have been happy,” Morin said. “Just wanted to get drafted.”
Calgary then got winger Aydar Suniev (80th), centre Jaden Lipinski (112th), goaltender Yegor Yegorov (176th) and defenceman Axel Hurtig (208th).
The Oilers took blueliner Beau Ackey (56th), goaltender Nathaniel Day (184th) and centre Matt Copponi (216th).
The Montreal Canadiens, who picked blueliner David Reinbacher fifth overall, added goaltender Jacob Fowler (69th), winger Florian Xhekaj (101st), defenceman Bogdan Konyushkov (110th), goaltender Quentin Miller (128th), winger Sam Harris (133rd), goaltender Yevgeni Volokhin (144th), centre Filip Eriksson (165th) and defenceman Luke Mittelstadt (197th).
The Senators didn’t have a pick until the fourth round when they took defenceman Hoyt Stanley (108th). Ottawa then secured defenceman Matthew Andonovski (140th), centre Owen Beckner (204th), goaltender Vladimir Nikitin (207) and winger Nicholas Vantassell (215th).
The Leafs added centre Hudson Malinoski (153rd) and defenceman Noah Chadwick (185th).
The Vancouver Canucks chose defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz (75th), defenceman Sawyer Mynio (89th), centre Ty Mueller (105th), winger Vilmer Alriksson (107th), centre Matthew Perkins (119th) and defenceman Aiden Celebrini (171st).
The Winnipeg Jets took winger Zach Nehring (82nd), centre Jacob Julien (146th), goaltender Thomas Milic (151st) — Canada’s gold-medal winning netminder at the 2023 world juniors passed over in two previous drafts — and winger Connor Levis (210th).
There were nine trades involving picks, but just four NHLers changed teams in those three other moves that included a salary dump, a pending UFA, and an impending buyout.
“This is my fifth year (with the Oilers),” Holland said with free agency set to open Saturday at 12 p.m. ET. “The cap’s moved $2 million. It should probably move three to four every year if there was no pandemic, but there was a pandemic.
“It’s unique times.”