So he waited and waited all day for that last shoe to drop. And when it did, all New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow could pry loose from the Montreal Canadiens for the prize jewel of the 2014 NHL trade deadline day, Thomas Vanek, was … Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick.
That's it? That's all?
It was a trend around the league Wednesday, as the buyers at the deadline had a rare good day. Unlike past years, when teams often sacrificed valuable assets in the name of short-term gains, GMs collectively kept their sanity – with the possible exception of New York Rangers boss Glen Sather – and refused to pay exorbitant prices to rent assets that may or may not make a difference in the stretch drive and into the playoffs.
It was a fascinating dynamic to watch. As the 3 p.m. (EST) deadline approached, most of the high-profile rentals were still on the board.
Only the Los Angeles Kings acted early, acquiring winger Marian Gaborik (an elite goal-scorer when healthy) from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The price was a player they weren't playing (Matt Frattin), plus a second- and a conditional third-round draft choice. It was a big win for the Kings, who badly needed to jump-start their slumping offence, and got the Blue Jackets to pick up a portion of Gaborik's $7.5-million (U.S.) contract as well.
As the details of the final deals slowly leaked out, it became clear GMs acquiring assets knew what they were prepared to pay, didn't overbid and ultimately played a series of winning hands.
The Minnesota Wild landed Matt Moulson and the price was a fourth-line winger (Torrey Mitchell, who'd asked for a trade), plus two second-rounders. The Ottawa Senators grabbed Ales Hemsky for a third- and a fifth-round pick – cheap for someone they plan to slot in on the No. 1 line with centre Jason Spezza.
The Detroit Red Wings needed reinforcements down the middle because injuries and landed David Legwand, the long-serving Nashville Predators centre, for Patrick Eaves, a third-round pick and a prospect.
The Calgary Flames were shopping soon-to-be-unrestricted free-agent Michael Cammalleri but couldn't get enough value for him and so, Cammalleri stays to play out the string.
Considering how stingy GMs were Wednesday, the Flames actually got decent value for moving two smaller parts – a second-rounder from the Colorado Avalanche for goaltender Reto Berra, and a third-rounder from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Lee Stempniak.
Historically, the rule of thumb at the deadline is: Sellers usually win over the long haul, because only one team ever wins the Stanley Cup. Frequently, there is buyers' remorse among the also-rans, especially ones that mortgage integral parts of their future to win now – and then don't.
That seems unlikely this year.
Four of the top-five teams in the Western Conference – Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and Avalanche – liked their clubs well enough to virtually stand pat.
The St. Louis Blues, another team with a chance to win it all, picked up a starting goalie (Ryan Miller) last Friday, while the Kings and Wild each added one quality forward and left it at that.
Presumably, it's a sign teams are analyzing more closely the risk/reward ratio of going all-in and discovering that, historically, it rarely pays off.
The other aberration this year was the number of goaltenders who changed teams – six in the days leading up to the deadline, and six more on Wednesday, including Jaroslav Halak, who was traded twice in a five-day span.
The Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers swapped backups: Dan Ellis for Tim Thomas. The Washington Capitals traded a goalie with some promise, Michal Neuvirth, to the Buffalo Sabres for Halak, who could theoretically wrest the starting job away from Braden Holtby. Berra and Devan Dubnyk (to Montreal from Nashville) were picked up as insurance, though Colorado will try to sign Berra to a contract extension as the back-up to Semyon Varlamov.
Trying to assess winners and losers in the immediate aftermath of an NHL trade deadline can be counterproductive, although Wednesday brought the Islanders' front-office miscalculations into sharper focus.
After surrendering first- and second-round picks, plus Moulson, to get Vanek from the Sabres early in the season, the fact they got such a negligible return when they put him back on the market suggests the ice under Snow must be getting awfully fragile this spring.
Follow me on Twitter: @eduhatschek