DENVER Three rounds later, Nick Paul still had a big smile on his face when asked how it felt to eliminate the Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Arena.
“It was huge,” said the Tampa Bay Lightning forward, born in Mississauga. “That’s an arena I’ve been in my whole life, since I was growing up. I go watch the Leafs there. And then to have my brother at that last game, and have the game that I did, and then for us to knock off the Leafs is pretty special for me.”
That Paul rose to the occasion in Game 7 of that series — he scored the winner in Tampa’s 2-1 win — only served to make Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois look even smarter for the way he handles the NHL’s trade deadline.
Paul also scored in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Colorado Avalanche, making the most of an opportunity he never expected after starting the season with the Ottawa Senators.
“In Ottawa, you’re not used to losing, but it’s part of building, it’s part of learning how to win,” Paul said. “Coming to a team that already knows how to win, you come to the room, you can feel it — the leaders. You’re down in the game, there’s confidence that someone’s going to step up and we’re never out of a game.
“It’s just definitely a big change. We are all after one thing and that’s a Stanley Cup, so having that opportunity coming to Tampa Bay was a great move for me.”
Paul and forward Brandon Hagel are the kind of additions BriseBois has become known for during a tenure that has resulted in consecutive Stanley Cups, with the team now vying for a third.
“Tampa rewrote how we look at trades,” said former player and executive Brian Lawton, now an analyst with NHL Network. “They were out at the forefront certainly in saying, ‘Hey, let’s spend our assets if we have to, in a big way, for the right players as long as we can get more than just that deadline out of it.’”
The vast majority of trade-deadline pickups never sip from the Cup. In fact, only 26 of more than 1,100 players who have moved on deadline day since 1980 have their names on the trophy, though that number could grow this year.
If Colorado wins, Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano will be added to the list. Tampa added Paul the day prior to the deadline and Hagel a few days before. Colorado picked up Josh Manson a week before.
There was a time — still is, for some — when teams would add a veteran or two to plug a hole. The Leafs tried Brian Boyle, Tomas Plekanec and Nick Foligno, trading high draft picks and prospects in exchange for players who ended up doing little, and moved on the following season.
It’s not just the Leafs. The Florida Panthers made a big splash this year by getting all-star forward Claude Giroux from the Flyers. The Minnesota Wild were supposed to have a different fate after acquiring proven goalie Marc-André Fleury from the Blackhawks.
BriseBois takes a different approach. He raised eyebrows in 2020 by adding forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman — essentially in mid-career — for high picks and prospects. But Goodrow and Coleman stayed for back-to-back Cup victories. BriseBois got long-term value. Such is the case this year with Hagel, just 24 and signed for two more years.
The Avalanche tried that approach by bringing in Lehkonen from Montreal, an impending restricted free agent they intend to re-sign. Paul and Manson will be unrestricted free agents.
“The Tampa Bay Lightning have done an unbelievable job of replenishing the players that they lost,” said Islanders analyst Butch Goring. “You have specific needs of those guys. I think that’s not as easy as people might think it is. I tip my hat to the Lightning. They’ve done a really good job of getting people to fit the spots.”
The March 10, 1980 deal that saw the Islanders land Goring is widely believed to have kick-started the trading frenzy we see nowadays. Goring made a terrific team even better, on the way to four straight championships.
Now Goring is analyzing trades around the league for MSG Network. He said it’s not always easy for a new player to walk into the room.
“When you make a trade, teammates lose good teammates and friends — people forget about that,” he said. “The guys that leave are leaving behind friendships, and there’s friendships in the dressing room. No one’s really all very thrilled about a trade or an acquisition. But when it goes well, it makes the transition just a whole lot better.”
Paul said his new teammates made him feel at home right away.
“Totally new team can be nerve-wracking — you wonder how you’re going to fit in — but the guys were amazing,” he said. “As soon as I got traded, I got eight texts welcoming me to the team. They took me right away out for dinner. Right away, they made me feel part of the team.”
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