Every NHL season, once the Holiday Roster Freeze lifts and the calendar changes years, teams start to build up to the explosion of trading on deadline day.

Teams that are “selling” like to wait for the deadline to see if they can get a bidding war or a desperate buyer. Teams that are “buying” like to wait to see if the price comes down. They also want to limit the cap hit of the players they acquire so they don’t have cap troubles for the remainder of the regular season.

One other reason to wait for deadline day is that the roster limit is lifted at the deadline, so teams don’t have to risk a player on waivers to make room for the new guy unless they have to make cap space.

But not everyone waits. When he was GM of the Leafs, Lou Lamoriello showed himself as the GM who liked to kick things off in the week or so leading up to the deadline. This year, Kyle Dubas, as he’s making a habit of, took Lamoriello’s style and tweaked to maximize the return on his investment by making a shockingly early trade for a major player.

A refresher on last year’s trades might tell us what types of trades happen when, for all the other teams out there, and how smart they look in hindsight. Beginning with the end of the roster freeze and running to the day before deadline day, these are all the deals that were made:

Dec. 30: New Jersey sent Dalton Prout to the Flames for Eddie Lack.

Whatever the intent, this ended up being an AHL trade, and those are common at this point in the season.

January 4: Edmonton acquired Al Montoya from Montréal for a fourth-round pick in 2019.

Montoya played some games last year, and is in the AHL for the Oilers this season.

January 10: Chicago acquired Anthony Duclair and Adam Clendening from Arizona for Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin.

This is a typical trade between two frequent trading partners that makes you wonder who came out better at the time. Duclair and Clendening both signed with Columbus as free agents, so Chicago ended up without the cap hit of Panik, who they’d overpaid, and nothing else. Arizona actually kept both of their players instead of trading them on. Dauphin is in the AHL, and Panik has suddenly stopped scoring when he’s not playing with Chicago’s top lines.

January 22: Arizona acquired John Ramage from Columbus for future considerations.

Futures deals are often half of a trade where the other half is a guy on an AHL contract.

January 22: Columbus acquired Jeff Zatkoff from the Kings for future considerations.

AHL deal.

January 31: Tampa Bay acquired Eddie Pasquale from Edmonton for future considerations.

Another goalie deal, another AHL-only deal, but he played one game this season for Tampa, which I believe they won because of course they did.

February 3: Dallas acquired Andrew O’Brien from Nashville for Mark McNeill.

February 5: Vegas acquired Zac Leslie for future considerations.

February 8: New Jersey acquired Christoph Bertschy and Mario Lucia from Minnesota for Viktor Loov.

February 9: Washington acquired Adam Chapie and Joe Whitney from the Rangers for John Albert and Hubert Labrie.

AHL deals.

February 13: Los Angeles acquired Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson from Ottawa for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.

Phaneuf isn’t very good anymore, but at the time he was in LA’s top four due to injuries. Except now they’re stuck with his salary, even though Ottawa retained $1.750 million on the deal. Thompson has five points in 44 games for LA this season, which is one less than he had in 26 games with them last year, but his contract is about to run out.

Gaborik played 16 games for the Sens last year, and is now on LTIR, perhaps permanently. If his contract is insured, then to be honest, even with the retained, the Sens won this one, even though the hole they were digging out of was one of their own making, one they made trying to dig out of another hole. Nick Shore, the man who mystified fans by not getting signed this summer, is in the KHL and not doing all that hot.

February 15: Chicago acquired Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa for Ville Pokka.

DiDomenico, once a Leafs draft pick, played for the now head coach of Chicago in the AHL last year and was excellent. He moved back to Europe when no one wanted to sign him for the NHL. Pokka did well enough in the AHL and moved to the KHL this year where he’s doing better.

Nominally a trade of tweeners who couldn’t make their NHL clubs, this was really just the last stage before the inevitable departure for the big ice for both of them.

February 15: St. Louis acquired Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto for a fourth-round pick in 2019.

Some Leafs fans were outraged, which is only to be expected, since everyone overvalues their own prospects. The Leafs have retained the pick so far, and will likely use it at the draft. Soshnikov has two points in 17 NHL games spread over two seasons. He’s barely played in the AHL, where he’s been okay, but not great. He looks destined for a return to the KHL.

At this point last year, teams had been mostly swapping AHLers and their excess borderline players. What’s interesting is how many of those sorts of deals happened very early this season, with a host of them on the books in the first week of January. With the next trade, a week before the deadline last year, the first really meaningful deal flew right under the radar:

February 19: Washington acquired Michal Kempny from Chicago for a third-round pick in 2018.

This trade is reason number one why I think Chicago fired the wrong guy when they got rid of their coach and not the GM. Kempny was outstanding for Washington after never cracking the Chicago lineup. He’s got his name on the cup, so that makes him the winner of this trade.

The pick was conditional, so Chicago actually got the Leafs third-round pick which was the 87th overall. Wait, what?

The Leafs gave up that pick in compensation for hiring Lou Lamoriello. New Jersey traded it to Washington as part of the Marcus Johansson deal, and this is the pick Washington gave up for Kempny. But we’re not done yet.

Chicago, who needs to block John Chayka’s number, traded up at the draft with Arizona and got the 74th overall for the 87th plus a fifth-rounder. If the guy Chicago took with that pick, Niklas Nordgren, works out better than he looks right now, then I guess they haven’t totally failed. Arizona then traded the pick, because of course they did, to the Sharks, who were trading up to a third rounder with a fourth and a fifth.

The Sharks have a reputation as very shrewd drafters and they made a very smart trade up to get an incredibly good player in Alexander Chmelvski in the past. This time they took Linus Karlsson (because you can never have too many sons of Karl). So far, he’s not really impressing in his first full season out of junior, but you never know.

However Karlsson turns out, this trade might be the single best deadline deal made in recent memory.

February 19: Philadelphia acquired (wait for it) a goalie! Petr Mrazek arrived from the Red Wings for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional (on re-signing) third-round pick in 2019.

Mrazek did not save the Flyers. They lost to Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs and Mrazek played in one game, although his .857 was the best save percentage of any Flyers goalie in that series, so naturally they let him walk, and kept that second draft pick. Mrazek has been a very replacement-level backup in Carolina this season, which makes him better than most of the seven goalies Philly has iced so far.

Detroit, a team that uses its picks fairly well, took Seth Barton at 81st overall. He’s playing NCAA hockey, so it will be years before we can say how well that worked out.

February 20: Boston acquired Nick Holden from the Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a third-round pick.

O’Gara is an AHLer.  This deal seemed like a good insurance move for Boston, but the pick was maybe a bit of an overpay. Holden only played in two of Boston’s playoff games, and he signed in Vegas over the summer, where naturally he is suddenly a much better player.

The Rangers used the pick, 88th overall, to take Joey Keane, an OHL defender. He was traded to the London Knights just a few weeks ago, so that means he’s good in the OHL at least.

February 20: San Jose acquired Eric Fehr from Toronto for a seventh round pick in 2020.

Fehr was really good for the Sharks in the playoffs, and now he’s a good depth player for the Wild. I have never been sure why he didn’t work out for the Leafs, but the answer might simply be skating speed. At the end of the day, any draft pick is likely better than a depth player who isn’t quite your team’s style.

February 21: Washington acquired Jakub Jerabek from Montréal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Washington’s second insurance defender didn’t end up as good as Kempny, but he did appear in two playoff games. He’s in the AHL now, which is likely his level in North America. Montréal made a smart play to move him on.

February 21: Los Angeles acquired Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona for Darcy Kuemper.

This was one of LA’s weirder moves. They had an extra backup, so they moved him on, but all they got back was an AHL goalie and Rieder. Rieder never scored much for Arizona, he didn’t score much in LA, and now he’s in Edmonton not scoring. The Kings didn’t even keep Wedgewood. A fourth-round pick would have been a much better take here.

Arizona has been stuck playing Kuemper as their starter this season with Antti Raanta out, and he’s about league average. So, Arizona “won” this deal, but what they got was nothing of any great value.

February 22: Florida acquired Frank Vatrano from Boston for a third-round pick in 2018.

Boston sheds young, square-peg players like Philly goes through goalies. Vatrano was excellent for the Panthers as they very nearly made the playoffs, and he’s been a decent third-liner sort this season.

Boston took Jakub Lauko with the pick, 77th overall, and he was a noticeable player in the WJC this season. He’s a scrappy and tough winger who scores at a rate in the Q a little too low for comfort. If I had to compare him to someone, I might pick Frank Vatrano.

February 22: New Jersey acquired Michael Grabner from the Rangers for Yegor Rykov and a second-round pick in 2018.

Grabner hit one of his lulls on the Devils, and didn’t help them much. He’s happily playing in Arizona now, where lulls seem to just be expected, tolerated, and go unremarked upon.

The pick was traded by the Rangers when they traded up to grab K’Andre Miller, a very good defenceman who went a little low in the draft for some reason. The Rangers added a lesser first to this pick, and got Ottawa’s 22nd overall to draft Miller, and that is a win for the Rangers. The Sens took Jonathan Tychonick with the second rounder from this trade, and that’s likely a fine choice for them at 48th overall.

Rykov, a defender, is playing regular KHL shifts at 21, so that’s a good sign there. The Rangers did great in this trade, and it pays to be a seller of UFAs of Grabner’s sort. It usually doesn’t pay to be the buyer.

February 23: Pittsburgh acquired Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg, a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa acquired Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick; Vegas acquired Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick.

This monster. The Penguins needed a player like Brassard, even if he didn’t get them another cup. He turned out to be one of those players who “doesn’t fit” and the Penguins just moved him to Florida, where he’s poised to go to Columbus in a Bobrovsky deal, it seems. Lindberg is an AHLer, and the Penguins traded up with the pick plus another to the second round to take Filip Hållander, who is a good player. They gave up a first to Ottawa though.

That first ultimately became K’Andre Miller, and Ottawa used the picks they got from the Rangers in that deal to take Tychonick as mentioned above, and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Add in Gustavsson, who is a good goalie prospect, and they did okay out of Brassard, who they should have never traded for in the first place, but that’s Ottawa.

Vegas is in this deal because they essentially sold some cap space by retaining salary on Brassard. Ryan Reaves has been touched by the Vegas Magic, and they like him enough that they re-signed him.  Their pick became Slava Demin, a DU defender from California, as you expected from that name. He’s a lottery ticket. But that’s a good price for some unused cap space, and the smarts to make a clever deal.

So, who won? The Rangers. The fact that they moved out Brassard for Mika Zibanejad in the first place, plus the K’Andre Miller draft puts them ahead. In other words, it’s easier to win when you’re the team rebuilding when you should be rebuilding and not coming in too late like Ottawa has done.

February 24: The Islanders acquired Brandon Davidson from Edmonton in exchange for a 2019 third-round pick.

Waste of a pick. I’d say the Oilers won this one if they hadn’t spend the last few weeks trading for depth defenders worse than this guy.

That’s it for the pre-show to last year’s trade deadline. With the exception of the monster Brassard deal, all the major trades began on February 25 as trade fever hit in earnest. That post will be up soon.