It's that time of year again, kids: The NHL Trade Deadline Season. General Managers around the league are phoning/texting/sending telegrams (can you do that anymore?) back and forth, trying to put together "The Deal" - the trade which will give their team the boost they need in order to have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. The $10,000 Question is: When is a trade deadline deal the right thing to do? Just like everyone else, we OGA Boys have our own opinions on the subject, and today, we're going to share them with you.
What follows is three separate answers to the question, written individually by Frozen Pill, The Colonel, and Big Tex. Combined, it's our first OGA Joint Production. Enjoy!
FROZEN PILL'S TAKE:
WHEN should a team "rent" a player at the trade deadline?
As a general rule, I do not like seeing a team trade away valuable assets (the future, via draft picks or prospects) to obtain a ‘rental’ player for a post-season run. Assuming salary cap status for the organizations is not in play for such a deal, there are two scenarios in which I envision a ‘rental player’ acquisition as being a viable option.
SCENARIO 1 (rarely in play):
An NHL team must make a post-season appearance in any given season in order to generate enough revenue to continue to exist in its current location. If the books are that bad, there are many concerns needing to be addressed but there is no doubt a blockbuster move and/or acquisition of a marquis player (sniper or goalie) generates buzz in the local and national media and will help the butt-to-seat ratio move in a positive direction.
SCENARIO 2 (with pros/cons and caveats):
IF a team has been comfortably positioned in the top 6ish of its conference for the majority of the season and…
IF said team is obviously on track for spring hockey (Chicago is a good example this season) as measured, not only by the standings, but by the health of team chemistry, quality coaching, and backed by a sense of momentum, THEN the rental option is indeed an acceptable gamble.
Because it is a gamble to sign a soon-to-be-free agent to wear a team’s colors for months in hopes the newly acquired player is the ‘missing element’ for that season. More often it costs the signing team too much in terms of ‘player currency’ as they usually have to give up younger players with promise.
Every NHL team puts thousands of man-hours into scouting, courting, drafting and developing players in their unique system and organization. Trading away perhaps even just one of these ‘products’ for a loaner from another team can be more costly in the long term. And very often, it is more than one prospect that is moved.
Again, it comes down to chemistry. Will the departure of the players sacrificed to the Cup Runneth Over altar affect the existing team’s unity adversely? Will the Rental land on the right line combination soon enough to be as effective as the stats should indicate?
And what about those pesky Hockey gods? If a team moves some good players, draft picks or prospects only to find their ‘answer’ is injured in the second game after the trade deadline the deal doesn’t look so good to anybody. Aye, there’s the rub.
It’s always going to be a gamble to invest what a team must in order to obtain the ‘missing element’ player an organization feels they need for the long run at the Cup. And if it proves to be a good bet, it looks like genius in retrospect. This gamble is best made by the team who believes their time is now…that this is their season…and they have the numbers to back it.
In other words: If Chicago has to give up some treasure from their plentiful chest to obtain Ilya Kovalchuk by the trade deadline, this would be a good year to do so. The New York Rangers, on the other hand, for the sake of their fans, have no business even calling Atlanta.
THE COLONEL'S TAKE:
The subject is when should a team pay the steep price a rental player costs? I prefer to answer this (as I usually do) with some reverse logic. What should be asked is when is it too late for a new player to make a difference? Past the fact that more often than not one player and the mojo he brings is nowhere near the only thing a team needs, the answer is when that trade is irrelevant to the Playoff picture.
As we close in on Game 60 for every NHL team, the only ones a trade is currently relevant to in the Eastern Conference are:
Atlanta – Though called at Tee Time by OGA, they B-A-R-E-L-Y made the minimum requirements for OUT of the Playoffs when the call was made. They sit a point behind the 6th and 7th seeds right now, so a little something is all they need to spark their team. Something like damn good, consistent goaltending would be just enough. This is certainly NOT the time to contemplate losing their top scorer to a trade deadline mishap, but it is time no later than Game 60 to bring in the best netminder on the block that doesn’t cost them a Kovalchuk.
Boston – Wow! What a change a year makes. They have actually needed their trade deadline met since the week after the Winter Classic. Apparently, they can only score when Marc Savard is not injured. So the team has been in need of a trade for some scoring since 2 January/Game 40.
Florida – A team on the verge again. It seems like they need a replacement for injured forwards, some blue line scoring AND some cushion in case more injuries occur. Hind sight being 20/20, someone who is a 25 – 30 goal scorer plus a 10-goaler on defense were needed about 22 January/Game 51, the day after they lost Nathan Horton.
NY Rangers – How do you trade for a stable psyche when you cannot dump Wade Redden’s cap hit? Let’s say the Rangers could. As tight as the race for the last Eastern Conference Playoff slot(s) is (are), and IF they knew they would be on a five-game losing streak beginning 21 January, they would have wanted to make changes to stave off the losses on 20 January/after Game 50.
In the Western Conference, trades may be more relevant to a few more teams than in the East:
Anaheim – I would say let’s see how the Toskala and Blake for Giguere trade plays out, but I firmly believe the need for a stronger defense has been there for the Ducks all season long. OGA called them at Tee Time on December 31/Game 30. Their true need to change things occurred in the midst of losing six games in seven 29 November – 11 December or by Game 32.
Calgary – I WILL reserve my comments about whether or not the blockbuster with Toronto has done the trick. Certainly it could not come much later this year as the Flames were in the midst of a two-wins-in-13-games skid. Let’s see f this trade at Game 56 is enough.
Detroit – The rub with the Red Wings is if they were completely healthy, to simply make the Playoffs while not leading the Conference could be done if everyone was healthy. Maybe they could have used a scoring forward back when Franzen went down in light of the off-season losses, but whom would they have traded? So I say this team could not have improved their lot with a trade.
Dallas – I do not think Dallas has the financial wherewithal to trade for what they need. A Power Play quarterback has not been present since the injury bug began hitting Sergei Zubov seasons ago. They would need a presence on the order of a Pronger, Scott Niedermeyer, or Lidstrom and could only afford more like an Ian White. Since the answer would be somewhere in the middle, a bring mark Streit to Dallas campaign would have been good over the summer. And consistency in goal would help. So, being generous, I would offer around Game 50 trading Marty Turco for an elite D-man would have been a good call.
Minnesota – A trade by this team was not needed. What was required was the team that appeared at Game 22 to be the one skating in the previous 21 games. Since Game 22 and as of the end of January, the team has gone 20-11-2, or played .637 Hockey. Applied to the entire season, on 1 February the team would have been holding 70 points and either 3rd or 5th place in the Conference. Call this team a wash with no trade needed.
Nashville – This team may just make it as is. Let’s say they hang in there well until the trade deadline and get that last, crucial, blue collar piece they need to complete their team for a Playoff run. That will be after Game 53.
If a team is not listed above, they are already either going to make it, or a trade is for the future because it’s just not happening this year.
In reading the above, it is easy to see that the trade deadline is relative to each team’s situation. As an overall average, however, the answer is that the deadline should have happened by Game 48, or by mid-January this season in order to have a true impact on the season’s outcome.
Lest you call that a copout, see the blog I wrote entitled “When To Execute The Trade Deadline” on 23 January 2009. I am sticking to my guns.
BIG TEX'S TAKE:
The Question: When is a trade deadline move appropriate – in other words, should a team mortgage the future (i.e., trade draft picks and prospects) merely to secure a playoff seed, or should a move only be made if doing so will give the club a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup?
The Answer (or An Answer, anyway):
The merits of patiently developing prospects and slowly building a contender vs. trading those prospects for proven veterans in order to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup NOW can be debated ad infinitum, but in the end, it’s all about the Benjamins, baby. Playoff teams practically print money during their run for the Cup. As this chart indicates, the 2007-08 Dallas Stars generated an average of $950,000 in ticket revenue for each regular season home game. During their nine playoff home games, the Stars earned an average of $2,000,000 per game. The net result was that the Stars’ playoff run in the Spring of 2008 increased their ticket revenue by roughly 46%! As players aren’t paid during the playoffs, that extra ticket revenue is huge for teams. Quite often, it’s the difference between finishing the season with a profit, or a loss.
Thus, GM’s around the NHL must make a critical decision each year: Is playoff revenue this year more important than (potential) playoff revenue in the coming years? Often, the decision is complicated by another consideration: the fans. Fans don’t care about playoff revenue, profits or (financial) losses; they just want to WIN.THE.CUP. Failure to make the playoffs, particularly over several seasons, erodes the season ticket base. On the other hand, getting into the playoffs will boost (at least temporarily) season ticket sales.
If you ever wondered what was running through Atlanta GM Don Waddell’s head in the Spring of ’07, when he sent young Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia for Alexei Zhitnik, or Glen Metropolit and three draft picks (2007 1st & 3rd round and 2008 2nd round) to St. Louis for Keith Tkachuk (who returned to the Blues as a UFA the following summer), now you know. Waddell’s moves paid off, and the Thrashers earned the first playoff berth in franchise history. Though they were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers, Atlanta received a much-needed cash infusion for their two home playoff games, and saw a bump in season ticket sales the following season. That one foray into the postseason gave longtime Thrashers fans hope, and created new fans in the process. Though Atlanta’s attendance woes continue, there can be no doubt that the numbers would be even lower, were it not for their 2007 playoff run.
In conclusion, it’s not about winning now vs. long-term; rather, it’s money now vs. long-term that NHL GM’s have to consider above all else.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis.