The trade deadline is supposed to be the one day of the year when GMs make more mistakes than the other 364 days of the year combined. After all, Brian Burke said it, so it must be true.
In all fairness, it probably was true until this year. That’s because, for the most part and with very few exceptions, teams showed a remarkable amount of restraint and good judgment when it came to making their final deals of the season. In fact, of the 17 trades involving 30 players in the final day of the deadline Wednesday, the only one where a team really probably overpaid was when the Minnesota Wild acquired Jason Pominville from the Buffalo Sabres.
But even then, you could see Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s reasoning. Yes, the Wild paid a steep price to get Pominville, a very productive player who can play up and down the lineup and play the point on the power play. But the Wild are so flush with terrific young prospects that they could afford to part with Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and their first round pick in 2013 and second-rounder in 2014 in exchange for Pominville and a fourth-rounder in 2014.
So if that’s the craziest trade of the period, you’re actually doing pretty well. It seems that after years of blowing their brains out to make the biggest splash at the deadline, GMs have finally over the past couple of years recognized the deadline for what it is: a good vehicle to make tweaks to your roster and marginal improvements for the stretch drive and the playoffs. If you want to make the big blockbusters, you pretty much have to wait for draft day now.
To be sure, there wasn’t a team out there willing to take a contract that sucks, in the words of Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. And when was the last time we could say that? Teams were at least not willing to take on a contract that sucks, and have to give up something in return for it. Not yet, anyway.
(And as far as Luongo goes, it’s hard not to like the guy. But it is very, very difficult to feel sorry for him on so many levels. First of all, there are hundreds of marginal players out there who can only dream to have a contract that sucks as badly as Luongo’s. And if he’s trapped in that deal, at least he’s exiled to one of the most beautiful cities in the world and forced to take $6.7 million each of the next five seasons, or be bought out for $27 million after this season.)
The fact that none of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning would give in to the Canucks’ demands might just indicate that teams are finally looking at the big picture when it comes to these things. What they realize, and this is something the Canucks apparently don’t, is that what you get in return for trading Luongo is out from under that onerous contract. You shouldn’t have to give anything back in return, unless it’s some of your expensive junk that you need to shed in order to take on the Luongo commitment. Once Canucks GM Mike Gillis comes to grips with the fact that the $5.3 million he’ll gain in cap space is every bit as valuable a commodity as a player or prospect, the quicker this deal will get done. In fact, Gillis is right. Trading Luongo shouldn’t be that difficult. All he has to do is bring his price down to essentially nothing.
But a good number of teams displayed restraint. Prior to the deadline, the San Jose Sharks were apparently seeking a first round pick in return for Ryane Clowe, who in turn was making a demand that the team acquiring him give him a contract extension. Neither of those things happened when the New York Rangers picked him up and Clowe responded to the situation by scoring his first two goals of the season in his first game as a Ranger.
With a few exceptions, most teams stayed away from dealing away their first round picks and/or crown jewel prospects at this year’s deadline. As good as Larsson and Hackett are, they were the Wild’s sixth- and seventh-best prospects in THN’s annual Future Watch. And the Columbus Blue Jackets managed to land Marian Gaborik without trading one of the three first-rounders they own in this year’s draft, instead getting the struggling scorer for two decent roster players in Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett, a defense prospect in John Moore and a sixth round pick in 2014. Clearly, the Blue Jackets are saving those picks for draft day, either to use them on the deep player pool available or make them part of a package for a bigger trade on the draft floor.
It might not make for the sexy made-for-TV bonanza deadline day had become for the networks in Canada, but it’s probably better for most of the teams involved. This year was supposed to be a seller’s market, which usually means teams will overpay, but that simply didn’t happen. Perhaps the hockey world is finally figuring out the trade deadline. Now if it could only do the same with the salary cap.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.