It was trade deadline day in 1999 and Bob Gainey and his staff were beginning to get antsy. In a bid to win their third straight Stanley Cup, the Detroit Red Wings had just loaded up with Chris Chelios, Wendel Clark and Bill Ranford and all Gainey had to show for his wheeling and dealing was defenseman Doug Lidster, whom he picked up from the Canadian national team, and depth forward Derek Plante, whom he snagged from Buffalo for a second-rounder.
At one point late in the day, Gainey looked around the Dallas Stars war room at his scouts and other executives and basically said, “You know what? I like our team. We’re in first place overall and we’re not going to worry about what other teams are doing. We’re not going to make changes for the sake of making changes.”
So the Stars essentially did nothing at the trade deadline and went on to win their first and only Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Over the next 24 hours or so, we’re going to be exposed to a dizzying flurry of trade rumors and actual deals, the vast majority of which will end up being of little or no consequence. Though that’s the case, it would be wrong to assume the trade deadline is overrated, because the fact is a good number of deals of impact have been done at the trade deadline.
But here is the key when considering deals at the deadline. With very, very few exceptions, it’s not the deals for rental players that end up being the best ones at the deadline. The GMs who approach the deadline with the philosophy of making their teams better in both the short- and long-term are the ones who end up making the best last-minute deals.
One exception, of course, was the Carolina Hurricanes, who in 2006 traded a bunch of inconsequential players and some high draft picks to get Mark Recchi and Doug Weight at the deadline. Recchi and Weight each scored 16 points as the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Recchi, in particular, supplied the Hurricanes with some big goals and was a difference maker for them. Both players left the Hurricanes for other teams in the off-season and Carolina got full value for the rentals.
But can anyone name another time when a team went out and got strictly a rental player – by that we mean a player who played the rest of that season and moved on afterward – at the trade deadline who went on to lead them to a Stanley Cup? Anyone? Anyone? (All right, we’ll give you Glenn Anderson to the New York Rangers in 1994, if you consider a guy scoring three goals and six points in 23 playoff games an integral member of a Stanley Cup champion.)
The really good GMs, though, don’t look at the deadline as exclusively a quick fix for this season, while worrying about the future later. In fact, one of the most underrated aspects of the trade deadline is that, if approached properly, it can set even the buying teams up for the long-term future quite nicely.
For example, when the Red Wings acquired Chelios in 1999, they probably didn’t know he’d still be playing for them 10 years later, but they did know he still had some good years left in him. Wings GM Ken Holland acquired an expiring contract when he picked up Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings for two draft picks at the deadline last year, but don’t think for one minute that Holland didn’t think he could re-sign Stuart long-term when he made the deal.
Another misconception about the trade deadline is that teams unloading veteran talent often use deadline deals to pick up young players who will become stars for them in future years. But again, the empirical evidence simply doesn’t bear that out. There are a ton of examples of teams using deadline deals to get draft picks with which they took future stars, but there are surprisingly few trades in which teams got actual young players who later blossomed into impact players for them.
So what are we to learn from all of this? That trade deadline day has to be put into proper perspective. Chances are if a team is chasing rental players in an attempt to win it all this season with little or no regard to the future, its chances of coming out of the deadline in a better situation are remote. Even going back to the deadline deal that started all this madness when the New York Islanders got Butch Goring in 1980, it was a move that helped the Islanders win four straight Stanley Cups, not just one.
The same goes for Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh, Larry Murphy to Detroit and Rob Blake and Ray Bourque to Colorado. Some of them paid immediate dividends and some of them didn’t, but all those players stuck around for a couple of years and remained a large part of their teams’ success.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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