Team Canada isn’t just another team, and the Heritage Classic isn’t just another game.
Because of that, no two decisions had a bigger impact on the NHL trade deadline than the original Team Canada roster and the Vancouver Canucks’ starting goaltender for last weekend’s outdoor game.
Had Steve Yzerman put Martin St. Louis on Sochi Olympic team from the start, and had Canucks coach John Tortorella chosen to start Roberto Luongo last weekend at B.C. Place, those two stars likely would not have found themselves in different places.
Like a puck hitting the post and bouncing in or out, those moves changed the course of history.
“If Torts would’ve put Roberto in the net, I wouldn’t have called (GM Mike Gillis) and Roberto wouldn’t have been worried about anything,” Luongo’s agent, Pat Brisson, said in a phone interview. “We wouldn’t have been talking, and I wouldn’t have been asking to be granted permission to speak to teams, so therefore he might’ve still be a Canuck today.”
Instead, Luongo returned to the Florida Panthers as Gillis sought a different direction for the Canucks’ organization.
Yzerman, serving in a dual role as Canada’s executive director and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s general manager, appeared to sense that trouble might be afoot after announcing the roster on Jan. 7. He wanted to be wrong.
“I’m hopeful that we can get through this and continue to play,” Yzerman said. “He’s a guy that I want to finish his career (in Tampa).”
Less than two months later and less than two weeks after winning a gold medal with St. Louis playing a role as an injury replacement for Steven Stamkos, Yzerman ensured that wouldn’t happen by trading his captain to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan and two draft picks. That happened only after the 38-year-old winger asked for a trade and Yzerman “honoured his request.”
St. Louis expressed gratitude to owner Jeff Vinik and Yzerman for that.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Vinik, Steve Yzerman to honour my wishes,” he told reporters in New York after making his Rangers debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Yzerman didn’t have to trade St. Louis, but he didn’t want to let an unhappy player’s emotions fester within the locker-room of a team very much set up to make the playoffs.
“I try not to overreact to any situation—you think it through,” Yzerman told reporters in Tampa, Fla. “As a manager you always have to look out for what’s best for the organization.”
Around the NHL, Yzerman’s colleagues did the same, with varying degrees of pressure.
Garth Snow of the New York Islanders had no real choice but to trade Thomas Vanek, doing so by shipping him to the Montreal Canadiens along with a conditional fifth-round pick for forward prospect Sebastien Collberg and a conditional second-round pick.
Tim Murray of the Buffalo Sabres needed to trade Matt Moulson, too, sending him to the Minnesota Wild along with Cody McCormick for Montreal native Torrey Mitchell and two picks.
Unless Collberg and the second-round pick turn into stars, it appears as though Snow did not recoup what he originally gave up for Vanek in late October: Moulson, a first- and a second-round pick.
“It wasn’t the same action you usually see at the trade deadline, so we’re fortunate with the deal we made,” Snow said on a conference call. “It wasn’t the same trade deadline that it’s been in years past.”
A total of 20 deals went down on deadline day involving 38 players and 23 draft picks. Just 17 were made last season.
Winger Marian Gaborik was dealt for the second straight year, going from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Los Angeles Kings for ex-Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Frattin and picks. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak was dealt for the second time in six days, going from the St. Louis Blues to the Buffalo Sabres and finally to the Washington Capitals.
The Edmonton Oilers finally traded Ales Hemsky after almost a year of trying, and his destination was Ottawa, where the Senators are still trying to make a playoff push. Like the Oilers, the Calgary Flames made more moves looking to the future, trading winger Lee Stempniak to the Pittsburgh Penguins and goaltender Reto Berra to the Colorado Avalanche.
A few trades came as the result of earlier dominos falling. The Philadelphia Flyers wouldn’t have traded defenceman Andrej Meszaros to the Boston Bruins had they not acquired Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders, and the Dallas Stars likely would not have gotten Tim Thomas from the Panthers if Florida didn’t pick up Luongo.
“As soon as we saw (the Luongo trade) happen, we kind of started to discuss things,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said on a conference call. “it’s something we started to research right away. There was a lot of other goalies in play, also, which kind of changes the field out there. It got the balls going right away, but it really didn’t come together till today.”
Some things didn’t come together at all, including chatter that the Canucks were poised to trade centre Ryan Kesler. Unlike the Luongo deal, Gillis couldn’t make something work to ensure Kesler got his way out of Vancouver.
“As far as today went, a variety of discussions that we had involving numerous different scenarios, none of them really fit with that vision,” Gillis said on a conference call. “We entertained multiple offers on multiple situations today, and none of them fit our expectations or our long-term needs.”
Few teams acquired anything long-term Wednesday beyond picks and prospects. No player traded Wednesday had more than one year left on his contract beyond this season.
Obviously Luongo and the eight seasons left on his 12-year, US$64-million contract made for no short-term rental for the Panthers. Last summer Gillis found it impossible to trade the veteran goaltender because of that money and term, and though Brisson took over as Luongo’s agent in July to look into the possibilities, even he didn’t figure on that Saturday when he found out Tortorella was going with Lack to start the Heritage Classic.
“I said what’s another step in a direction that will create more challenge again. But I didn’t expect to be able to work something out where he was going to be out of there within three, four days,” Brisson said. “My first reaction was to express our feelings to Mike Gillis and to Vancouver and to see what was the plan going forward. Because when you have a game at centre stage like the one they had this weekend, you’re bringing a lot of attention to the situation.
“And then when you decide not to have your No. 1 goalie (start)—especially after everything he’s gone through in the past—it’s not a Tuesday night game, let’s put it this way. These signs brought a lot of disappointment to our camp, and that’s what propelled other conversations.”
There were plenty of conversations between players and agents, agents and general managers and GMs in concert before 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. Yzerman was hoping his talks with St. Louis wouldn’t lead to this conclusion but after previous dealings he didn’t seem entirely surprised that the veteran wanted out.
“Things happen along the way, there’s ups and downs, there’s unfortunate events,” Yzerman said. “Ultimately, we respect his decision whether we agree with it or not.”
One unfortunate event that represented the breaking point for St. Louis was not making the Olympic team for the second straight time with Yzerman in charge.
“There’s a lot of things that was part of the equation,” St. Louis told reporters at Madison Square Garden. “That had something to do with it, for sure. But for the most part it was a family decision. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Yzerman didn’t agree with the notion that his hands were tied, even though St. Louis made it known he only wanted to go to the Rangers He insisted that he had options, was “comfortable” with getting Callahan, a first-round pick and a conditional second.
Even Callahan was only dealt away by the Rangers after they couldn’t agree on a long-term contract with agent Stephen Bartlett, something that pushed New York GM Glen Sather to make a move.
Somehow, the man who was originally Canada’s 26th man on a 25-man roster traded places with a centrepiece of the U.S. Olympic team.
“He was like the first unanimous choice of the group there in terms of who they wanted to play on the U.S. Olympic team,” Bartlett said of Callahan. “That says a lot. It certainly wasn’t because of his goals and assists, it was everything else he brings to the table.”
Asked if his Lightning were better after trading St. Louis for Callahan, Yzerman responded that they were “different.” It’s the same answer general managers usually have after making moves that change the direction of their franchise.
That’s often the case on trade-deadline day, though four teams—the Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets—did not make a single move in the final 24 hours available. Toronto GM Dave Nonis didn’t see a strong market and wondered aloud, “Why pay a price for nothing?”
Some teams had to pay a price, while others felt comfortable to sit back and watch the movement happen around them.
“It’s the level I want to be at every year, to tell you the truth—it’s nice to know when your team is at the trade deadline and you don’t need to make any major changes,” Nill said. “That means that the organization is doing the right thing, and that’s the position you want to be in. You’re better to be in a position of strength this time of year than a position of weakness.”
—With files from Bill Beacon and Monte Stewart.
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