No one bet the farm. No one mortgaged the future.
The NHL’s trade deadline came and went without a signature deal or surprise blockbuster for the first time in several years. In these tough economic times, most of the league’s general managers decided to take a more conservative approach.
When all was said and done, 47 players were moved in 22 deals on Wednesday. But those numbers don’t really tell the story.
Instead, it’s worth noting that just one first-round draft pick changed hands and only three players with contracts lasting beyond next season were moved.
“It’s a little bit of a different climate because we’re no different than what’s going on in the world, not knowing what’s going to happen the year after next year,” said Flames GM Darryl Sutter. “I don’t think you’ve seen any long-term deals move yet. Are there any with over one or two years remaining on contracts?
As if the struggling economy hasn’t already done enough damage – it also managed to suck much of the life out of the NHL’s annual swap meet. Not a single marquee player changed teams.
The most telling sign of all was that the ultra-conservative Sutter emerged as the boldest GM on deadline day. He parted with a first-round pick and roster player Matthew Lombardi to land Olli Jokinen from Phoenix and also reacquired defenceman Jordan Leopold from Colorado.
There wasn’t another team that swung for the fences in that manner. Many tinkered, and a few chose to do nothing – including Vancouver and Montreal.
In some cases, standing pat was difficult.
“It becomes at times really difficult to resist the pressure to do things in the short term that are high risk and in the long term that are a total risk,” explained Canucks GM Mike Gillis. “As rumours and things begin to happen … it’s hard to resist the urge to get involved all over the place.
“But we did.”
The majority of players changing teams have contracts expiring at the end of the season.
The most notable of those moves involved veterans: Bill Guerin landed with Pittsburgh; Mark Recchi was acquired by Boston; and Erik Cole was sent back to Carolina from Edmonton as part of a three-way trade involving Los Angeles.
That last deal was among a flurry of moves that got completed just before the deadline passed. The Oilers surrendered Cole for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round pick before later adding Ales Kotalik from Buffalo for a second-round pick.
A couple other Canadian teams were active too.
Ottawa made an early splash by acquiring goalie Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick from Columbus for Antoine Vermette. The Sens also signed defenceman Filip Kuba to a US$11.1-million, three-year contract extension that includes a no-movement clause.
Rather than waiting until the free agency period to get a goaltender, GM Bryan Murray decided that this was the best time to strike.
“There are a number of teams this summer that might be trying to upgrade their goaltending situation and you give up more probably at that point,” he said.
As expected, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke got in on the action by dealing Nik Antropov to the New York Rangers and Dominic Moore to Buffalo. The Leafs got two second-round picks and a conditional selection in return.
The team also claimed Martin Gerber off re-entry waivers to replace No. 1 goalie Vesa Toskala, who will have season-ending surgery on his hip and groin next week.
Burke wasn’t surprised by the lack of blockbuster trades, especially given that the salary cap is expected to go down significantly after next season.
“I think everyone’s scared to death of the 2010-11 season,” he said. “My sense is that teams – and I know I am – are scared to death of 2010-2011 as far as committing a lot of money to lock up guys.”
Some of the biggest news came from teams who decided to hang on to players. The Florida Panthers retained Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Pronger is still in Anaheim and Marian Gaborik will continue working with Minnesota Wild doctors while rehabbing his hip injury.
In the end, the price for those players might have been a little higher than GMs were willing to pay. Top draft choices might be as valuable as ever.
It’s been a long time since GMs showed that kind of restraint.
Consider the deals that were completed at the deadline only a year ago. Pittsburgh gave up a first-round pick, two roster players and a top prospect to get Marian Hossa from Atlanta and saw him leave as a free agent after the Stanley Cup. First-round picks were also given up in the deals that saw San Jose get Brian Campbell and Colorado land Adam Foote.
Times certainly seem to have changed.
“I don’t think anybody was anxious to give up first-round picks for players,” said Rangers GM Glen Sather. “They’re hard to get. If you’re going to try and keep your organization’s head above water, you’ve got to be able to keep those first-rounders.”