In a perfect world, the first call comes from the general manager.
But that’s become an increasingly difficult part of the trade process in the NHL, particularly for deals completed in the hours—or minutes—before the deadline. Players generally aren’t notified that they’ve been traded until after an official call has been held with the league and by then many have already learned of it on television or from a reporter.
“That’s the thing that’s changed the most over the years,” veteran Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said Sunday. “It used to be that we could do a deal and then register it with the league and make the announcement.
“But it just seems that shortly after deals are done now—with the way so many media outlets have ways of getting information—it just seems that it’s almost out immediately.”
It’s almost certain to happen again ahead of Monday’s deadline and Rutherford calls that “unfortunate.”
However, with everything that goes in to making a trade, it’s also unavoidable.
Simply agreeing to a deal can be difficult enough. Once that’s happened, the general managers (or a member of their staff) join a call with the NHL’s central registry to go over the fine points of the transaction, including details of the existing contracts of the players involved.
On a busy day, those calls are sometimes held after the 3 p.m. ET deadline, although the league must be made aware of the trade beforehand. That explains why some deals aren’t made official until an hour or more after the cut-off point has passed.
Only then do GMs directly notify each player of what’s transpired. Rutherford believes those calls are important and not just because he wants to thank a player for his service and wish him well.
“You’re open to having a bigger discussion if a player wants to ask questions,” he said. “But for the most part, it’s usually a short conversation.”
While many of the trades that get completed on deadline day have been in the works for weeks or even months, a select few come together quickly.
The management and scouting staff from each team must be ready to snap into action if needed. For them, preparation is key.
“As long as we’ve done our work leading up to it, we understand the players and have all of our reports ready,” said Rutherford. “So if something comes out of the blue with a couple hours left you’ve got to be ready to do your research real quick and give an answer.”
Interestingly, he doesn’t believe too much has changed about the fundamental nature of making a trade during his 18 seasons on the job. The NHL’s second-longest tenured GM has seen email and smartphones introduced since being hired by the Hartford Whalers, but one intangible quality about making trades has stood the test of time.
“At the end of the day, you have to have two sides that are satisfied,” said Rutherford.