The biggest day for buzz on the NHL calendar starts awfully early in Allan Walsh’s office. The Los Angeles-based agent is making sure all hands are on deck leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.
“I want the office completely staffed and we’re up and running at 4:30 a.m. L.A. time,” Walsh said Sunday. “We divide up responsibilities. I have a couple people that I assign to monitoring what’s going on—TSN, Sportsnet, on the Internet. At the same time, I’m working the phones talking to different GMs and players.
“You want to stay out in front of the news.”
It’s the kind of scene that plays out all over the hockey world. Management teams gather in war rooms, anxious players stay glued to their cellphones and fans tune in for hours and hours of live television coverage and analysis.
There is traditionally a dizzying amount of action—31 trades involving 55 players were made last year—as teams try to load up for a playoff run or get started on a rebuild.
A unique aspect of Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline is the fact an unusually high number of deals have already been made in recent weeks. More than two-thirds of NHL teams have been involved in player transactions this month, raising doubts about how much action will be left for the final day.
Walsh is confident there will still be plenty of movement. He spoke with about 12 GMs on Sunday in an effort to get an understanding of what might be coming for his clients.
“I think there’ll be a lot of activity, I just think there’s not going to be many—if any—blockbuster deals,” said Walsh, who works for Octagon Sports. “The bigger names that were at risk of being traded, pretty much almost all of them have already been moved.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of trading for draft picks and a lot of rentals changing locations for the last 20 games of the season. But it’s really going to be teams adding depth.”
No one is facing a bigger decision than Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. He must determine whether or not to trade his best player, forward Brad Richards, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.
There is growing pressure on L.A. Kings GM Dean Lombardi to try and bolster his lineup. He’s one of the handful of managers who hadn’t added any players in recent weeks.
There wasn’t expected to be a lot of action in the Canadian cities—although there is interest in veteran Edmonton Oilers forwards Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner, which could prompt GM Steve Tambellini to pull the trigger.
Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray has already held a firesale with five deals in recent weeks. Maple Leafs counterpart Brian Burke has also been busy, shipping three veteran players out of town.
On Sunday afternoon, Burke indicated in an email that he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get anything else done before the deadline. But he’s made it clear how he feels about the day itself.
“I’ve always tried to beat the trading deadline,” Burke said earlier this month. “I think when you get to the trading deadline it’s kind of like a stampede—there’s a lot of milling around and a lot of confusion. I think it’s much more difficult to act with clarity and purpose at the deadline.
“It’s almost like a party with a pinata, everyone’s going for one player and everyone’s swinging at it.”
More often than not, older players with expiring contracts are the ones who find new homes. However, it can be an anxious day even for players who are unlikely to be dealt.
“It depends a lot on the situation first of the team and secondly of the individual,” said Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri. “If you’re on a team that’s well out of a playoff spot and management seems to want to rebuild, pretty much all the veterans are looking at where they might end up. If you’re a team that’s in the hunt, you know the chances are they’re not going to make any big moves, or they might just move a couple of pieces here and there.
“So you’re pretty aware of where you think you stand and where your team stands. At the same time, you never know. There’s a lot of variables.”
Even though Walsh understands the allure of deadline day for fans and media, it can be a tough one for him personally. He has to deal with the human side of the trades.
“From my standpoint, you’re dealing with players that are being traded, families that are being uprooted, relationships with teammates and organizations that are ending,” said Walsh. “So, in many ways, it’s a very bittersweet day. Calling players who’ve been part of an organization for a long time and telling them they’ve been traded, it takes an emotional toll on you.”
With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal.