We’re all either guilty of hyping the trade deadline into something it’s not, or we’re guilty of buying into that hype. It needs to stop.
Let’s start by calling the trade deadline what it is, or at least what it has become. Somewhere along the line, one of the most anticipated days on the hockey calendar has largely become The Yard Sale for Misfit Toys.
Of the 39 bona fide or fringe NHL players who were moved in the seven days leading up to Wednesday’s deadline, just eight of them are under contract beyond this season and only two of them – Zach Sanford, now of the St. Louis Blues, and Jordie Benn, now of the Montreal Canadiens, had more than one year remaining on their deals.
Several reasons were given for this development. One is the NHL’s enforced and misleading house league concept of parity. So not only does the NHL’s desire for everyone to feel good about themselves and their playoff chances create a vanilla product, it also has succeeded in sucking the fun out of the trade deadline. Another reason provided was the impending expansion draft and the ramifications associated with that. And as any GM in the league will tell you, it’s really, really hard to make a hockey trade these days.
So basically what we’re left with is a frenzy of teams desperately trying to acquire an asset – many of them of dubious quality – in exchange for an expiring contract belonging to a fading veteran you’re going to lose after the year for nothing. Either that or they’re trying to ship out an unproductive player who is a drag on the salary cap, as was the case with the Tampa Bay Lightning trading Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. Or the ubiquitous third kind of trade, ones that will almost certainly never have any effect on any NHL roster. Chicago trading Sam Carrick and Spencer Abbott to Anaheim for Kenton Helgesen and a seventh-round pick in 2019? How do they even come up with this stuff?
There were 31 skaters dealt at the deadline who had played 25 or more games this season in the NHL. The average stats line per player among that group was six goals and 15 points this season. There was not one player who was even within shouting distance of being a point-per-game player and the highest-scoring player who was dealt was a defenseman. No player who was dealt had more than the 21 goals Patrick Eaves has scored in 59 games this season. And the Montreal Canadiens could not coax Dave Schultz out of retirement, so a team that can’t score goals went out and got five players who have averaged nine points each this season.
What we’re left with is one of the least exciting trade deadline days in NHL history, something that seems to be becoming a yearly trend. Kind of makes you wonder what all the fuss is about. How many of those third- and fourth- and fifth-round picks exchanged are going to turn out to be full-time NHL players? No more than a tiny fraction. Heck, even all the second-rounders, which seems to be the going rate these days for a trade deadline player, faces an uphill struggle in a quest to become an NHL player. If the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup with Kevin Shattenkirk this season, the first-round pick they’re giving the St. Louis Blues in return will be the 31st pick in this June’s draft. Until this year, that was a second-round pick.
Part of the problem is we’re all either guilty of hyping the trade deadline into something it’s not, or we’re guilty of buying into that hype. Heck, we’re complicit too, since we devote an entire issue of our magazine to the trade deadline. And sometimes it’s difficult to not get caught up in it. The Canadian Hockey League, for example, would have you believe that its annual Prospects Game is a showcase of future NHL superstars when the reality is that only a fraction of the players who play in that game ever have an NHL career.
So instead of covering trades, broadcasters such as TSN are forced to fill their time with rap songs, revenge plots and guys chasing llamas in parking lots. And it leaves us every year wondering why we were duped and vowing to never let it happen again. So let’s not be duped anymore. The trade deadline has become one of the most overrated days of the year on the hockey calendar, a day when a tsunami of inconsequential deals are consummated because, like a yard sale, the sellers are trying to dispose of their unwanted items in order to get a couple of rolls of quarters. That way they dupe themselves into believing that they’re getting something and the buyer believes he got himself a bargain, then arrives home with a Hawaiian shirt and wonders what he was thinking. Like a yard sale, there are some hidden gems and good finds. But for the most part it’s actually just spare change for junk.