The much discussed, written and speculated about trade deadline is upon us again. Just as the Stanley Cup playoffs follow the end of the regular season, the deadline precedes it. Makes you wonder: What is the connection between the playoffs and the deadline? Is there one?
Teams can be divided into sellers, buyers and smart shoppers. The sellers usually are the non-playoffs teams, i.e. New York Islanders, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, Phoenix, Colorado, and St. Louis. The buyers are composed of teams looking to win the Cup, i.e. Detroit, San Jose, Boston, Washington, New Jersey and any other teams trying to secure a playoff berth. The smart shoppers? Any organization looking for a smart deal, i.e. a draft pick or player for a player who’s no longer in their plans anyway.
Any team that thinks it can win the Cup may simply say: Let’s go for it. History shows big trades rarely lead to winning it all. Colorado traded for Rob Blake (from L.A.) in 2001 and won the Cup, but how many times over the past 10 years has a big trade led to a team winning the Cup?
Trades are often more successful when a team is just trying make the playoffs. But what’s the price? Two years ago Atlanta traded Braydon Coburn for Alexei Zhitnik (Philadelphia) and Glen Metropolit and first, second and third round picks for Keith Tkachuk (St. Louis). Atlanta made the playoffs for the first time in its history that year, but today is in 29th overall.
Did it work out? Was the price too high?
The majority of trades fall into the category of smart shoppers. Teams are looking to add depth for the playoffs, to unload a contract or pick up a draft pick. This type of deal is easy to make. Every GM is involved in discussions. A trade is often made simply because a GM says “what the hell, I’ll make that deal.” Who wins? Usually the GM who takes the draft pick.
When players I have worked with in the past are discussed in trade rumors, I always follow with great interest. Two such names this season are Tomas Kaberle and Nikolai Khabibulin.
For the second straight year Kaberle’s name is out there. Unequivocally Toronto’s best defenseman and signed for two more years at a good salary, why would Toronto want to trade him? Last year Cliff Fletcher asked him to waive his no trade clause, but Kaberle refused. Will Brian Burke do it again? This is a player who was the 204th overall pick in 1996, showed up at Toronto’s 1998 training camp and stepped in and played from Day 1 like a veteran. Pat Quinn, head coach at the time, asked me after the third exhibition game, “Are you sure he is a rookie?”
Khabibulin won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004 and Chicago signed him as a free agent in 2005. He has had an excellent year. The Blackhawks will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but his name keeps coming up. Cristobal Huet is also having an excellent year. This has led to the question, “why are the Hawks paying two goalies a combined $12.4 million dollars?” One may argue Khabibulin is an unrestricted free agent in June, so get something for him now. But at the same time, with a chance to advance in the playoffs, keeping him makes sense.
My first encounter with Nikolai was at the 1992 draft, while I was GM of Winnipeg. We drafted a lot of Europeans and were continually criticized in the press. Sure, some of our picks did not work out, but Teppo Numminen and Teemu Selanne are two we were scolded for. In the ninth round, Bill Lesuk, the director of scouting, said he wanted to take a Russian goalie, so I told him to do it. He said, “but Mike, they’ll (the media) yell at you.” I quickly replied, “Hey Bill, they’re going to yell at me no matter who we take, so take the Russian.” Khabibulin is that Russian goalie.
Florida can make the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and Jay Bouwmeester is an unrestricted free agent. No name has been bandied about in trades more than his. Can Florida take the chance to trade him? Is making the playoffs the most important goal for them? What if they trade him and miss the playoffs?
Craig Anderson has reached his potential this season. In 23 games he has earned 25 points with a save percentage of .929 and a goal-against average of 2.49. He also is unrestricted. Can Florida afford to re-sign him even with Tomas Vokoun’s contract still on the books? Not likely. Can Florida take the gamble and trade him? Maybe.
While I was in Chicago we drafted Anderson in the third round of the 2001 draft. He had been drafted in 1999 by Calgary, but left unsigned and re-entered the draft in 2001. A truly gifted athlete, Anderson has had a rocky journey to the top. He went through waivers three times in a two-week period in January 2006. Up and down between the American League and NHL, he persevered. Good for him, he looks like the real deal. Will he be a Panther after the deadline? Where will he be come July? I’d be calling Jacques Martin.
Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets and associate GM with the Maple Leafs. He also served as GM for Team USA at the ’81, ’94 and ’95 IIHF World Championship. His Insider Blog will appear regularly only on THN.com.