February has become a favorite month for the fans: The trade deadline. Yes there will be lots of trade discussions by GM’s, but nowhere near the amount writers will report or fans will fantasize about.
The history of the trade deadline changed dramatically in the mid-‘90s. There were always some trades done right at the end, but not the flurry of trades that came about in the latter half of the ‘90s.
As the GM of Winnipeg, while I acquired the nickname “Trader Mike,” I rarely made trades at the deadline. I believed you only made trades when you needed to. I never talked about trading a player away unless I really wanted to trade him. It was, for me, un-“team”-like to talk about trading away your players simply as idle conversation.
This all changed by the time I arrived in Toronto in 1997. Most teams now waited until two weeks prior to the deadline to begin discussions. During my first season, 1997-98, we were sellers at the deadline. It was time to trade veterans, which we did. It was time to re-energize the Leafs.
One trade that worked out for a player had Jamie Macoun going to Detroit for the first pick in the fourth round. Detroit won the Cup that year and re-signed him.
The 1998-99 season was a magical one for the Leafs. Almost everyone picked us to be a non-playoff team. We had re-tooled. A new coach, Pat Quinn, and several new players were added via free agency and trades – Curtis Joseph, Steve Thomas, Gary Valk and Alexander Karpovtsev – while in earlier drafts Cliff Fletcher, when he was GM, chose rookies Danny Markov and Tomas Kaberle, which made the Leafs a really good team.
We viewed the deadline as an opportunity to improve. The Leafs had become buyers. The trade for Yanic Perreault from Los Angeles, for a fourth round pick and Jason Podollan, paid quick and valuable dividends. In a game a week later against Ottawa, he scored four goals in a 4-2 win. No doubt his family still has copies of the headline in the Toronto Sun the next day, PERREAULT 4, OTTAWA 2. He had 15 points in the remaining 12 games to lead players traded at the deadline.
The Leafs went on to reach the Cup semifinals, losing to Buffalo. Perreault was dominant during the playoffs. He was effective offensively, but most importantly he won just less than 70 percent of his faceoffs. It did not hurt that the Flyers, who we played in the first round, were without Eric Lindros. It was an exciting time for everyone involved, certainly the players and fans.
My next job was in Chicago. We were active every deadline. Unfortunately, due to a confidentiality agreement (a result of mediation, between myself and the Hawks) there is nothing I can discuss. Too bad, you might find it an interesting read.
What about this year? The re-signing of Teemu Selanne significantly improved Anaheim and has an immediate impact on other Western Conference clubs. Tweaking your lineup with a small trade or two won’t do it. Any team that seriously thinks it can emerge from the West will have to bolster its personnel.
Will Detroit look to add serious toughness? Yes!
San Jose, Minnesota, Vancouver and Colorado need offense, lots of it, to compete. Good luck finding it and getting it, though.
There will be offense available, but it won’t be cheap. Dallas will look to cut down its goals against, while Calgary’s recent addition of Curtis Joseph gives them depth in goal, but they still need to improve defensively to compete.
There are two battles in the East. One is at the top between New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Montreal. The other is for the last three playoff berths. Boston, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Buffalo, Atlanta, Carolina and Washington, all .500 or above, should be aggressive in the marketplace.
Last season, the addition of Sean Avery energized the Rangers and made them a significantly better team. Anyone who can duplicate the success of that trade will ensure themselves a playoff spot or elevate them among the leaders.
Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets. His Insider Blog will appear regularly only on THN.com.