The NHL’s Christmas “trade freeze” is now in effect until Dec. 27, after which teams will have two months to decide on any potential deals leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Despite the endless speculation from early October up to the imposition of the freeze, the hard fact remains that NHL GMs are unwilling to part with their valuable cap space during the first three months of a season.
Since the NHL returned to action from a season-killing lockout in the fall of 2005, the number of early season trades has steadily declined. Even the days leading up to the Christmas “trade freeze” fail to spur GMs into dealing.
The only significant trade thus far this season saw the Anaheim Ducks ship center Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight, and that was because of a unique salary cap situation brought about by the return of Scott Niedermayer. This trade wouldn’t have happened if Niedermayer were still pondering his future or announced his retirement.
Unless both the league and the NHL Players Association agree to make changes to the CBA and allow teams to absorb a portion of players’ contract, thereby making them easier to trade, early season trades will continue to be scarce.
Trade rumor followers should take heart, however, for recent history also shows that trade activity picks up in January and increases as the February trade deadline approaches.
Don’t expect a lot of multi-player deals during that period, as again the salary cap stifles such moves during the course of a season.
In January and February of 2007, there were ten multi-player trades involving an NHL player swapped for another with minor leaguers or prospects making up the remainder of the deal.
That’s hardly comparable to the good old pre-salary cap days when a multi-player trade could involve three or four or five NHL-caliber players.
The possibility of more name talent being moved between Jan. 1 and the February trade deadline also becomes far more likely, particularly in the final two weeks leading up to the deadline.
During January and February 2007, Peter Forsberg, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Todd Bertuzzi, Brad Boyes, Ryan Smyth, Mike Comrie, Sean Avery, Jason Williams, Martin Biron, Ladislav Nagy, Matthias Norstrom, Craig Conroy, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Bryan Smolinski, Kyle Calder, Craig Rivet, Alexei Zhitnik and Brad Stuart were traded.
Between January and the March 9, 2006 trade deadline, Doug Weight, Mark Recchi, Petr Nedved, Dwayne Roloson, Petr Sykora, Jose Theodore, Sergei Samsonov, Willie Mitchell, Dick Tarnstrom, Jaroslav Spacek, Brendan Witt, Mark Parrish, Keith Carney, Sandis Ozolinsh, Brent Sopel, Tyler Arnason and the much-traded Mike Sillinger were dealt.
Most of those players, however, were on the downside of their respective careers and eligible for unrestricted free agency at season’s end. The salary cap has all but eliminated trades involving players in their prime and in the midst of their contracts.
Nowadays salaries do become easier to move later in the season, but it’s those of impending unrestricted free agents. Players on multi-year contracts rarely move.
So if you want a good forecast of which players are most likely to be dealt over the next two months, check out the list of potential unrestricted free agents.
It includes Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Mike Commodore, Cory Stillman, Pavol Demitra, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, Ron Hainsey, Joe Sakic, Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rolston, J-P Dumont, Brendan Shanahan, Jason Smith, Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund and Olaf Kolzig.
Don’t expect to see most – if any – of those players changing addresses by the trade deadline. Every one are valuable to their respective clubs and the only reason any of them would be dealt is if their respective teams give up on this season and going into rebuilding mode.
As long as those teams are in the playoff picture, none of the aforementioned will be dealt.
Instead, expect lesser lights or fading stars like Bobby Holik, Dmitri Kalinin, John-Michael Liles, Dick Tarnstrom, Keith Carney, Michael Ryder, Paul Mara, Brad Stuart, Marek Malik, Barret Jackman, Mike Johnson or Matt Cooke to become possible trade candidates.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.