Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Do's and Don'ts of the NHL trade deadline

The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday. That means if you’re a general manager, you’re probably really busy right now. Your scouts are working overtime. Your fans are demanding action. Your phone is ringing off the hook, or at least it would be, if anyone still used phones that had hooks.

So, uh, why are you taking a break from all that to browse Grantland articles? My guess is you’re looking for last-minute advice to guide you through this hectic time. And luckily, I’ve got you covered. Because while nobody can know for sure what will happen tomorrow, a look back through the history books can offer us at least a few clues.

So before you get back to work, my NHL GM friend, here are some dos and don’ts to guide you through the busiest day of the year.

Do: Target guys with really violent-sounding names.

If you can pick up a guy with scary-sounding first and last names, everyone will be so intimidated that they’ll spend decades referring to it as the greatest trade deadline deal of all time, even though it’s clearly not.

Historical Precedent: In 1980, the New York Islanders traded Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to the Kings for center Butch Goring, a move that to this day is referred to as the “gold standard” of trade deadline deals.

I mean … it’s the name, right? “Butch Goring.” That’s pretty badass. It sounds like a name George Carlin would have made up for his NRA bit. So I’m going to assume that’s why we’re all still raving about a trade involving a solid but not especially spectacular veteran.

Well, that and that the Islanders went on to win four straight Stanley Cups after making this deal. That probably helped. But this was an Isles team that already had Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Potvin — and the Islanders were also the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. They were already pretty good.

Did Goring help put them over the top? Probably. Would we remember this deal as fondly if his name had been Percival Cuddlepants? Probably not.

Do not: Trade the best player your franchise has ever had to the league’s most talented team.

Generally speaking, you should probably avoid trading your all-time best player under any circumstances. That seems like a solid strategy. But if for some reason you decide you have to send your star packing, maybe do the rest of the league a favor and don’t send him to a team that’s already completely stacked.

Historical Precedent: At the 1991 deadline, the Hartford Whalers sent former captain and all-time franchise leading scorer Ron Francis to the Penguins as part of a six-player blockbuster.

Pittsburgh was already absolutely loaded, with a star-studded roster featuring players like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Mark Recchi, and Kevin Stevens. All that talent hadn’t quite clicked yet, and they were just three games over .500 the day the deal was made. But adding Francis was the tipping point, as he helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992, and went on to record four 90-plus-point seasons in Pittsburgh.

It’s worth mentioning that at the time, the trade didn’t seem especially uneven. The Whalers did get John Cullen, who was fifth in league scoring at the time. But in hindsight, it was one of the more one-sided deals in league history. Cullen only lasted one full season in Hartford, and the Whalers never won another playoff round before moving to Carolina in 1997.

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