Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Five lessons from the 2018 offseason that could help teams in 2019

Hey, remember when the Blues and Bruins were playing hockey? Me neither. The summer is here, we’ve already had a big trade and a major re-signing and it’s all systems go on the offseason. Let’s get wild.

But what kind of wild? The good kind? The bad kind? The hopeless kind? That’s what remains to be seen. Every offseason has its own flavor and we’re not sure what this one will look like quite yet. Maybe we’ll see a ton of trades. Maybe GMs will focus on free agency instead. Maybe we’ll see offer sheets and holdouts and blockbusters or maybe we’ll get none of those things.

Time will tell. But while every offseason is different, that doesn’t mean we should just ignore what’s happened in the past. Recent history can offer some important lessons on what to expect and how best to handle the scenarios we may see develop. Today, let’s look back at five key lessons from the 2018 offseason and how they might apply to what’s going to happen over the next few weeks and months.

The lesson: The draft isn’t the only time for big trades

It’s become conventional wisdom in the hockey world that the days around the NHL draft make for the best time for blockbuster trades. The rest of the year, we constantly hear about how trading is too hard for these poor GMs, who have to deal with a salary cap and analytics and no-trade clauses that they handed out. The deadline isn’t what it used to be, you can’t do anything at all earlier in the season and nobody wants to make a move at training camp. But the draft? That’s the one place you can get things done because all the league’s GMs are together in one building and they almost all have cap room to work with.

And for years, that was all pretty much true. Pick a big offseason trade – Hall for Larsson, Subban for Weber, Kessel to the Penguins, Drouin for Sergachev – and chances are it happened either at the draft or in the days immediately after. By the time we got into July, the window for big deals had closed.

But last year, that didn’t happen. Draft week was actually remarkably quiet on the trading front, with only the Max Domi/Alex Galchenyuk deal on June 15 making any real waves in the days leading up to the draft and the five-player Flames/Hurricanes deal going down on the draft floor. There were a handful of smaller deals, including Philipp Grubauer and Mike Hoffman (twice), but that was about it.

That left several big names still on the block, including Ryan O’Reilly, Jeff Skinner, Max Pacioretty and Erik Karlsson. All four would be dealt, but those trades were spread out over the course of the summer. O’Reilly went first, on July 1, largely because that was the last day the Sabres could move him before having to pay a $7.5 million bonus. Skinner waited until August. And Pacioretty and Karlsson made it all the way to September before their teams finally pulled the trigger.

The results were mixed. The returns on Karlsson and Skinner were viewed as underwhelming at the time. The O’Reilly deal seemed OK for both teams, although it hasn’t aged well for Buffalo. And many of us thought the Habs did surprisingly well on a player they all but had to move. The lesson here isn’t that waiting is the best play, at least in all cases. But it’s an option and maybe a better one than we usually think.

Who could learn it: Any GM with a big-name player who could be moved. That list could include David Poile (Subban again, or Kyle Turris), Kyle Dubas (Nazem Kadri) and Jim Rutherford (pretty much everyone). Ideally, they might prefer to make those sorts of moves before the draft, like Kevin Cheveldayoff just did with Jacob Trouba, since that allows you to nail down your cap situation ahead of free agency and you don’t have to wait a year to use any picks you acquire. But if the offers aren’t there, or the situation still feels unsettled, then waiting is a valid option. It might even work out for the better.

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