Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A guide to your GM’s favorite trading excuses (and which ones you should actually believe)

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We’re down to an even dozen days to go before the trade deadline, which means every GM across the NHL is hard at work, burning up the phone lines as they engage in what they clearly view as the single most important part of their job.

No, not making trades. Come on, is this your first day here?

As any longtime fan knows, this is the time of year when most GMs are focused on something far more important: Condescending lectures about why they won’t be making trades of any significance. It’s all about managing expectations. Specifically, your expectations, and those of your fellow fans. And those expectations should not, under any circumstances, include the GM of your favorite team actually doing all that much.

That’s where the excuses come in. Most NHL GMs have a trusty list of go-to talking points for those pesky fans who seem to think they should do their jobs, and this is the time of year when they break them out. And if we’re being fair, some of them are reasonable. But only some.

Today, let’s get ready for the final countdown to deadline day by going through some of the most common NHL GM excuses for taking the next few weeks off, and figure out which ones should have us rolling our eyes and which ones might make some sense.

The excuse: “The salary cap makes trading too hard.”

We’ll start with what’s become, by far, the best-known of NHL GM excuses. The salary cap ruined everything, you guys. Your favorite team’s GM would love to swing for the fences on a big, bold move. But he can’t, because there’s a cap, and it just can’t work.

Should we buy it?: Yes and no. It’s certainly true that the salary cap has an impact, and some trades would otherwise make sense but it would be difficult to fit under the tight cap situation that several teams are operating under. Sometimes, you just don’t have room to add the player you want.

Of course, working under a budget is nothing new. GMs have always had to do that, dating back to the league’s earliest days. But back then, you could occasionally squeeze some extra room with a phone call to the owner. And more importantly, contracts weren’t fully guaranteed to the same extent, and they were almost never for the kind of long-term commitment the cap world sees today.

So yes, there’s some validity to this one, and maybe even a lot. But it’s also worth remembering that, compared to other pro leagues, the NHL’s system is basically baby’s first salary cap. It’s about as simple as a hard cap can get. There are no rules about balancing cap hits on trades as the NBA has. A trade doesn’t accelerate a player’s future cap hit to the current year, the way they can in the NFL. Instead, NHL GMs just have to stay under a number. There are even loopholes like LTIR, that can make manipulating the cap easier.

Mix in the ability retain salary and the fact that the prorated system means late-season trades have far less impact on that year’s cap number, and there’s a lot more room to work with than most fans have been led to believe. Over half the league has more than $5 million in prorated cap space to work with right now, including several contenders.

So does the cap make trading hard? Sure. But too hard? We should think twice before we accept that.

The excuse: “This sort of trade is too complicated to get done in the time we have left.”

Usually, “the time we have left” means the days until the trade deadline. For some GMs, I’m pretty sure it’s a reference to the sun eventually exploding. Either way, this is the cousin of the salary cap excuse, and it’s something we often hear filtered through friendly members of the media. Some late-season development will push a new name into the rumor mill, and fans will get their hopes up that a deal could happen. Not so fast, we’re told – a trade might make sense, but there’s just not enough time to get something done with only weeks or days left before the deadline.

Should we buy it?: Every once in a great while, this one makes sense, at least in theory. If the franchise player demands a trade on the morning of the deadline, then sure, you probably want more time to mull over the options before you rush into a mistake.

But that essentially never happens. Instead, we hear this excuse trotted out for some third-line winger who’d probably fetch a mid-round draft pick. That seems like the sort of thing that could come together quickly, no? Not according to some GMs, who insist that it’s just too complicated a concept to work without months of lead time.

Meanwhile, NBA GMs are routinely doing stuff like this:

I don’t know, I guess those guys are just smarter.

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