Monday, May 4, 2020

The season is already chaos. Screw it, let's reopen the trade market.

The NHL is in a weird place right now. With the season still on pause, we’re hearing all sorts of unusual ideas being floated. A June draft sure sounds like it’s happening, whether teams like it or not. Expanded playoffs, empty arenas, a revamped lottery and a December start to next season all seem to be in our future. In a league that isn’t exactly known for its creativity, it suddenly feels like nothing is off the table.

Cool. I’m a longtime member of the Team Chaos fan club. If we can’t go back to normal to finish the season – and we can’t – then we might as well steer into the madness and shake things up. And to help things along, I’ve got an idea of my own.

But first, I want to make something clear. The last time I had a crazy idea, I spelled it out in detail and everybody hated it, and then I went “Ha, I did that on purpose, I hate it too and I just tricked you all into agreeing with my larger point.” The old-bait-and-switch. And you’re probably wondering if I’m doing that again.

I am not. I genuinely think that this is a good idea and want to see it happen. Even though I know most of you will hate it … at first.

Here’s the idea: Let’s bring back trading.

As in, right now. Cancel the trade deadline. Teams can get back to wheeling and dealing, starting today.

In a technical sense, they already can; teams have always been allowed to continue trading after the traditional deadline has passed. But any players acquired couldn’t play in the NHL the rest of the season, including playoffs. I’m proposing that we lift that sanction, and go back to the same open market we had in the days leading up to Feb. 24.

You have questions. Well, what you actually have is the impulse to go mash the “meh” button and then yell at me in the comment section, which is fair enough. But before you do that, you should have a few questions. Let’s walk through those, starting with the obvious one.

Why would you do this?

For several reasons, including the most important: It would be fun.

The NHL is in the entertainment business, a fact that it often forgets. Furthermore, fans love trades. There’s a reason that the trade deadline is one of the biggest days on the NHL calendar, and that every deal gets picked apart and debated the moment it happens. We all love this stuff. Hockey trades are just fun.

Hockey fans haven’t had much fun lately. And by the sounds of it, we’re not going to get much any time soon, with at least another month to go before the draft and who knows how long until we see an actual hockey game. Wouldn’t it be neat to have some trades to talk about in the meantime?

I’ll concede that “just because it’s fun” isn’t a convincing argument all on its own. But there’s a bigger issue in play: Those expanded playoffs that we keep hearing about.

Nothing is final yet, but it sure sounds like the NHL wants to come back with a 24-team playoffs. Maybe that’s a good idea and maybe it isn’t, but it’s a radical change, and it’s coming pretty much out of nowhere. NHL teams went into this year’s deadline on the assumption that they were preparing for a 16-team playoff. If it’s going to be 24 teams instead, that changes everything.

Some teams would have gone into the February deadline assuming they weren’t making the postseason. Now they might be. They would have passed on the chance to add reinforcements, and in some cases, they may have been sellers who weakened their roster. Those deals are done, and we can’t undo them. But what we can do is give bubble teams a chance to reset, and to react to the radically different circumstances they now find themselves in.

Some would want to make changes. Others would stay the course. But they should get that choice. Adding eight new playoffs teams late in the regular season is an unprecedented-bordering-on-unthinkable move, and teams should at least have the chance to respond to it.

How would this work?

I have no idea!

Nobody does, because nobody knows anything right now. We’re all guessing, and that includes the NHL decision-makers.

But there’s a rough outline emerging of how the next few months will go. It involves an early June draft, followed by a resumption of the season in June or July. That might mean regular-season games or it might not, but at some point, we’re going to get to a playoffs that sure sounds like it will involve 24 teams.

Let’s assume that those broad strokes end up becoming the plan. What I’m suggesting is that we reopen trading, with the salary cap still in effect, from now until the games are back. It wouldn’t matter whether those games are the resumption of the regular season or the start of the playoffs. We just want to let NHL GMs have some time to adapt to their changing circumstances.

And yes, you may have noticed a nice side benefit to reopening trading now: We get draft day trades involving players back. Under the current rules, an early June draft wouldn’t be able to feature any blockbuster moves, and that’s often half the fun of draft weekend. Well, let’s bring it back. The June draft might still be a bad idea or it might not, but we just made it way more fun.

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