Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A brief history of players who were just OK suddenly becoming trade deadline darlings for some reason

It’s trade deadline season, and that means it’s time to fire up the rumor mill and figure out who’s going to be moved. This time of year is all sorts of fun for hockey fans, and this season’s trade board features several stars who seem likely to be dealt, including Patrick Kane, Timo Meier, Ryan O’Reilly and Jakob Chychrun.

Those are legitimately big names, which we don’t always get at deadline time. But that’s fine, because hockey fans and media are going to go all-in on trade talk whether the market deserves it or not. And that leads to one of my favorite trade deadline traditions: The perfectly adequate player who suddenly becomes one of the hottest names available for reasons nobody is quite clear on.

It’s honestly pretty great, our own little hockey-themed version of the 1600s tulip craze. You hear a guy’s name mentioned once and you shrug. Then he keeps coming up, over and over, and suddenly you’re hearing that the asking price is a first-round pick. You’re confused, but eventually you get worn down, and the next thing you know you're on hold with your local sports radio station so you can yell about how your GM better get this guy, price be damned.

Then the deadline ends, the guy barely makes an impact on his new team, and we all look at each other and wonder what the heck that was all about.

I love those guys. So today, we’re going to remember 10 of the best examples of this deadline phenomenon, with a brief history of decent players who suddenly got to be the belle of the ball for a few weeks, even if none of us can quite remember why.

2006: Brendan Witt

Who they were: A 31-year-old defenseman who’d played his entire career with the Capitals, Witt was a physical presence. He was also a 20-goal scorer. As in, he had scored a total of 20 goals over his 10 years in the NHL.

Why they were in demand: This will shock you, but veteran, hard-nosed defensemen are going to show up on this list more than once. Also, Witt had asked for a trade to a contender.

Quote that captures the general vibe: “Witt, a rugged, stay-at-home defenseman, has been a mainstay on the Capitals' blueline for a decade. His departure will leave a huge void in the locker room and in the lineup … He was also a vocal leader and the team's most experienced defenseman.” – Washington Post.

The eventual deal: The Capitals sent Witt to Nasvhille for a first-round pick and Kris Beech.

How it turned out: Witt played 22 games for the Predators, recording three points, before their season ended in a first-round loss to the Sharks. He signed with the Islanders in that summer, where he was run over by an SUV. Oh, and the first-round pick turned into Semyon Varlamov.

2011: Dustin Penner

Who they were: Years after the offer sheet that almost led to a barn fight, Penner had settled in as a productive winger on some very bad Oiler teams, peaking with a 31-goal season in 2010. He’d also been occasionally accused of being out of shape, but haven’t we all.

Why they were in demand: This was back in the era where power forwards were still a thing, and while Penner wasn’t exactly Cam Neely, he was a big winger who could contribute offensively. Also, the Oilers did a very good job of coyle playing the “we might not actually want to move him after all” card, which always drives up interest. And it was just a generally bland deadline, so somebody had to be the main attraction.

Quote that captures the general vibe: “The 28-year-old power forward has a good pair of hands to go along with his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame. He figures to fit in well with a team that covets size and the ability to play around the net…” – LA Daily News.

The eventual deal: The Oilers sent Penner to the Kings for a first, a conditional third, and a prospect.

How it turned out: Penner scored just three goals the rest of the way for the Kings, and just 15 more in parts of two additional seasons. One of those was the 2012 Cup win, though, so in that sense maybe you say this one worked out OK. It was better than that for Edmonton, as they turned the first into Oscar Klefbom.

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