By Rob Ficiur
The weeks leading up to trade deadline time teams determine whether they are buyers (yes we with one more player we are a championship team) or sellers (this season has been awful so let’s trade everyone we can). At this moment twenty NHL teams that have a realistic chance at the sixteen playoff spots. Here are my observations / interpretations of where teams see themselves after the trade deadline.
1. Toronto Next Year’s Leafs – When the Leafs fired head coach Randy Carlyle on January 6, they were in a playoff spot. Two months later they sit 14th in the 16 team eastern conference light years from a playoff spot. During the weeks leading up to the deadline Toronto was in sell mode dealing nine players and acquiring players and at least six draft picks. When a team is clearly out of the playoff picture, there are good reasons for trading pending unrestricted free agents. Playoff hopeful teams will always pay more than they should for a player they need. Why not get a draft pick for that player instead of losing them for nothing to free agency.
This year the Leafs, along with at least four other teams are being accused of tanking the season to get a higher draft pick in June. The fact that Connor McDavid and Jack Eikel, the top two ranked draft picks are generational players make some fans think they are losing on purpose. If I were the manger of one of those teams I would trade away all unwanted assets at the deadline’s inflated prices. Since the season did not go as well as hoped for, why keep these players around? The NHL’s new draft lottery format means that all the non-playoff teams have some chance at the top draft picks. The last place team only has a 25% chance at first overall – but they are guaranteed the second pick if they miss number one.
2. Chicago Stanley Cup or Nothing Hawks – Chicago made two big trades at the deadline – acquiring defenseman Kimmo Timonenand forward Antoine Vermette for second and first round draft picks. Like 2010 when the Hawks won the cup, next year the team will be forced to make changes because of increased salary cap commitments. The 2011 Hawks barely made the playoffs after trading away key support players to stay within the salary cap. The 2015 Hawks are going for it all this year and will worry about next year later.
3. Edmonton Stagnant Oilers – The Oilers only trade was pending free agent Jeff Petry. Petry was not interested in re-signing with the perennial losing Oilers. One day the Oilers are going to have to trade one of their young core players to mix up the chemistry on this losing team. It will be easier to make that trade after they know if they will be drafting one of the two elite prospects in the draft.
4. Nashville Win Now Predators – Prior to the traded deadline the Predators were first in overall league standings. In their sixteen year history the Predators have won only two playoff rounds. They need to win in order to engage the lukewarm hockey fans in the south. Since the trade deadline the Predators have been much lower on the food chain, having lost six in a row.
5. Vancouver’s Waffling Canucks – the biggest trade in Vancouver was acquiring Flames first round draft pick Sven Baertschi for a second round pick. In the midst of a playoff run, the team traded for a player who will finish the year in the minors? The Canucks General Manager is in his first year on the job. He is building for the future; and hopes that Sven is part of that. He did not trade away assets to make a run this year – because even if the team misses the playoffs he will be around next year to keep rebuilding the team.
6. Calgary Future Flames – The Flames acquired three draft picks and lost two players at deadline time. Curtis Glencross went to Washington for two draft picks because Calgary already has several wingers ready to take Glencross’s roster spot next year. As mentioned in item #1, trading a player who won’t be part of your future plans is good asset management. This bring us to 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi’s trade to Vancouver. Like Glencross, other young players have passed Sven on the team’s depth chart.
Like Vancouver, Calgary did not acquire a roster player at the deadline. They did claim defenseman David Schlemko on waivers to fill a spot vacated by the injury to Mark Giordano. The Flames could have traded away assets to better fill Giordano’s minutes, but management chose to win (or lose) with the players they have. Calgary has already exceeded expectations by competing for a playoff spot. There was no pressure or expectation to trade away the future for this year.
Guarantee – Last year the La Kings acquired oft injured winger Marion Gaborik from Columbos at the deadline. Gabby went on to scored 14 goals and 22 points as he helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup. A year ago about thirty players changed teams at the deadline, but only one trade had the desired result – leading a team to a championship.
Off all the teams that paid high price for player(s) to put them over the top, I predict that only one of the twenty teams left in the playoff hunt will win the Stanley Cup in June.