2-on-1: Silence in the NHL Trade Market
Every Monday during the season two of our hockey writers will debate one topic. It's the 2-on-1. This week, Kevin Schultz and Chris Botta look at why NHL GMs are not making many impact in-season trades anymore.
Chris Botta: September saw two major trades in the NHL -- the Dany Heatley deal to San Jose and the Phil Kessel move to Toronto. But since the regular season started more than two months ago, there have been no major deals and -- worse -- very little trade buzz. (Sorry, folks in Minnesota and Toronto: the Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse and Jiri Tlusty deals can not be considered game-changers, let alone blockbusters).
Let's face it, Kevin, tradewinds make professional sports tick. I'm convinced the media and fans cherish the hot-stove league more than Major League Baseball's regular season. Ask a hockey fan if they'd rather hear the result of 1-of-82 games or the news of their team's latest trade and they'd take the swap every time. But in the last ten weeks, ten players have been claimed on waivers (Andrew Ebbetts twice), while just a half-dozen B and C-level trades have been completed. What gives? This is no fun!
Kevin Schultz: It's no fun at all. We need some rumors to monger! One of the main culprits is cap space. A lot of teams are right up against the cap and don't have a lot of wiggle room. According to NHLNumbers.com, ten teams have less than two million in cap space available, which means ten GMs will have a tough time taking on salary. On the flip side, there are teams with a ton of cap space (Nashville, Phoenix, the Islanders) but because of their own financial issues are unwilling to add salary. So we've got teams on both ends of the spectrum that can't afford -- or don't want -- to take on a big salary.
Another reason is that there are few, if any, sellers. Thanks to the overtime point, the playoff races are packed with more teams later in the season. Other than the Hurricanes and Ducks, no team is more than seven points out of a playoff spot. That leaves an awful lot of potential buyers in the market. Give it a few more months. Once the playoff pictures really start to take shape there will be more action. Teams will be more desperate to add an impact player and more teams will give up shop and go home.
Chris Botta: For the last three years, Brian Burke has been peddling a proposal at the GM meetings that would allow teams to retain a portion of a player's salary in a trade. This way a team can trade someone making $2 million for a draft pick but also pick up half the salary. Under Burke's proposal, teams would be limited to how much money they can retain in a year.
I don't love Brian's proposal, mostly because it seems to fly in the face of the fight for a salary cap. I seem to recall the NHL shut down for a year over a hard cap. But it would definitely get the rumor mill churning again. What do you think?
Kevin Schultz: I'm thinking two things here. This will inevitably favor big money teams. As it stands right now, teams pay an equal penalty for making poor decisions. If this rule is implemented as is, rich teams will gain the ability to sell off their mistakes. That's the kind of thing we sat out a year to fix.
On the flip side, yes it would certainly increase trades. But is it worth it? Personally, I would give up hot stove talk if it meant knowing that the playing surface was level. That's one of my biggest pet peeves about MLB -- the salary disparity between the haves and the have nots. As the NFL has shown, there's a lot to be said for a salary cap. But I feel like I'm in the minority on this one. Where do you stand, CB?
Chris Botta: As tantalizing as it is, I vote no on Burke's proposal. There's a reason why it hasn't gained enough traction over the last three years. I don't see enough NHL governors passing it.
So that leaves us back to the silence of the trade rumors. You know what? I doubt we'll see much major activity between now and the Olympics in February. In the League Where Every Team Gets Points, as many as 26 of the NHL's 30 teams may still be hanging around the playoff race in the week leading up to the March 3 deadline. Right now, only Carolina appears out of it in the East -- and their 13-point deficit is not insurmountable. In the West, there's just a ten-point split between No. 5 Los Angeles and No. 15 Anaheim.
Guess they just don't make trades like they used to, Kevin.
Kevin Schultz: Well, sort of. It seems like we're back in an era -- well before my time -- of fewer trades and more home-grown players. I'm sure the ever-cranky hockey purists are going to love that and, incidentally, I wonder if it will go anywhere in terms of the NHL being able to market its stars more easily. With star players changing teams less because they're locked into long-term deals, they become the faces of franchises. I don't know, it's possible. But it certainly looks like we're in for fewer trades, for better or worse.