Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 02/15/12 at 12:02 PM ET
It’s an accepted wisdom among fans and pundits that the NHL trade deadline is one of the best opportunities for a struggling non-playoff team to net significant returns for a star player who no longer fits into their future plans.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin become a subject of derision near the 2008 trade deadline from Toronto hockey fans and scribes for not waiving his movement clause to facilitate a trade which, in their minds, would’ve fetched a return of riches guaranteed to turn their moribund Leafs into a future Cup contender.
The recent news of the Columbus Blue Jackets fielding offers for team captain Rick Nash (not an unrestricted free agent, but nevertheless a major star player) has some of their fans dreaming over the wealth of promising talent their woeful club could receive in a trade deadline deal.
Unfortunately, the reality is significant trade deadline moves usually don’t work out for the team trading away its star, as the return is rarely as worthwhile as hoped.
In 2008, the Buffalo Sabres dealt defenseman Brian Campbell to the San Jose Sharks for forward Steve Bernier and the Sharks first round pick in 2008, which they used to select forward Tyler Ennis.
The return didn’t turn out to be equal value for a smooth-skating offensive blueliner like Campbell, who went on to earn a fat contract with Chicago, helped them win the 2010 Stanley Cup, and today is one of the reasons the Florida Panthers could make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Bernier didn’t last long with the Sabres, and while Ennis shows promise, he’ll have to blossom into an elite scorer for this deal to pan out for the Sabres.
Leafs fans who believed former GM Cliff Fletcher would’ve netted a strong return for Sundin based it on his ability to steal Doug Gilmour from Calgary and Dave Andreychuk from Buffalo in the early 1990s.
They forget how Fletcher essentially gave away defenseman Larry Murphy at the 1997 trade deadline to Detroit for future considerations, even picking up half his remaining salary. Murphy went on to help the Red Wings win back-to-back Cups in ‘97 and ‘98, proving he’d been poorly employed in Toronto, while the Leafs got nothing in return.
In 2006, the Pittsburgh Penguins, then a non-playoff club, shipped veteran forward Mark Recchi to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Recchi went on to help the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup that year. The return the Penguins received (Niklas Nordgren, Krys Kolanos and a second round pick) played no part in their rebuilding into Cup champions by decade’s end.
Oilers fans hoping veteran left wing Ryan Smyth will agree to waive his movement clause and accept a trade this year should remember the poor return they got when he was dealt to the Islanders in 2007.
Forward Robert Nilsson now plays in Europe, Ryan O’Marra appears a career minor leaguer, and the first round pick (Alex Plante) also appears destined for a minor league career.
Part of the reason the Atlanta Thrashers foundered in their final years was they got a lousy return for stars Marian Hossa in 2008 and Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010.
Hossa would help the Penguins reach the ‘08 Cup Finals, while the Thrashers return of Colby Armstrong (now with the Leafs), Erik Christensen (Minnesota Wild), prospect Angelo Esposito (now in the Dallas Stars system) and first round pick (Dalton Leveille, still at Michigan State and unlikely to make the NHL) did nothing to improve them.
The same can be said for the return (Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and first round pick in 2010) for Kovalchuk. Oduya is expected to leave the now-Winnipeg Jets via free agency this summer unless they trade him at the deadline. Bergfors is in Europe and Cormier has yet to make the NHL. Kovalchuk was re-signed by the Devils to a long-term contract, and this season is a key reason they’re in playoff contention.
The Tampa Bay Lightning management was forced by ownership issues to trade Brad Richards to the Dallas Stars at the 2008 deadline for goalie Mike Smith, forward Jussi Jokinen, center Jeff Halpern and the Stars fourth round pick.
A little over three years later, none of those players remain with the Lightning, while Richards went on to three productive years with the Stars before signing with the Rangers last summer.
At the 2000 trade deadline, the Boston Bruins moved long-time blueline stalwart Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche in return for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and a first round pick.
Bourque went on to win the Stanley Cup a year later with the Avs, while the return he fetched did little to significantly improve the Bruins.
These examples, of course, aren’t meant to suggest a team shouldn’t try to shop a star they either can’t afford to re-sign or no longer fits into their future plans in hopes of netting a decent return.
Indeed, these deals can occasionally work out for both clubs, as in 2000, when the Vancouver Canucks shipped Alexander Mogilny to the New Jersey Devils and got center Brendan Morrison as part of the return.
Mogilny would help the Devils win the Stanley Cup that year, while Morrison went on to stardom centering the Canucks top line of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi.
The reality is, when a general manager trades a star player for what appears to be a significant return, he’s gambling more often than not that the return will turn into significant pieces which bolsters his roster down the road. In other words, they take their chances, and hope for the best.
Ultimately, the followers of non-playoff clubs with star talent to sell off should keep their expectations realistic. While it’s possible they might get a decent return, maybe even one or two potential building blocks for the future, it’s just as likely what they get back might not turn out that worthwhile after all.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.