Friday, February 22, 2008

The deadline approaches...is it worth all the trouble?

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.


-- Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

We have only a few shopping days until the trading deadline, and the Internet will be cracking with rumors, speculations, and Eklundized fantasies about who is going where for what. GM's will be working the phones and faxes to get to that handshake that supplies them with another asset for a playoff run or draft picks/prospects for the future.

Today, I'll be the idiot telling the tale of trading dealine past...last year, in fact. So, kids, let’s step back a year and look at some of the more noteworthy deals in the last week of the trading window leading up to deadline day to get some perspective on whether all this excitement is justified…

February 23, 2007…

Carolina acquires Anson Carter from Columbus for a 2008 fifth round draft pick.

Carolina was 31-25-7 on February 23rd last year when they made this deal, which by appearances was an effort to add some scoring depth at a low price as the Hurricanes were trying to scrape their way into the playoffs. Good thing Carter came at a low price…in ten games he mustered a single point (one goal) and was a minus-3. The Hurricanes finished the season 9-11-1 after this trade and out of the playoffs in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Carter has not played a game in the NHL this season.


February 24th

Atlanta acquires Alexei Zhitnik from Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn.

Pretty much a classic case of swapping futures for a veteran boost now. Zhitnik, who had a solid resume in his stints in Buffalo and Long Island, struggled with a weak Flyers team when the Islanders traded him there earlier in the year (31 games, 3-10-13, -16). The Thrashers, though, were 31-22-10 and were fighting with Carolina in an effort to catch Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division championship. They had already moved defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski to Nashville earlier in the month (for center Eric Belanger) and perhaps thought themselves a bit thin on the blue line as the stretch run began. Zhitnik did give the Thrashers some veteran help on the blue line (18 games, 2-12-14, +4) to close the regular season, but like the rest of his club had a gruesome opening round series in the playoffs against the Rangers (four games, no points, -4). Meanwhile…Coburn is logging more than 20 minutes a night in Philadelphia and is 5-21-26, +12, as part of the Flyers’ resurgence from a dismal 2006-2007 year.


February 25th

Atlanta acquires Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis for (let’s see if we can do this in one breath…) Glen Metropolit, a 2007 first-round pick, a 2007 third-round pick, a 2008 second-round pick, and a conditional 2008 first-round pick (activated if Atlanta was to re-sign Tkachuk)

This is the definition of “rental.” You might even categorize it as “desperate rental,” mortgaging the future on a roll of the dice with a veteran who might have been closing in on 500 career goals (he had 466 at the time of the trade), but who hadn’t put up much in the way of quality numbers post-lockout (102 games, 35-44-77, -12). Tkachuk actually put up some decent numbers in 18 games with the Thrashers to finish the year 7-8-15, +8. But really…was it worth it? He was 1-2-3, +2 in the playoff sweep at the hands of the Rangers, then re-signed with St. Louis. Meanwhile, St. Louis packaged the 24th pick in the 2007 draft with the 70th overall pick and traded them to Calgary for the 18th pick, where they selected defenseman Ian Cole. Cole is a freshman at Notre Dame, where he is 4-5-9, -5 in 30 games. Meanwhile…a relatively weak Thrasher prospect pool isn’t going to get any stronger with draft picks missing.

San Jose acquires Craig Rivet and a 2008 fifth-round pick from Montreal for Josh Gorges and a 2007 first round pick.

This is one of those “tweaking” kind of moves…San Jose was 38-23-1 at the time of the trade and wanted to reinforce its blue line to prepare for the playoffs. Can’t say it hurt the Sharks, as they finished the regular season 13-2-4. Rivet was solid, if not spectacular (1-7-8, +8 in 17 games). San Jose disposed of Nashville in five games in the opening playoff round, but dropped a disappointing series to Detroit in six games in the second round (Rivet was 2-3-5, -5 in 11 games). Meanwhile…Gorges is logging 15 minutes a game for Canadiens team fighting for the top spot in the East, and the 22nd overall pick from the 2007 draft – forward Max Pacioretty – is a freshman at the University of Michigan, where he is 10-17-27, +18, in 27 games.


February 26th

New York Islanders acquire Richard Zednik from Washington for a 2007 second-round pick.

Another of the “rental” variety – it wouldn’t be the Islanders’ last. This one did not go well for New York. The Islanders were 31-23-8 at the time of the trade and trying to claw into the bottom half of the draw for the playoffs. Zednik played ten games for his new club, went 1-2-3, -2, in those, then left the club for personal reasons (the Islanders finished the year 9-7-4 after the trade). He returned to the ice for the opening round playoff series against Buffalo, but was held scoreless in the five-game loss. Zednik signed with Florida in the off-season. Meanwhile…the Capitals used the 46th overall pick to draft defenseman Ted Ruth. Ruth is a freshman at Notre Dame, where the stay-at-home defenseman is 1-2-3, +13, in 29 games).

Vancouver acquires Brent Sopel from Los Angeles for a 2007 or 2008 second-round pick, and a 2008 fourth-round pick

Another rental…and a somewhat risky one at that. Sopel had missed 13 games earlier in the year with a broken ankle, part of a history of leg problems. Vancouver was 36-21-5 at the time of the trade and was on a seven game points-earned streak (6-0-1). They hardly missed a beat the rest of the year, going 13-5-2. Sopel was 1-4-5, even, in his 20 games for the Canucks. The Canucks escaped a seven-game series against Dallas in the opening round and lost a six-game series to eventual Cup-winner Anaheim in the second round. In 11 games, Sopel was scoreless and plus-1. He then signed with Chicago as an unrestricted free agent for a one-year deal in the off-season. Meanwhile…The Kings used the second-round pick to select Wayne Simmonds

Vancouver acquires Bryan Smolinski from Chicago for a conditional second-round draft pick

Last year, Vancouver was an offense-challenged team (they are this year, too). This was a case of hoping for a bargain to fill a void among the forwards. Again, Vancouver had a fast finish last season and stretched their season into the second round of the playoffs. But they remained an offense-challenged team – Smolinski contributed a 4-3-7, -2 line in 20 regular season games and 2-2-4, +2 in 12 playoff games. He went on to sign with Montreal in a one-year deal as an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile…Chicago exercised its option to use the pick in 2007 (this got caught up in the Sopel deal above, believe it or not, as Chicago’s option was contingent on Los Angeles exercising its right to use Vancouver’s pick at #61 overall, which came from Anaheim as a result of the Ducks hiring coach Randy Carlyle…got all that?) and picked Akim Aliu.


This was all prelude to a rather hectic deadline day in which no fewer than 25 separate deals were made. We’ll look at those separately in an entry to follow…

In the meantime, look at the deals above and think about the days ahead, and ask yourself if there is a deal in the making that will spark a long playoff run?...or merely a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing?

4 comments:

Joella said...

Good, in-depth research -- bravo for that Peerless. (And thank you.) But very depressing. This litany makes most of the GMs in the league out to be short-sighted and unlucky on top of that nincompoops. Surely this can't be the norm. Can it?

dmg said...

Haha. Atlanta.

This litany makes most of the GMs in the league out to be short-sighted and unlucky on top of that nincompoops. Surely this can't be the norm. Can it?

Yes. There are two problems for GMS.

One is most people (fans, owners, team presidents) don't really have an appreciation for just how difficult it is to put together a team. Caps fans are a good example of this - there are a good number calling for McPhee's head if the Capitals miss the playoffs this year when, really, to make the playoffs in year 3 of a from-scratch rebuilding is quite good (especially when you factor in the injuries they've had).

The second is that people get focused too much on results in the form of standings or playoff berths.

When you combine the two you get what you got in Atlanta last year - a desperate GM trying to salvage his own job and mortgaging the organization's future to do it. When you get situations like that, where the incentives for the GM aren't necessarily in line with the best interests of the club, it's only going to hurt the team's prospects at becoming a legitimate NHL contenders.

Scott said...

Great post. You hit the nail on the head - I'd say the majority of deadline deals are desperate attempts to find someone to reinvigorate teams struggling for those last playoff spots. I hope the Caps don't give up prospects and picks to become 2008's version of Atlanta.

b.orr4 said...

Atlanta's trade for Tkachuk had to be one of the most lopsided in recent memory. Imagine if McPhee had done that deal. There'd be fans storming the Caps offices with torches and rightfully so. What your post proves is that the real way to build a championship caliber team isn't through last minute deals, but through the draft. That said, I wouldn't be adverse to McPhee picking up a second line center who's about to become a UFA for a second or third rounder.