It's coming fast, kids. And all over the hockey landscape, the questions will be of the sort, "where is Mats Sundin headed?"...or, "is Rob Blake headed to Detroit?"
We're thinking those are questions of the wrong sort, or at least that too much attention is paid to them. There is too much a "fantasy hockey" aspect to trades and such in the fan and media communities. There is another class of player that might be just as important as the one that includes names the casual fan would recognize.
Adam Schwartz digs into the matter over at NHL.com, where he looks at "the less-ballyhooed swap." It is an interesting walk down memory lane for those under-the-radar deals that contributed the "character" element to a playoff run.
The only problem we see is his 1998 example. The centerpiece of his example is Mike Keane (one of the best Stanley Cup "good luck charms" in history). Keane, traded to Dallas in the deal described, would skate for a Cup winner the following year and a finalist the year after. But if we're looking only at deals in the context of the year they were made, then one might consider the Capitals dealing Dwayne Hay and "future considerations" for Esa Tikkanen.
Tikkanen would play in 20 regular season games for the Caps at the end of the 1997-1998 season (2-10-12, -4, two game-winning goals) and would be an important ingredient in their march to the Stanley Cup final. He will be forever remembered by Caps fans for the goal he didn't score -- missing a virtual empty net in Game 2 of the finals when a goal would have given the Caps a third period two-goal lead and a leg up on tying that series. But Tikkanen was a character guy -- and a character (how many hockey players spend a portion of their youth refining their skating technique by learning figure skating?).
While we're at it, while it wasn't a trade the acquisition of Brian Bellows as a free agent in late March of that year was another of those "under-the-rader" deals that might mean more to a club's success than the marquee deals. Bellows was 6-3-9 in 11 games (with five power play goals and two game-winners) to close the regular season, and he was 6-7-13 in 21 playoff games.
These two guys managed four game winning goals between them in the last 12 wins of the regular season that year for the Caps. Arguably, without them the Caps wouldn't have advanced as far as they did.
So, as we careen toward the trading deadline, pay attention to the Sundin's and the Blake's...but watchout for the lunch-pail guys and where they end up. Don't be surprised if they go further into the playoffs.