There are times, and this is one of them, when describing Canada as a “hockey-mad” nation is simply not strong enough.
If the world were actually to end in the spring of 2012, Canadians would have to wait until the game was over to hear the news that everything was over.
In the coming week, right up until 3 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 27, lunacy will rule. Television screens will be filled with grown men in dark, serious suits staring hard at their BlackBerries. Twitter will explode with speculation, errors and schoolyard fights over who was first with what news about some third-line winger no one has ever heard of before. There will be more instant analysis offered up than if the government suddenly fell.
Welcome to Trade Week in the National Hockey League.
It does not matter that the salary cap and competitive parity have served to make this rather anticlimactic in recent years. With few teams truly out of the playoff picture, and even fewer teams with salary elasticity, the action has been reduced largely to what Harry Sinden once called “moving-van trades” – the only winner being the companies that truck the players’ furniture from the old city to the new one.
Commentators will, once again, overuse the phrase “traded for a bag of pucks” when they could easily use a much superior example of a lowball deal: Kris Draper from the Winnipeg Jets to the Detroit Red Wings in 1993 for a buck.
Talk about a dollar well spent. Draper went on to play more than 1,000 games for the Red Wings, win four Stanley Cups and be awarded the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.
(As The Hockey News smartly pointed out last week, a puck bag sells for $24.99 and, filled with pucks, would cost $84.39 before taxes.)
Most speculation in recent days has concerned the destination of Rick Nash, the huge and hugely talented captain of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. Sadly for NHL marketing purposes, he will not be going to Nashville, having apparently lifted his no-trade clause in favour of five teams: Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks.
Keith Jones once claimed he and a journeyman teammate on the Philadelphia Flyers had their own unique no-trade clauses: “Nobody wants us.”
There will be much talk, as there is each year at this time, about the 1980 trade that sent Butch Goring from the Kings to the New York Islanders, thereby giving the Islanders that final piece of the puzzle that led to four straight Stanley Cups.
Such genuine impact, however, is rare. There is the 1964 trade between the Maple Leafs and Rangers that brought Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney to Toronto (in exchange for five players including Dick Duff) and helped produce the Leafs’ second-last Cup.
No matter how 2012 plays out, it will never compare to the trading action of 20 years ago. The Calgary Flames and the Maple Leafs launched 1992 by swapping a total of 10 players, including Doug Gilmour, in a single deal. It was also the year in which the Quebec Nordiques sent the rights to Eric Lindros to the Flyers in exchange for five fine players, including future hall-of-famer Peter Forsberg, $15-million in cash and two high draft picks.
Hindsight would suggest that bad trades are remembered far better than good ones, and history argues that, contrary to popular belief, not all bad hockey trades were made by the Islanders, though Zdeno Chara and the draft pick that became Jason Spezza for the Ottawa Senators’ Alexei Yashin, and Roberto Luongo for a couple of middling Florida Panthers hold unique status.
Who can recall what the Bruins got from the Sharks for Joe Thornton in 2005?
What made the Chicago Blackhawks think the Buffalo Sabres’ Stéphane Beauregard was fair exchange for unused goalie Dominik Hasek in 1992? Or the Pittsburgh Penguins sending Markus Naslund to the Vancouver Canucks for Alek Stojanov in 1996? (In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that Vancouver also ended up on the short end of a deal in 1986 when it took Barry Pederson from Boston in exchange for a local prospect named Cam Neely.)
While the experts will be quick this week to say which team won and which team lost, it’s important to remember that, over time, some trades are beyond measure. Who got the better deal in 1995 when the Dallas Stars got Joe Nieuwendyk, and soon a Cup, from the Flames for an unknown prospect named Jarome Iginla? And what about that “worst deal ever” that brought Phil Kessel to Toronto for three high draft picks, one of whom turned out to be Tyler Seguin?
Phil Kessel? Tyler Seguin? Kessel? Seguin? Seguin? Kessel? …
Such bar and water-cooler chatter is a waste of time.
But this is Canada, where two dates stand out above all others.
July 1, 1867, the birth of the country.
And Aug. 9, 1988, the day Wayne Gretzky was traded.