Maybe it’s time to rethink Peter Pocklington’s infamous1988 trade. The former Edmonton Oiler owner has gone down as the greatest villain in Canadian hockey history for trading Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles that summer.
Pocklington claimed he made the deal with the Kings because he wanted to maximize Gretzky’s value as an asset before it began deteriorating. (A notion put in his brain by Kings oner Bruce McNall.)
Over time, the trade has come to be judged as a disaster for Edmonton. Pocklington’s “depreciating asset” claim has likewise been derided as specious and self serving.
But the Oilers won a Stanley Cup after Gretzky left. Gretzky won no more Cups. Pocklington got $15-million. His gamble was sabotaged by his hockey department’s failure to convert the wealth of No. 1 draft picks rather than the timing of sending No. 99 to Hollywood.
And, as the fate of several high-profile NHL veterans demonstrates, judging the best time to move an asset is a capricious thing.
Exhibits A & B for waiting too long to convert are Calgary’s franchise pillars Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff . They took Calgary to within a game of the 2004 Stanley Cup. Through no fault of theirs, the Flames have steadily deteriorated to the point where, if the season ended today, it would mark a fifth straight campaign without a postseason berth in Calgary.
So far in 2013, the 35-year Iginla has just one goal, while the 36-year-old Kiprusoff will likely miss about 10 games with a knee problem. Clearly, hanging onto Iginla ($7-million/year) and Kiprusoff ($5.83-million/year) so late in their contracts has not returned playoff dividends on the Flames’ investment.
Off the ice, Iginla has been a gold mine for the Flames’ logo business (estimates are his name returns over 50 per cent of the named merchandise sold). But that is offset by the loss of lucrative playoff gates while trying to resurrect the magic of 2004.
In their primes, the pair could have brought a bountiful return in players and draft picks. Now, Iginla’s former teammate Rhett Warrener tells Fan 960 in Calgary this week that Iginla has lost his compete level.
Iginla responded on Wednesday night by fighting Dallas’ Antoine Roussel and netting two assists.
It will be tough to leverage either for a package that will make Flames fans happy at losing their heroes. On this scale, Pocklington’s gamble comes out ahead.
What to do with Lou?
The Roberto Luongo trade debate features another veteran player, but one with more trade value considering his brilliant play so far in 2013. How much value depends on whether you’re talking to Canucks GM Mike Gillis or the general manager of a team contemplating adding the 33-year-old and his massive contract. Fair to say, Luongo is now playing like one of the Top 25 players in the league, a substantial asset.
Vancouver says it’s prepared to play this season with Luongo and his sidekick Cory Schneider. If it brings a Stanley Cup then the gamble will pay off. But if Vancouver exits early in the playoffs (as it did in 2012), the deterioration of Luongo as a trading asset will be marked. Gillis’ ability to extract commensurate value will be hampered.
Should this happen, Pocklington’s return on Gretzky might look acceptable by comparison.
Pulling the trigger
Then there are Washington’s tarnished golden boy Alex Ovechkin and (until the past two games) Toronto’s sniper in dry dock, Phil Kessel. Ovechkin is 27 and Kessel 25. As opposed to the players mentioned above, these two should still be on the ascendancy in their career arc and substantial assets.
For reasons not clear yet (the lockout malaise?) neither looks like his former scoring self. Ovechkin has just 2 goals and 5 points in 2013; Kessel has only just boosted his numbers to 2 goals and 9 assists. Begging the magical question, should the Caps and Leafs cash in now before their asset stock possibly does an Apple and plummets?
As opposed to Gretzky before the 1988 trade, Ovechkin is paid at the very top of the scale. So finding someone with the courage to accept his $9,538,462 a year till 2021 for will narrow the field considerably.
There are maybe three or four teams that could swallow that deal let alone return market value for a guy who’s the most dynamic in the NHL when motivated.
Back to Pocklington, who was clever in getting out of the Gretzky market before Wayne’s earning power put him beyond the reach of most trading partners.
Kessel is far more palatable at $5,400,000 per till 2014. The questions about his asset value are familiar. Is he an excellent player on a bad team or just a good player on a championship team? Does he make players around him better? The answers to these are the same as when Kessel was drafted. He wore out his welcome in Boston and few will boycott the ACC if he’s traded for proper players either. (Though he can’t be held personally responsible for the players he was traded for.)
Remember that Pocklington got Martin Gelinas, Jimmy Carson and three No. 1 picks (that his scouting staff punted away on busts) for Gretzky. Think anyone will get anything approaching that for the players above, including Ovechkin? Doubt it.
Meaning Pocklington’s Curse is unwarranted in light of the Stanley Cup in 1990 and, however brilliantly he played, Gretzky’s failure to deliver a title anywhere else.
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