If 2012-13 had been a regular 82-game season we would have been immersed in the NHL trade deadline this week, with who knows how many transactions, major and minor, taking place as teams made the annual push to strengthen their lineups for the playoff run. As it is, there are still four-and-a-half weeks to go until the lockout-shortened version of the trade deadline comes to pass on Apr. 3, but the action is heating up, with two interesting trades this week, a controversial offer sheet tendered by the Calgary Flames to restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly and all kinds of fresh rumours making the rounds.
Two prominent names were kicked around on the chat boards and websites this week – the Philadelphia Flyers’ Daniel Briere and the Anaheim Ducks’ Corey Perry, both of whom would be vastly interesting commodities if speculation translated into something much more.
The Briere talk made little sense, and not just because he has a full no-movement clause in the seven-year, $52-million free-agent contract he signed back in 2007-08 to join the Flyers from the Buffalo Sabres. Philadelphia imagines itself as a Stanley Cup contender every season and as time passes, owner Ed Snider gets more and more eager to win a championship, something that hasn’t happened in the City of Brotherly Love since the mid-1970s. Why then, in the name of Sam Pollock, would Flyers’ general manager Paul Holmgren trade away a player of Briere’s postseason pedigree?
Since 2005-06, or when NHL play resumed following the cancelled season, Briere is the league’s leading playoff scorer, with 106 playoff points in 102 playoff games. There have been seven Stanley Cups awarded in that time, but in only four of those seasons has one player won the outright postseason scoring title – Briere, David Krejci (Boston Bruins), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes).
The Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings were the only teams to qualify for two finals in that time, and Malkin has great numbers too – 81 points in 68 games. On a points-per-game basis, the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is the leader for any player with 75 points or more (90 in 68). But Briere is relentlessly efficient in the postseason – one trip to the final, three to the conference final, two to the conference semi-finals and only once (in the 2008-09 season) has he been on a team eliminated in the first round.
Last year, playing only two rounds, Briere still tied for the playoff goal-scoring lead with eight, the same as Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown managed in four rounds and 20 games for the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings. Moving Briere doesn’t pass the smell test, even if he is off to a comparatively slow start (11 points in his first 17 games).
As for Perry, he is one of two Anaheim Ducks with a chance to become an unrestricted free agent this season. In the current era of relaxed unrestricted free agency, no player who ever won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP (as Perry did in 2011) has then hit the open market two years later. The suspicion is his availability would create a bidding frenzy that might even dwarf the auctions this past summer for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both of whom left their respective teams, the Nashville Predators and the New Jersey Devils, to sign with the Minnesota Wild in exchange for $98-million. The salary cap dips next season to its 2011-12 level ($64.3-million), but at least two thirds of the teams in the NHL (and probably more) could free up the necessary space if Perry indicated a willingness to sign there.
Organizationally, it leaves the Ducks in a quandary, facing the same dilemma that the Dallas Stars encountered two years ago with Brad Richards or that the Preds and Devils did last year with Suter and Parise. All three teams opted to go down the same path, turned away any and all overtures for their star players and instead kept them for the playoff run. Parise helped the Devils get to the final last year; Suter’s Predators were eliminated in the second round; and two years ago, the Stars missed the playoffs altogether, with Richards out of the lineup for part of that time recovering from a concussion.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, would they do the same – or think big-picture thoughts and maximize their return at the deadline, even if it undermines what they are trying to accomplish in the short term. Perry is heating up of late. He had three assists on Kyle Palmieri’s natural hat trick this past Wednesday, as the Ducks rolled over the Predators to complete the best February in team history – an 11-2 month that sees them nicely placed atop the Pacific Division and contending for the No. 2 playoff seed in the Western Conference.