Every year, it’s tempting to rush to judgment on the NHL’s trade-deadline manoeuvring, which never makes much sense. Last year, the initial winner was thought to be the Washington Capitals, on the grounds they addressed their needs for a centre with playoff experience (Jason Arnott) and a defenceman who could move the puck (Dennis Wideman) in case Mike Green’s injuries lingered. Didn’t help.
Washington made its usual early playoff exit because all the fundamental core pieces of the team couldn’t find a way of navigating past the 1-3-1 defensive scheme that the Tampa Bay Lightning used so effectively in the second round.
Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins quietly completed two smaller transactions weeks ahead of deadline day, adding versatile forwards Rich Peverley (from the Atlanta Thrashers) and Chris Kelly (from the Ottawa Senators), depth players that provided important minutes when injuries knocked out Nathan Horton and others during the long, two-month playoff grind.
Probably, no one saw Peverley’s name trending on Twitter on Feb. 18, 2011, when he joined the Bruins for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. He’s well-enough liked within the industry but hardly a big attention-grabbing name. He wasn’t Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets) or even Derek Roy (Buffalo Sabres), who weren’t traded at the 2012 deadline Monday, even after all the huffing and puffing that took place with regard to their availability.
It is increasingly apparent that there is now a trading-deadline season, as opposed to simply a trading-deadline day – and most smart general managers get to the market early before the stock has been too badly depleted.
The second lesson learned from past deadline debacles is the one that ultimately kept Nash in Columbus and set up an awkward final six weeks for the Blue Jackets captain. Columbus general manager Scott Howson absorbed a torrent of criticism for leaving a package of five players or draft choices on the table from the New York Rangers, which according to the New York Post consisted of regular Brandon Dubinsky, prospects Tim Erixon, J.T. Miller and Christian Thomas and a first-round draft choice, which would likely fall right at the end of the round.
Howson held firm to his position – that he wanted a bona fide contributing NHL player as the starting point of any deal, which is what he received from the Los Angeles Kings in his previous trade for a far less attractive commodity, Jeff Carter. On paper, 5-for-1 looks good until you break down the individual pieces, beginning with Dubinsky, who is in his fifth full NHL season. He had a breakout 54-point season in 2010-11 (after scoring 40, 41, and 44 points in his first three seasons) but has fallen way off that pace this season, after the Rangers signed Brad Richards.
How good is Dubinsky? Maybe he’s just waiting for the chance to land in Columbus to jump-start his career by playing a more significant role. The sad reality is that there are a lot of NHL players who score in the 40- to 55-point range (107 of them did it last season).
The Rangers did not want to give up their top prospect outside the NHL (Chris Kreider of Boston College) or a regular defenceman off their roster (Michael Del Zotto or Ryan McDonough). Given their place atop the Eastern Conference standings, with a team that relies so heavily on chemistry and adhering closely to coach John Tortorella’s system, no one can blame the Rangers for that either.
But it doesn’t mean that Howson was in any way obliged to gift-wrap this year’s answer to Marian Hossa for them either, which is what Atlanta did for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a similar sort of deal at the 2008 deadline. Hossa helped the Penguins get to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final and all the future help that looked so promising going the other way didn’t develop into much for Atlanta.
By waiting, Howson might be able to expand the list of possible suitors (with Nash’s blessing) and acquire more mature players in any package that he might get. Any NHL team that falls short of its goal in the playoffs this year will have an easier time trading a roster player in June, knowing that any lineup holes from July until October can be filled with a secondary move.
Maybe the Rangers will win the Cup this year, in which case they would likely not revisit the Nash talks in the summer. But if they don’t, and they exit early, and the postseason assessment is that one more established game-breaking scorer is what they lacked, well, that’s the sort of desire that Howson will be counting on to create a new, even more feverish bidding war for the prodigal’s rights.