Put yourself in the shoes of an NHL general manager, 24 days from the trade deadline - and not his fantasy shoes by the way, where Sidney Crosby can be traded for Alex Ovechkin and six-for-six blockbusters are common. Try it in the real world, where the decision for so many teams comes down to this: When so few players are made available, how high do you bid for the handful of big names (Jeff Carter, James Van Riemsdyk) that might be pried loose? Or do you do the safe thing and add a couple of useful supplementary pieces who might come cheaply because their value is depressed, such as the deal the Minnesota Wild pulled off Friday morning, getting shootout specialist Erik Christensen from the New York Rangers in exchange for minor-leaguer Casey Wellman.
A lot of last year’s trade deadline deals fell into the latter category, small moves that yielded small rewards. Dennis Wideman was moved in the Florida Panthers’ fire sale, as were Radek Dvorak and Chris Higgins. Jason Arnott, Rusty Klesla, Scottie Upshall, Max Lapierre and Dustin Penner all found new homes. None made much of an impact, except for maybe Higgins, who produced a modest eight points in 25 playoff games for the Vancouver Canucks.
Many also came with the sort of wear-and-tear that obliges potential buyers to be very wary. For example, the Calgary Flames acquired a broken-down Freddie Modin from the Atlanta Thrashers and he simply wasn’t able to contribute (zero points in his only four appearances). Similarly, the Washington Capitals grabbed a broken-down Marco Sturm from the Los Angeles Kings who’d grabbed him from the Boston Bruins and he did little (scoring one goal in 18 games for the Caps, after notching four in 17 for the Kings).
Flames GM Jay Feaster knew Modin from winning the Stanley Cup with him in Tampa. Kings GM Dean Lombardi knew Sturm from drafting him in San Jose. Both were aware of what they were getting character wise. Character was not the issue, but it required the respective managers to take a leap of faith and guess if the mileage on the odometer would make them useful additions. They weren’t.
So here we are in 2012 and GMs will be asked to make the same tough calls with trade targets that include their share of warts. Ales Hemsky, frequently injured but highly skilled and a player that can still occasionally make something out of nothing, seems like he’s no longer a fit with the Oilers and their emphasis on youth. The Kings made a pitch for him last year, but the belief was that Edmonton wouldn’t deal him unless prospect Braydon Schenn was in the mix, so it didn’t go through. Hemsky’s value may be down because he hasn’t played as many as 72 games since the ‘09 season (22 in 2010 due to shoulder surgery; 47 last year, 37 and counting this year. At 6-foot, 184 pounds, he would probably be a good fit with Detroit, a team he sunk back in the 2006 playoffs. Management there has long memories; they will remember Hemsky when he was at his best (17 points in 24 playoff games during Edmonton’s trip to the final).
All the focus in Columbus will be on Carter, who is on an 11-year contract, with a per-year cap charge of $5.273-million - not bad if you see him as a front-line 40-goal scorer, a total he has managed just once in his first seven years. The thinking is Columbus wants to recoup its investment in Carter, which was two top-10 picks, Jacob Voracek, 7th overall in ’07 and Sean Couturier, 8th overall last year. Carter was activated from injured reserve Thursday and is scheduled to play for Columbus Friday night in Anaheim. Thus far, this year, he’s played 30 games (17 points) and missed 21.