There are two ways to look at the 2010 NHL trading deadline, which entered the history books this past Wednesday.
One is to think that NHL general managers actually reviewed recent history and came to an astonishing conclusion: All that jockeying, all those moves, all that frantic action in the past rarely translated into playoff success; and that the winners were usually the sellers, who took advantage of the frenzy in order to exact big-time prices for marginal merchandise.
For years, the trading deadline has been the opposite of a clearance sale - the one day a year when prices are marked up and still, the shoppers line up madly for the chance to bid on a Nathan Paetsch here or an Alexandre Picard there.
That's the kinder assessment and one which proved to be true in a number of important precincts, such as Chicago and San Jose, where the respective general managers Stan Bowman and Doug Wilson did their work early and essentially told their teams that they were good enough, as constructed, to win a championship without last-minute reinforcement.
Of course, the other way of viewing matters is that this year, it was a splintered auction; and that there were really two trading deadlines as a result of the NHL's 16-day Olympic break. If you factor in the deals leading up to that first artificial deadline - which included two legitimate blockbuster deals, one for Ilya Kovalchuk, one for Dion Phaneuf; and a couple of others that involved significant players Olli Jokinen and J.S. Giguere - then you'd probably conclude it was business as usual in 2010.
The aforementioned four deals more interesting than anything completed at the actual trading deadline; but the sheer volume of players changing sides this past Wednesday, made it another year in which the biggest cheers came from the marketing departments, who know that in-arena program sales will be jump-started for a short time anyway.
The absence of first-round draft choices changing hands was a telling sidebar. A year ago, the Calgary Flames were willing to give up a No. 1 pick in the 2010 entry draft to land Jokinen from the Phoenix Coyotes. Jokinen was a poor fit in Calgary and when they finally found a taker for him - thank you New York Rangers' general manager Glen Sather - they were forced to take back two slumping players, both of whom make too much money (Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins) relative to their current rates of production. The Flames made this move with the unflinching belief that they were a playoff team and thus the pick would probably be in the 20s. Now, it looks as if they're sinking fast in the West and the Coyotes may pluck a prospect in the top dozen or 14.
Only the Toronto Maple Leafs' miscalculation was worse - giving up two first-rounders for Phil Kessel, who at least is still in the organization and could score 30-plus goals per season for them for the foreseeable future. If the player the Boston Bruins selects with that pick - Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin - becomes a Patrick Kane or a Jonathan Toews-type player, then the post-mortems can be conducted. Until then, it's still just a theoretical exercise.
More and more, the majority of the 30 NHL GMs understand the value of draft picks - and how the game, as it is currently played, permits the most talented of the young players to come in and have an impact almost right away.
There is no perfect formula for building a contender - and every time a young team moves into playoff contention, it means an older team is on the wane - but the smartest teams are the ones that understand how it is better to bottom out and then re-assert themselves rather than forever plug away in the middle, good enough to win about as often as they lose - but with no real chance to challenge for a championship. You can't tread water indefinitely; eventually you drown.