North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Trade deadline winners and losers not so easily defined

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The old adage when to comes to trades is not “why does this work for both teams”, or even “Does the trade work for player X?” , but “Who won?”. Like everything else in sports, it comes down to winning, bettering your foe.

Of course, this doesn’t mean much.

When you sit down and really think about it, why would a general manager readily agree to a trade where his team takes a significant blow? Where it puts his team at a disadvantage? It wouldn’t make sense, unless he’s trying to pull a George Costanza.

So really, most trades aren’t really wins or losses for either team, they’re just a reshuffling of the deck, as it were.

Take last season’s blockbuster trade: Marion Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis) to Pittsburgh for a bundle of prospects and a draft pick. Pittsburgh was widely thought to have “won” the trade and in a sense they did: they went to the NHL finals. But during the off-season, Hossa left to sign with Detroit. But two of the prospects (Angelo Esposito and Colby Armstrong) are still with Atlanta (though Erik Christensen was traded early in March to Anaheim).

Who really won that trade, then? Did anybody win? Both teams got what they wanted out of it – Atlanta some prospects to help rebuild the team; Pittsburgh bolstered it’s lineup for a deep playoff run. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that nobody really won that trade?

Of course, this isn’t to say every trade works for both sides. One needs only to look back to early 1992, when the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Kent Maderville, Rick Wamsley and Doug Gilmour for Gary Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Jeff Reese, Michel Petit and Craig Berube. A huge ten player deal, that, when viewed in present context, was completely lopsided in Toronto’s favour.

But forgotten is why Calgary made that deal – they had problems with all of the players sent to Toronto. For example, Gilmour bailed on the Flames over his paycheque. He took the team to arbitration in December of 1991 and was awarded a salary of $750 thousand, much less then the $1.2 million he was looking for. So on Janurary 1st, Gilmour told Doug Risebrough he was leaving the team.

He was traded to Toronto shortly after, the key part of a deal that Toronto Globe and Mail writer David Shoalts called a “moving of malcontents”. Leaf defenceman Todd Gill summed up the mood at the time of the trade: “(It) should be pretty good for both teams. I hope this change can get a few guys on our team going.”

Even in such an extreme example, it’s not always so clear-cut to call a winner or loser in trades. Essentially, Calgary got rid of a player who didn’t want to play and got one back who would only score 11 more NHL goals – but cleared the dressing room of players who had been causing problems for the team all season. All of the players sent to Toronto were having contract problems with the team. One had even threatened to leave the Flames for the national team. At the same time, Toronto was considered a bad team that had just picked up some good players – but nobody was predicting two straight runs to the conference finals in the next two seasons.

Which brings me to this season’s trade deadline. The biggest, arguably most important move was Calgary’s acquisition of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold. While nobody is now calling them favourites to win the Cup – Dallas, Detroit and Boston still hold those – they are being called the winners of their trades.

But as history has shown, isn’t it a little early to make those calls? Shouldn’t we – the pundits, the fans, etc – wait just a little bit first?

Lost in the orgy of information on trade deadline Wednesday – over eight hours of debate and opinion on two different channels can hardly be called anything else – was the most basic rule of every trade: you make it to improve your team, either by addition or subtraction. But that doesn’t make for riveting television – it’s exactly why The Sports Reporters is a non-entity and why Around The Horn is on five times a week.

One then supposes that the real winners on trade deadline day are the networks, who turned a fairly meaningless day where nothing much important into a huge TV event.

After all, it’s not like any of the teams are winning or losing because of the day.


Written by M.

March 7, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Posted in Hockey, nhl, Sports Media

Tagged with , , , ,

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