1,000 Words with Scott Rennie: time to put the deadline in perspective

It’s probably fortunate that the official launch of Coincidental Minors comes at the end a week that kicked off with the trade deadline — because it’s nice to finally be reasonable about things.

There’s a time and place to obsess, I won’t argue, but it is weird that so many of us attach the importance of Feb. 27 right up there with the draft, or dare I suggest: the cup finals. (Laugh if you want — but they don’t stretch out 10 hours of coverage for a Game 7).

But like Jeff and Tim sounded off on in their debut Two for Roughing segment, the biggest moves were the ones that didn’t happen.

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson will have his reckoning for not dealing Rick Nash come the draft in Pittsburgh in June. Less obviously, we’ll soon find out whether the Canadiens and Flames are delusional about the long-term prospects of their core squads, or simply without moveable assets.

The moves that did happen were depth moves, pure and simple — with apologies to Paul Gaustad. We can argue that Cody Hodgson was a high price to pay for the sandpapery Zack Kassian, but it’s unarguable that he was never quite good enough to crack the top-six in Vancouver.

And history is kind to these low-stakes deals.

Even the most-recent deadline deals by eventual cup winning teams (the Pens grabbing Bill Guerin in ’09, Carolina acquiring Recchi in ’06) were not by any means blockbusters.

And it’s actually hard to pinpoint more than a couple deadline transactions that turned out to be colossal organizational blunders, especially post-2000.

But the pacing and urgency of the deadline as presented on TSN or Sportsnet would have viewers believe that stakes are incredibly high, and GMs are prepared to drunkenly spend to get whatever’s needed to push their teams to elite levels.

The fact is, most of the elite teams are already performing where they need to be, and don’t need to gamble.

If we are to historically compare the deals, it seems there’s the baseline — modest moves for good veterans players who do benefit their buyers at little cost, and only a few outliers — few weren’t shocked when Ryan Smyth left the Oilers in ’07 but he’s now far removed from Long Island, and none of those guys worked out in Edmonton anyway. Blue-chip prospects just aren’t often on the table on this day.

nbsp;The reward for a good deadline deal, for the most part, is generally small. But consequences of a bad one, it seems, are maybe even smaller.

I won’t be surprised if Kassian and Sammy Pahlsson contribute to a deep playoff run in Vancouver. I think Gaustad does make Nashville a good bet to make the final four, but I don’t think the trajectories of any franchise was changed on Monday. And I think that’s largely true for most deadline days.

Which brings me to Leafs GM Brian Burke.

In the absence of any significant trade, one of the stories emerging out of Toronto this week was Brian Burke’s revolutionary call to overthrow our Deadlinian Overlords.

To wit, as Burke told the National Post:

“It’s to the point where I’m debating whether I do what I do around Christmas … starting our own trade freeze 10 days before. That’s how distracting it is. We just had this discussion upstairs and I’m wondering if I have to do that here, because Clarke MacArthur’s been traded 10 times, Grabovski’s been traded 12 times … Luke Schenn’s been traded 50 times. I think the trade deadline is hard on players, but I think it’s murder on players in Toronto. And we just had a serious debate whether next year we’re going to do this 10 days earlier so the players can relax.”

I’ll never begrudge Burke for his honestly, but this is just wacky.

Having a management-imposed trade deadline for Christmas is one thing — nobody wants to be dealt to the Minnesota Wild on Christmas Eve.  And this is similar to Burke’ policy, as Ducks GM, of only allowing a no-movement clause to one player, J.S. Giguere, because the netminder’s son was born with health problems.

If a general manager wants to institute team-specific rules about trades in the interests of common sense or humanity, we can all applaud that.

But having a Feb.17 trade deadline wouldn’t make the circumstances any less ‘murder’ on his players. If teams are sniffing around guys like Clarke MacArthur or Luke Schenn or Mikhail Grabovski (prototypical depth players that often move this time of year), and fans, media and other GMs know that a clock somewhere is ticking, guys will be resting a bit less easy, regardless of the calendar date.

And I don’t like to use this argument often, but in an era of guaranteed contracts, no one’s right to livelihood in the game is going to be significantly altered by this day.

Whatever stresses the deadline brings in the offices of the Leafs brass is borne of the unique circumstances that make Toronto the hockey market it is.

It’s because no one is ever quite sure if the Buds are buyers and sellers on this day. And because a bloodthirsty fan base can’t figure out what year of the plan the Leafs rebuild is on, and in that market, that hysteria equals ratings and page views. It’s because the organization suffers from both an expectations and accountability gap. It’s because Burke never shuts up and his coach is sort of an egomaniac and his No.1 goalie is still on the mend from a concussion.

Not all of these things are Burke’s fault or under his control. But I’m sure if the situation was reversed, and he was in a position to grab a veteran role player, then he’d like that the sellers are lining up for auction.

But complaining about the deadline is just a smoke screen for what is an anxiety about having so little control over the perception of his team’s failings and accomplishments.

The NHL trade deadline has never been a rational or effective way to distribute players throughout out the league. Choose whatever evidence you like — whether it’s a list of Conn Smythe winners, who’s in the top-10 in league scoring, or the rosters of cup winning teams. It’s a truism and cliché — but the draft will always be king.  And while shrewd free agent signings and offseason deals will have their place, the last-minute trades of Feb. 27 are the bastard children of franchise development.

It’s nice to indulge our fandom obsessing over the deadline each year, but let’s consider it for what it is — and only that.

– Scott Rennie, Managing Editor
@scott_rennie

(Editor’s Note: 1,000 Words is a weekly column with Coincidental Minors’ Managing Editor, Scott Rennie, who provides his insight, analysis and witty two-cents on current news, events and happenings from around the NHL. )

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