Is it worth it to make a trade-deadline deal?
Editor's note: In our "Friday Faceoff," ESPN.com NHL writer Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Toronto Star columnist and frequent ESPN.com contributor Damien Cox (based in Toronto) duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!
This week's topic: Is it worth it for a team to make a trade-deadline deal?
Scott: Hello Damian. Hope this finds you well, or at least better than the Leafs. Let the garage sale begin. Speaking of which, have you caught trade-deadline fever yet? What do you make of the annual yard sale of players?
Damien: OK if I go by Dami-E-n this week? Seems to me spelling is of utmost importance at the trade deadline. Wouldn't want to trade for Jarkko Ruutu and end up with Christian Ruutu, if you know what I mean.
Scott: Oh, I thought I was doing Faceoff this week with that unsung Finnish writer who everyone is talking about, Dami-A-n. But since it's you, I'm happy to go with Damien. So, what about the trade festival? Have you got the fever?
Damien: You know, I'm torn. For starters, after a season in which there have been only, I think, 12 trades, I welcome the intrigue and the news of some deals. At the same time, the complete and utter fiction we're going to read -- and you're going to make up -- over the next few weeks until the Feb. 26th deadline, never ceases to make me want to throw up.
Scott: What is it, exactly, that nauseates you? (Other than my similes, alliteration or misspellings?) Is it that teams will be selling a bill of goods with their moves (or their nonmoves as the case may be)? I share your varied emotions about this time of year. You look at the players who could be on the move and they represent top-end talent. Yet history shows that so much is given up in futures and so little is realized, you'd wonder why any GM would ever make anything but the most minor of deals. Yet, bless 'em, they're back at it every year.
Damien: Don't get me wrong. I like the deals. I just can't stand the rumors and speculation, which are generally completely invented by those posing as insiders. Most of the big deals don't leak out beforehand.
I actually like the notion that some teams are willing to mortgage some of the future to go for it, while others are sellers and hoping to one day be deadline buyers again. It's a good dynamic. Moreover, I can never really blame good teams for showing a little guts and going for it, even when they shouldn't. Good example: When the Leafs traded for Owen Nolan a few years back, they honestly believed they were close to taking a stab at the Stanley Cup. They weren't, Nolan didn't help much and a package of futures, including Brad Boyes, went to San Jose. But I've always found it difficult to be too critical of that deal even though it didn't work. How do you blame teams for being ambitious?
Scott: I'm with you on that sentiment. I couldn't find it in my heart, for instance, to criticize a GM like David Poile, who gave up first-round picks plus assorted other prospects and picks to acquire Brendan Witt (2006) and Peter Forsberg (2007). He really did think he had a Cup contender even though he ended up with exactly two playoff victories over two seasons. But here's the question, when does ambition leak into panic or desperation? Those are the kinds of moves that can set a team back years; for example, Atlanta GM Don Waddell's disastrous acquisition of Alexei Zhitnik and his whopper contract for Braydon Coburn, who is turning into a stud on the Philadelphia blue line.
Damien: I guess the defense of the Atlanta deals was the team needed to make the postseason for reasons other than just hockey. They did, and you'd know better than I if that has made a significant difference in their market profile this season.
Scott: Well, it might have made a difference if they hadn't been swept by the Rangers, so whatever possible gains of making the playoffs were immediately negated by the disastrous performance and the hangover (Zhitnik's $3.5 million contract this season and next). And, I will admit, I was one of those who came out in defense of Waddell a year ago when people were saying he overpaid for Zhitnik and Keith Tkachuk. But that is the great part of the deadline frenzy: watching GMs sweat out how much they need to give up in order to achieve their goals -- making the playoffs and taking a run at a Cup. It's great drama.
Damien: So the Thrashers are going to be in the middle of it again this year, it seems. What, in your opinion, happens with Marian Hossa? If he goes on the trade market, is he the best player available?
Scott: Funny, I was just thinking that. Who would I go after if I was an NHL GM trying to win a Cup? I can't see Hossa re-signing here in Atlanta. Can you? But I don't think a GM can afford what Waddell is going to want for him. A team would have to be relatively certain it can lock Hossa up for five to seven years, and that's going to be a $35-$50 million commitment. Hossa's a terrific player some of the time, but has had a pretty ordinary season and his playoff performance last season was ghastly. No, if I was looking for the big piece, the one people would say, "Gee, that was the move that did it," I'd go after Mats Sundin.
Damien: You know, its interesting what younger free agency and this sudden new market for restricted free agents is doing to the market. Dion Phaneuf -- six years for $39 million? Really? Has he proven that value already? Same goes for Hossa, although obviously his free-agent status is different. To me, he seems to be one of those guys you'd love to have until the minute you have to gulp and make the long-term commitment. I'd give him $20 million for two years knowing I could wave bye-bye after that.
Scott: Yes, that's why Sundin, I think, is more attractive for this kind of transaction. Even if you had to sign him up for a year or two, he's not going to break the bank for five or six or seven years. Plus, Sundin is a center and he has on occasion proven himself to be a valuable playoff performer (just not recently). So, who would you go after if you were shoring up your squad for the postseason?
Damien: Sundin, however, is the opposite side of the coin to Hossa. Get Hossa and sign him up for the long-term if you have the stomach for it. But do you want to give up a lottery pick or "A" prospect for Sundin, who may give you only one or two years? Tough choice. That said, I think Sundin, if he's willing to waive his no-trade clause, is the best bet for a team that wants to win this season and damn the consequences. A better bet than Hossa or Olli Jokinen. And I would argue -- you may differ -- a better, if more costly, choice than Forsberg.
Scott: I suggested a year ago that Sundin should have been dealt because he would have been a better deadline acquisition than Forsberg (with all due respect to Foppa and Poile) because Sundin is far more durable at this stage of his career. And with Sundin enjoying a pretty solid season, I think he'd be a nice addition. I can't help but believe someone is once again going to pay way too much for Forsberg hoping they're getting the old Forsberg. Here's another question: If you were going to do a deal, would you do it now or wait until the last minute?
Damien: History, at least recent history, says the bigger deals get done days or weeks before. But if you believe you're the better poker player, maybe you hold out. St. Louis made out pretty well by hanging on to Bill Guerin and Tkachuk until pretty much the last possible moment. We've only talked forwards, by the way. What make you of the Brian Campbell situation in Buffalo?
Scott: That poker thing didn't work out so well for Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, holding on to Ryan Smyth until the clock ran down. But I digress. Campbell is another player who will cost you big in both term and dollars. He's one of those players whose star has ascended dramatically since the lockout. If you were picking your Canadian Olympic team today, you'd have to have him on it. And he's been to the Eastern Conference finals two seasons in a row, so he gets it.
Yes, I'd be more inclined to open up the vault for a player like Campbell. There are actually a bunch of defensemen who could be on the move, including players like Rob Blake, who could have enough for one more playoff run in him. I'm curious about whether he ends up back in Denver -- which could happen if John-Michael Liles is moved. (Hey, we're doing what you hate: speculating on where guys will end up!) I'll finish the thought, though: Blake in Denver if Liles ends up in New York, where the Rangers are desperate for a defenseman who can move the puck.
Damien: Hey, I don't mind suggestions. Just don't dress them up as facts as many of our, ahem, colleagues do. Liles is a real gem, a bit unknown. He's exactly what the Rangers need. Talked to Blake a couple of weeks ago in L.A. He didn't seem much interested in going somewhere as a rental, that's for sure. He returned to L.A. to help the kids, but, at the same time, said he didn't think the rebuilding process would be quite so painful. To me, he's the kind of guy the Kings should hang on to because what you're going to get back in a deal -- a third-rounder, a fourth-rounder -- doesn't approximate his value. Plus, going to Denver right now doesn't even guarantee you'll be in the playoffs. The quiet team in all of this is Tampa. Do they move Dan Boyle, or use this opportunity to try and dislodge one of the Big Three?
Scott: I know it's a pointless exercise, but you wonder where the Bolts would be if that skate hadn't fallen on Boyle back in training camp. And it's hard to imagine GM Jay Feaster is ever going to be able to fix his goaltending problems and bring in some supporting talent and prospects while keeping Boyle plus Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. I think Richards, even though he is the most expensive, might be the guy to go after because you likely wouldn't have to give up as much. He's played with slugs the last two seasons, he's had mono and kept playing, and he's still the guy John Tortorella puts on the ice when it matters. Of course, we're going to have a front-row seat to all of the pre-deadline machinations and mutterings when we're at the GMs meetings in a little more than a week in Florida. Should be fun.
Damien: Should be warm. From where I sit, that'll be enough. 'Til next week, pal.
Scott: Agreed. 'Til then.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."
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