Deadline deals? Ducks, Sens prove you don't need them
So far, this NHL spring might be best remembered as the season in which the league waited so long to start the Stanley Cup finals, it seemed like a dramatic reenactment of the lockout, with Bradley Whitford playing the part of Bob Goodenow.
By the time they get around to dropping the puck, one wouldn't be surprised if, like those old grainy, black-and-white shots from space, the Stanley Cup finals will be accompanied with the script, "This is only a simulation."
But the most significant development might turn out to be that the playoffs delivered results that, ultimately, might kill the entire concept of the big trade-deadline deal.
Which is bad. Very bad.
But why, based on the events of the past week, would any team go out next winter and spend draft picks, players and prospects to acquire a big-name player at the March trade deadline based on the events of this season?
The Preds, Ducks and Sens, after all, are providing that such efforts might be nothing but a complete waste of time and resources, more hype than substance.
Did I mention that, if true, this would be bad? Very bad?
The NHL trade deadline is arguably the most dramatic day of the entire season. In contrast to other leagues, whose comparable deadlines come and go with mostly a yawn or perhaps a minor deal or two, the NHL's deadline somehow snaps the league's 30 general managers to attention and gets them to think big, often really big.
Built on the memory of the way the Islanders once dealt for Butch Goring and then won four consecutive Stanley Cups, the deadline deal is seen by many GMs as either a sure-fire way to put their team over the top or an enticing fruit too appealing not to taste.
On Feb. 27, the final day of NHL trading this season, there were 25 trades, a torrent of last-minute deals designed to give teams that extra edge. It's just downright fun. Period.
But with only two teams left standing, it's clear that crazy day wasn't nearly as pivotal as it appeared at the time. The Ducks and Senators, after all, each made only a token move, and both Anaheim GM Brian Burke and Ottawa GM John Muckler were castigated by some for not taking a great big belly flop into the trade pool. Yet, it is the Ducks and Sens that will face off for the Cup.
Twelve days before the deadline, Nashville was one of the teams that took the plunge, acquiring center Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia for a whopping ransom that included defensive prospect Ryan Parent, young forward Scottie Upshall and first- and third-round draft picks this June.
The motivation for the Preds was two-fold. GM David Poile had a strong team with the potential for playoff success and, just as important, the franchise was looking to cause a stir in the market, attract some new fans and possibly some investors for owner Craig Leipold, as well. The team had averaged less than 14,000 fans per game during the season, up 24 percent from the previous season, but still below the league average and under a threshold needed to hold the Preds to the terms of their 30-year lease in Nashville.
So, what happened? The Preds went out in the first round to Nashville. Then, Leipold announced Thursday he is tired of losing money and getting such a tepid response from the Tennessee market and is selling the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie. Balsillie, many believe, has plans to ultimately shift the team north to the lucrative Southern Ontario market in Canada.
So, after taking the gamble to get Forsberg, the Predators sacrificed a chunk of their future, didn't get anywhere in the postseason and may have taken the first large steps out of town.
So much for deadline deals making a difference.
Anaheim, interestingly, wanted to make a big swap. Burke, who relishes his reputation as a bit of a riverboat gambler, made a deal to send defenseman Shane O'Brien to Tampa Bay mostly so he could have a first-round draft pick to trade.
But, one by one, all the big forwards on Burke's list went to other teams as he refused to toss in key prospects or even his best young players like Corey Perry. In the end, Burke simply swapped goalie prospect Michael Wall to Colorado for hardnosed winger Brad May. May has gone on to make some useful contributions as a grinder in the postseason, his most useful being a sucker punch that knocked Minnesota defenseman Kim Johnsson out of the series during the Ducks-Wild first-round series.
In Ottawa, meanwhile, there was enormous pressure on Muckler to go out and get veteran winger Gary Roberts from Florida. Roberts had tormented the Sens in previous playoff years as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was identified by many as the crucial ingredient to ensure the Sens wouldn't fold up easily and early as they'd done in the 2006 playoffs.
Maybe Muckler didn't want to pay the first-round pick he suggested the Panthers demanded, or maybe his former coach and current Florida GM, Jacques Martin, had no intention of trading Roberts to Ottawa and helping the club that had fired him.
The upshot was Roberts didn't become a Senator, and Muckler instead made a small deal to acquire underachieving winger Oleg Saprykin from Phoenix. Saprykin, however, proved to be a useful fourth-line player for Ottawa throughout the first three rounds while playing with center Dean McAmmond and converted defenseman Christoph Schubert. The Senators have also shown plenty of the moxie and grit, so trading for Roberts wasn't nearly as necessary as some had posited.
So what about all the other big deadline deals?
• Detroit picked up Todd Bertuzzi, who contributed a little offense, but by the end of the Western Conference finals, he could barely skate on his bad back.
• Atlanta suffered terribly, moving defensive prospect Braydon Coburn to land veteran blue-liner Alexei Zhitnik, and then journeyman winger Glen Metropolit and three draft picks, including a first-rounder, to St. Louis to get Keith Tkachuk. The Thrashers were swept in four by the Rangers in the first round.
• The New York Islanders made a Goring-like splash by landing Ryan Smyth from Edmonton for prospects Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra and a first-round pick this June. That helped them edge out Toronto for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, but didn't help them win any more than a game against Buffalo before bowing out in the first round.
And on and on it went. All those deals, yet the teams that ended up making the smallest deals have gone the furthest, and Nashville's brave, bold attempt to win playoff games and new fans fizzled completely.
Will this kill the big deadline deal and take the fun out of the NHL's most electric day?
Probably not completely. Both Edmonton and Carolina did make it to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals by making key, late season additions.
But for any GM harboring sneaking doubts about adding this flawed player or that aging star for a bundle of futures when the deadline rolls around again next March, the this season's returns on big deals will certainly give reason to pause.
Or stand pat. Or turn off his cell phone.
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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