Do deadline deals make a difference?

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2009

By Lucas Aykroyd

Nowadays, in a hockey-mad country like Canada, the NHL trade deadline gets the kind of news coverage more typically associated with giant earthquakes and Beatles reunions. On March 4 this year, TSN and Sportsnet, the two dedicated cable TV sports networks, went head-to-head as usual with hours of announcements about trades as they happened, plus instant analysis.

But is all the hype really merited?

Understand this: we’re not talking about whether a sufficient number of famous names were moved around to pump up TV ratings. (This year, there were “only” 22 trades made, compared to 25 in 2008.) The question is whether teams who make big moves at the deadline typically see those moves pay off in the form of Stanley Cup championships.

This year, pundits pegged the Calgary Flames as the big winners for landing centre Olli Jokinen from the Calgary Flames and defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Colorado Avalanche. The excitement in Calgary escalated when Jokinen scored two goals in his Flames debut versus Philadelphia. But if the Flames are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, nobody will be nearly as impressed by the cunning of Calgary GM Darryl Sutter.

The reality, of course, is that out of 30 NHL teams, only one can be the champion each year. History shows that very few deadline deals put teams over the top.

In 2008, Pittsburgh came close when they brought in Marian Hossa from Atlanta to team up with Sidney Crosby, and the Penguins marched to the Stanley Cup finals. But the actual victors, Detroit, didn’t do anything at the deadline besides bringing in D-man Brad Stuart from L.A., and while Stuart played solid hockey during the Cup run, it’s not hard to believe that the Wings would have won anyway with a top-drawer prospect like Jakub Kindl or Jonathan Ericsson in their lineup.

Classic examples of deadline deals that did help Cup winners immensely include the 1980 acquisition of Butch Goring from L.A. by the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh’s 1991 move to get Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from Hartford, and the 2001 deal that sent former Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake to bolster Colorado’s blueline.

But there are far more deals that fail to pan out each year, as general managers overpay for overhyped assets, squandering roster players, draft picks, and heaps of cash.

A great example involves Detroit. Bidding to win a third straight Cup in 1999, the Wings went out and acquired Samuelsson, Chris Chelios, Wendel Clark, and Bill Ranford at the deadline, a veritable buffet of big names past their prime. In the playoffs, Detroit fell to Colorado in the second round, and none of their deadline acquisitions had a significant impact, although Ranford’s poor goaltending against the Avs while filling in for starter Chris Osgood was unfortunately memorable.

Leading up to the 2009 deadline, speculation was rampant that the Wings might try to acquire Minnesota’s starting goalie, Niklas Backstrom, due to concerns about their current tandem of Osgood and Ty Conklin. However, that came to naught when Minnesota signed the 31-year-old Finn to a new four-year, $24-million contract before March 4.

“Niklas is our number one goalie, and it’s good that we’re keeping him for four years,” said Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire. “It shows the organization realizes that he’s a good goalie and they want to keep him. It’s like this every year at the trade deadline with all the speculation, but what can you do? The players know what it’s about. You’ve just got to go through it.”

In the end, all the hype about the trade deadline is mostly just fodder for the news media. And columns like this one. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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