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Jay Feaster's Blog: Why trades are tough on players

Keith Ballard was shipped to Vancouver along wit Victor Oreskovich for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and the 25th overall draft pick during Round 1. (Getty Images)

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Keith Ballard was shipped to Vancouver along wit Victor Oreskovich for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and the 25th overall draft pick during Round 1. (Getty Images)

During the drama of the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, did anyone else wonder what it must be like to be any of Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner, Keith Ballard, Victor Oreskovich or Andrew Cogliano?

I did. And it troubles me that we are so anxious to get the scoop, to break the story, to be the first one out of the box with the news that we treat human beings like widgets to be moved from one factory floor to another. We never stop to think about what happens to the human beings involved when the media breaks the news of a trade.

On Friday night the rumor of a trade between Florida and Vancouver was already being reported as just that – a rumor – prior to the draft. Shortly after the draft commenced, TSN announced the trade via its news crawler and noted the deal was “conditional.” Shortly after 7:00 p.m. the lives of Messrs. Bernier, Grabner, Ballard and Oreskovich turned upside down for a few hours.

We tend to forget our hockey player heroes are human beings. They are people, just like us. They have wives or girlfriends, parents, brother and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, life-long friends; and the minute the news starts crawling across the ticker at the bottom of the screen those family members are on the phone to their loved one asking him if he’s heard the news.

Does he know he’s just been traded? What does he think about going to Florida or Vancouver or wherever it is he’s going?

How many times do we hear the quotes from players after the fact: “I knew something was up, because when I checked my phone after the movie it said I had 20 messages.” Put yourself in the player’s shoes. It is bad enough he has to learn of the trade from the media, but imagine hearing the news and then having to wait another two or three hours to find out whether the trade is going to be finalized. 

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What if the ‘condition’ is not met? Is the deal off? (We were told later in the broadcast on Friday evening that had the condition not been met and Vancouver kept its pick, the trade would have gone through with Vancouver giving Florida its first-rounder next year. However, what if that pick was not near the bottom of the draft, but closer to the top? Do we still have a deal?)

There is a reason the NHL does not hold its trade conference calls in public. At the draft, the ‘conference call’ is conducted by the parties in-person, with a league officer either writing the terms of the trade down or taking a written submission of the deal from the parties. The NHL still pulls the respective player contracts, reviews each team’s reserve list and makes sure the trade comports with all CBA mandates. Just as during the season, the league official asks the parties when they plan to announce the trade.

My own practice as a GM was never to announce anything until I had a chance to speak with my players. I wanted them to hear the news from me and I wanted my counterpart to be able to tell his players as well. Presumably, the parties agreed to not announce the trade until just prior to the 25th pick, inasmuch as there was no reason to do so earlier. Had the news not come out until that time think of the angst, confusion and phone calls it could have saved the four players. Going forward, let’s remember, our hockey heroes are people too.

Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.

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