The Tampa Bay Lightning, currently last in the Eastern Conference, must decide whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline.
The all-star break, since it happens a little past the midway point of the season, is a good time to assess where your team is at going into the second half.
You start to look at what it is you think your team needs and, depending on the marketplace, what your situation is.
As a GM, you ask yourself certain questions. Is it that we need to make the playoffs this year? Is it going to be enough to get a player and make the playoffs, or do we have to get to the Eastern or Western Conference final in order for it to be meaningful in our market? The way we’re built, do we have to win the Stanley Cup and win it now? All of those things are factored in.
The thing about the job is that as you get to the midway point, you focus more and more on the trade deadline. You don’t ever stop analyzing your team; it’s something you do from the first day of training camp as you try to put the team together. It’s literally an everyday process – trying to evaluate your team and evaluate individual players.
You ask yourself: “Are there young players who maybe surprised us in camp and now are starting to plateau or getting tired? Is the player going to be good enough to take us where we need to go? Are there guys that we counted on who haven’t had a first half that was as productive as we thought?” It truly is a constant process, re-evaluating your team and trying to improve.
Part of the process includes thinking about how you’re going to position yourself as you move toward the trade deadline, particularly now that it’s a little bit earlier (Feb. 26) than it used to be. When you look at the league this year, you probably have 30 teams trying to decide whether they’re buyers or sellers.
Even the situation we’re in right now (Tampa Bay had lost nine of 11 games and was last in the East), we still don’t think we’re out of anything and we certainly don’t feel we’re out of it as far as being able to win the (Southeast) division.
At the midway point, you sit back and say: “Where are we going to be around the trade deadline? If we’re a buyer, what is it we’re buying? And if we’re selling, which players are we willing to move?”
Although I’ve personally never been a big fan of the blockbuster deal with the sellers, there are teams that are willing to make that kind of deal. But it’s almost like rotisserie hockey, as far as I’m concerned.
I don’t mind the trades that are truly beneficial. If there’s a player who would flourish in Tampa, and we have a player that would flourish somewhere else, we could make a good hockey deal that benefits both teams.
What I don’t like is coming to the trade deadline and saying: “Well, my player is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and we’re probably not going to make (the playoffs), or we’re not sure we’re going to make it, so why don’t we go ahead and move him for picks?” That’s the rotisserie aspect of it I don’t particularly like.
What’s great about this season is that when you look at both conferences, even all the divisions, there’s so much parity and so many teams still in the mix. This year it’s continuing farther into the season, so you have all these teams still very close with an earlier trade deadline. I think you won’t see as many players suddenly change teams. There have been five trades this year, I think, involving NHL players (going both ways) and four of those trades have involved Anaheim. Just trying to get a deal done isn’t an easy thing to do right now.
The same kind of market forces come to bear at the trade deadline as in the summer, in terms of what it’s going to cost you to sign an unrestricted free agent. Depending on which players are out there, you’ll have a plethora of teams going after them, which will drive up the price. There’s no doubt about that.
It depends on what the supply is and, no doubt, what the situation is as far as demand goes. There may be some teams where ownership and management sit down together and say: “Yes, we don’t necessarily want to show that we’re raising the white flag right now. Or we don’t want to be sending the wrong message. And yet, if we could bring in multiple first round picks, or multiple second-rounders in a deeper draft, do we go ahead and try to do that?” That’s clearly part of it.
The activity has already heated up as the phone calls have started to come more furiously since the roster freeze at Christmas. I think it’s the mere fact there’s a deadline, that there’s a date you have to get things done by if you’re going to do something. Also, at the midway point in the season you have to assess your team because the GM meeting is coming up in February, about two weeks before the trade deadline.
With the All-Star Game approaching, you can bet the managers have already started thinking about where they are. By the time the GM meeting comes, things will really start to heat up. It’s certainly a time when things start to crystallize a whole lot more.
Jay Feaster has been with the Tampa Bay Lightning since 1998 and became the team’s GM in 2002. He will blog on THN.com throughout the 2007-08 season. Read his other entries HERE.