Marian Hossa will likely be on the move after failing to sign a new deal with Atlanta. (Photo by Graig Abel/ NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL trade deadline is a time when speculation reaches a fever pitch.
This year is no different, as rumors have centered on the trade status of Toronto’s Mats Sundin, Atlanta’s Marian Hossa, Tampa Bay’s Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, Florida’s Olli Jokinen, Buffalo’s Brian Campbell and Los Angeles’s Rob Blake.
Sundin recently took himself off the market by refusing to waive his no-trade clause and it remains to be seen how many, if any, of the rest actually move by the trade deadline.
Star players in their prime are often rumored available in the weeks leading up to the deadline, but history shows few actually get dealt.
Last year, for example, Keith Tkachuk, Ryan Smyth, Todd Bertuzzi, Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts were traded within 48 hours of the deadline. Of those, only Smyth could still be considered in his prime, but none of them would be considered marquee talent at this point in their careers.
In 2006, Jose Theodore, Sergei Samsonov, Dwayne Roloson and Mark Recchi were traded. Some, like Theodore and Samsonov, were beginning significant career declines, while Roloson and Recchi were into the downside of their careers.
Consensus holds that playoff-bound teams become deadline day buyers in hopes of landing talent to bolster their chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
Yet since 1980, only nine teams that made trades at the deadline went on to win the Stanley Cup and of those, just six acquired players who went on to have a significant impact on their new team’s respective march to the Cup.
So why do so many GMs jump to overpay for deadline acquisitions that come up short?
Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke recently suggested the intense pressure to win placed upon men with his job title forces them, at this time of year, to make moves they normally wouldn’t execute.
Some of that pressure undoubtedly comes from team owners who are hungry for a championship and, perhaps, get starry-eyed over a fading star’s previous exploits instead of rationally examining their current abilities.
Despite the flashy names bandied about as deadline day “trade bait,” it is usually unproven young players and aging veterans who get moved, the latter often because they’re eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season.
The lowered eligibility age for UFA status should, in theory, put younger talent into play by the trade deadline, but thus far that hasn’t been the case, as teams appear intent on retaining those players.
Hossa, 29, could prove the exception this year, as he’s indicated he won’t re-sign with the Thrashers in the hopes of signing on this summer with a Stanley Cup contender.
Still, a Hossa trade is by no means a certainty, as Thrashers GM Don Waddell is believed to be seeking a return that can help his team make the playoffs this season, meaning he’s not seeking castoffs, untested kids or draft picks.
That could have an adverse effect on Hossa’s value, especially if he’s unwilling to sign a contract extension with a potential suitor, unless Waddell lowers his asking price.
It’s the potential return for marquee talent that could also stay the hands of most GMs. Everyone would love to land a big star in his prime and under contract via trade, but few are willing during the season, and especially at the deadline, to part with the assets necessary to get the deal done.
And of course, the salary cap has to be taken into consideration. With most of the league’s 30 teams operating within $5 million of this year’s $50.3 million salary cap, there’s not really a lot of available space for many of them to comfortably absorb big salaries this season.
Teams must also ensure they have available cap space for next season and without a firm upper limit established yet, most won’t be willing to commit big bucks in late February, preferring to wait until late-June when the new cap figure has been announced.
Thus, while several teams are believed very interested in Tampa Bay’s Brad Richards, few can afford the asking price and comfortably absorb his big salary.
So while Hossa, Richards, Jokinen and other stars will likely remain trade rumor fodder right up to the 3 p.m. EST deadline on Feb. 26, it’ll be surprising if many of them are dealt.
Focus instead on the second-tier players, like second-line and checking forwards, fourth and fifth defensemen and backup goaltenders, for those are the type of players making up the majority of those moved by the deadline.
That list includes Tampa’s Vaclav Prospal, Ottawa’s Antoine Vermette, Colorado’s Andrew Brunette, L.A.’s Tom Priessing, Atlanta’s Bobby Holik, Chicago’s Martin Lapointe, Edmonton’s Dwayne Roloson, Montreal’s Michael Ryder, St. Louis’s Bryce Salvador, Toronto’s Hal Gill and the Islanders’ Miroslav Satan.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.
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