Hockey Hustles for the Present—and Maybe the Future
With the NHL trade deadline now in the rear view mirror, it’s worth taking a quick look at a few of the notable points to come out of all the activity—including a possible warning sign about what might lay just over the horizon.
The weirdest part of the deadline had to be seeing the Detroit Red Wings selling for a harvest of draft picks. I guess it’s safe to say that Hockeytown’s latest era has well and truly come to an end. How did Detroit do in their quest to reinvigorate the franchise? Only the most devoted hockey scout could even guess at this point. Lots of people like to beat up on GM Ken Holland, but he’s put a Cup-winning team together before, and I’m not going to bet against Detroit in the not-too-distant future. Those draft picks may not yield the next Sidney Crosby—but maybe they’ll pick up the next Kris Draper (he of the four Stanley Cups).
Speaking of “used to be good,” you know it’s a slow deadline when Jarome Iginla moving is the big news of the day. This may be a sign of desperation on the part of the Kings—who, for a recent, multi-time Cup winner, do not seem to have aged all that well. Iginla has moved midseason before, and the result was not exactly mind-blowing; nor has he been lifting the Avalanche to awesome heights recently. It’s unlikely that he’ll push the Kings back up the standings. That said, L.A. has struck gold with trade acquisitions before; maybe Ben Bishop will turn out to be a brilliant pick-up even if Iginla proves to be nothing special. But there’s only one goal to defend, and if Jonathan Quick comes back healthy, Bishop can do little to help the team that Quick can’t. From here it looks like the Sharks, Ducks, and Oilers are feeling pretty good about themselves in the Pacific right now.
On the other side of the continent, I think Canadiens fans might want to get nervous. Yes, they’re in first place, so at the very least there won’t be another Canada-less playoff season…but, for all the buzz les Habs generated early in the season, they don’t seem to have the vibe of a team that looks like it’s going far in April and May. For all the brilliance Carey Price can muster, and the residual effect of the Habs’ smoking-hot start, they’ve also tended to look very ordinary at times; and that’s not the sort of team you want to see standing pat at the deadline. This looks like another missed opportunity for the most-storied franchise.
(And hold your cards and letters, as they used to say; I know, if we’re talking Canadian teams in the postseason, the Sens are also in firm playoff position. But I feel even less confidence in Ottawa going far than I do for the Canadiens. If anything, it’s the Oilers who look like the best bet to uphold the True North’s honor in the playoffs.)
Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington? Whatever. It’s the Capitals; adding talent to big points totals doesn’t pay the postseason bills. Prove it in the playoffs; get to the conference final, at least, and then we’ll talk.
And the other trades? What other trades? It was all pretty bland from this seat. I can’t see where any other team really got better. (Again, chill Sens fans; I know you got Alex Burrows, but he wasn’t exactly leading the Canucks up the charts, now was he?)
All in all, the near-future perspective says this: I speculated after last year’s Cup final that we might see the Sharks and Penguins meet up again for a repeat performance this season. At the moment, the Sharks are sitting atop of the Pacific, and the Penguins are lurking, right there with the Blue Jackets and just behind the Caps, in the Metropolitan. Barring a major run by either of the Central division bullies—Chicago and Minnesota—I see little reason to move off that quasi-prediction.
Now, something a little darker: the slightly-more-distant future. There was an ominous note in Yahoo’s Puck Daddy trade round up article, wherein Greg Wyshynski noted that, “No significant players with a contract that goes beyond 2018 were moved at the deadline.” Is that lack of movement because everyone is completely satisfied with the state of their teams? Or is there a different agenda at work there?
I noted at the time of the Vegas team’s advent that NHL expansion often goes hand in hand with a work stoppage. I can’t help but wonder if teams are wary of taking on long-lived contracts because they’re worried that they’ll have to pay out on them without getting value—perhaps because they players won’t be playing.
This may be an unwarranted leap; perhaps those contracts didn’t move for strictly on-ice considerations. But I’m suspicious by nature, and if management types are reading specific tea leaves about how things are going to play out in the next few years, expensive players staying put is the result you would expect. Puckheads beware: you may be the ones doing the trading in 2019—trading your time spend watching hockey for doing something else.