Tight cap leads to few big trades
Blockbusters are rare on trade deadline day since the start of the salary cap
Too many teams are loaded with little cap space and too many no-trade clauses
Peter Forsberg could be traded and the Blackhawks have a scout following him
Before the league capitulated to a salary cap, the NHL's trade deadline was the equivalent of a push-pull-tow-or-drag-it-in mega-sale at a car dealership. After carefully scrutinizing their teams, NHL GMS would don their Crazy Eddie masks and proclaim that the asking price for their wares was just too "In-saaaane" to pass up.
Future Hall of Famers and Cup-winners Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk for Brian Rolston and a few other guys you've never heard of -- as Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix asked for and received from Boston at the 2001 deadline? Sold!
Ron Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson from Hartford to Pittsburgh for John Cullen and two other guys in March 1991? It's a deal!
Chris Chelios from Chicago to the Red Wings in 1999?
While there have been some genuine blockbusters since the cap was introduced to in 2005 (Marian Hossa from Atlanta to Pittsburgh in 2008; Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta to New Jersey last year), the majority of recent deadline days have left the usual small army of TV analysts looking awkward. Most deals since the cap have been a yawn. Like their fellow GMs in the NBA, NFL and MLB, hockey's managers finally ran up against fiscal "No can do" realities.
"Basically, the team you have now is the team you've got," says Avalanche TV analyst Peter McNab. "Some teams can maybe make one good-sized deal, but that's about it. That's why the draft is so crucial now, because you used to be able to buy your way out of bad deals if you blew a draft pick or two on one. Now, you can be set back two or three years on a bad trade."
Well-heeled teams never used to blink at taking on a big contract at the deadline. Whatever was left on the last year of a big-name player's deal was, well, no big deal. Now, it's not the actual money remaining that scares teams off, it's the cap-averaged number that's too problematic for already stretched-to-the-ceiling teams. The selling team has to take on a player or two of comparable salary to create room for the buyer to sign on the dotted line.
Nevertheless, there was a nice uptick in trade activity this week around the league, and the approximately 4,153 rumor-centric hockey websites in business now hope it's a solid prelude to this year's trade-a-palooza. Mike Fisher from Ottawa-to-Nashville on Thursday officially qualified as assemble-the-roundtable material for TSN and CBC analysts, and there are excited whispers of bigger deals to come before and on February 28.
ELIOT: Hey, let's speculate
But don't count on it. For one thing, on top of cap constraints, too many teams are saddled with no-trade, no-movement contracts.
Granted, many players will gladly waive such clauses if it means going from a bad team to a Cup contender. But said contenders can usually take on only one marginal salary at the deadline, at most.
According to the numbers-crunchers at capgeek.com -- where Thursday's marquee banner near the top of the site proclaimed "The trade deadline is just 18 days away!" -- seven teams were listed as having zero dollars of available cap space. Two others were cited as having less than $1 million of wiggle room, and four others have $2 million or less.
While some on the "We can't afford it" list have gotten recent space thanks -- or no thanks -- to possible long-term injuries (Boston with Marc Savard's latest concussion is one), the reality is that they are likely to be coupon shoppers at the deadline like almost every other contender.
Here, though, is my list of players who ar most likely to be moved at the deadline for one reason or another. And, I hereby invoke every hockey writer's clause of Margin of error for this list/poll is 97.5 percent:
Gentlemen, turn off your search engines. You're looking for a potential high-impact, top-six forward on a team that's going nowhere, and who might just waive his no-trade deal to play hockey beyond April? Look no further than Denver, where the illustrious
Forsberg is about to start another comeback. Many thought he was untouchable in 2007, until Philadelphia unloaded him to Nashville for a package of players and draft picks that helped put the Flyers back on the right track. Forsberg needs to prove before the deadline that he can still play, but his health is always a Rocky Mountain-sized asterisk. While you should be surprised, don't be shocked if he arranges the same kind of "favor" for Colorado that he did for Philly four years ago. At a $1 million cap hit, he would be affordable for anyone. He may be 37 and he hasn't played in three years, but it's guaranteed that Colorado's upcoming games will suddenly have more scouts in attendance than there are teams in the league. Just in case.
Potential takers: Pittsburgh, Nashville, Los Angeles, Boston, Vancouver (where he would be only the third-best active player from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, if he skated on a line with the Sedin twins) and Chicago (which already has a scout tailing him.).
The more GM Rick Dudley denies that Bogosian is on the block, the more I keep thinking it's a done deal that he'll be wearing another uniform by Feb. 28. While Dudley keeps protesting that Bogosian is an uber-talented untouchable, fact is he was minus-33 in his previous 126 games for Atlanta entering Thursday's action. Offensively, he put up only 23 points in 81 games last season, and 11 in his first 45 this season. He's still only 20, and his upside remains such that a deal would truly be risky for Atlanta, but maybe it would be wise for Dudley to trade his potential. There are some teams out there that are desperate for defense, and the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom on the Thrashers blue line could make Bogosian more attractively expendable for other needs. Plus, he'll be a restricted free agent this summer, and Atlanta's ownership remains mired in litigation hell.
Potential takers: While they have little or no cap room, Vancouver and Detroit are looking for D-men and could offer a name or two in return.
The veteran, former No. 1 pick is as good as gone. Fisher's exit on Thursday was GM Bryan Murray's official white flag on the season. Phillips is a little long in the tooth, has a no-trade clause, a $3.5 million cap hit and UFA status this summer, but he's still an attractive rental to a contender that needs defense.
Potential takers: Just about every Cup contender has probably already made a call.
Here's another big defenseman with attractive qualities who is in the last year of a deal with a team that's on the playoff fringe. We're not talking Bobby Orr here, but Hejda could help a good team in the playoffs. He had two straight plus-20 or better years in C-Bus.
Potential takers: With injuries to two key defensemen (Alex Edler and Keith Ballard) I keep coming back to the Canucks as needing blueline insurance for the playoffs.
With his iffy health history and fairly big contract ($5 million next season), he's a risk for any taker. But of the few realistically available forwards as the deadline nears, his talent is arguably the biggest. Hemsky admitted to Edmonton reporters the other day that, for the first time in his career, he's keeping the proverbial bags packed this year. If he's healthy, he's a danger at all times on the ice.
Potential takers: Could Boston be lured into taking Hemsky on in lieu of Savard's cap slot for a prospect or two? What about Pittsburgh and its suddenly star-free active forward roster? Probably long shots for both teams, but Edmonton needs to keep rebuilding and Hemsky is starting to look like stale Oil on ice.
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