White knuckles as deadline nears
Fans love trade season, but it can leave players and teams in shambles
"There's an uneasy feeling around the room," says Toronto's Joffrey Lupul
The truth is, amid the flurry of trades, only one team will win the Stanley Cup
You work for Apple. On Monday, you could get traded to Microsoft for a programming techie and a conditional sixth-round draft choice from RPI.
This, of course, does not happen in your life.
This can happen in the lives of people like Toronto winger Clarke MacArthur and when it does, he says, "Your life is a shambles."
MacArthur is not complaining -- like other migrants, professional athletes certainly understand that renting is almost always the way to go -- but merely stating fact. This is a delightful time of year for fans, these rumor-fueled weeks in which hockey seems to be in a state of suspended animation, but it is white-knuckle time in NHL dressing rooms. For hockey fans, the NHL becomes one giant Rotisserie League in the run-up to the trade deadline, which is next Monday at 3 pm. EST, but there is chemistry as well as math involved, actual lives as well as mere numbers in play.
This is the monster that lurks in February, something with far greater impact than a Heritage Classic. Consider the case of the Florida Panthers. After they dropped their second straight road game by the score of 5-1 -- their opponents were the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, neither of whom will be confused with the 1977 Montreal Canadiens -- coach Peter DeBoer said that even though some people might think that these desultory efforts by a team that figures to be a seller could be attributed to the looming deadline, he did not share their opinion.
DeBoer should rethink the subject.
"It can be pretty disruptive, especially if you're on one of those teams expected to be active," says winger Joffrey Lupul, who was traded earlier this month from Anaheim to the Maple Leafs, his fourth organization in an NHL career that began in 2003-04. "There's kind of an uneasy feeling around the room. Even if you're one of those guys who thinks he's not going to be traded, it's still tough to watch other guys from your team going through that."
Even after moving defensemen François Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs still could be one of those active teams. General manager Brian Burke, always fiddling with the pieces, has said he might be in the market for a defenseman. The smart money is on John-Michael Liles from imploding Colorado; if the price is minimal, Burke probably could live with the $4.55 million that Liles is scheduled to make in 2011-12, the last year of the blueliner's contract.
"At the end of the day, you try to be one of the solutions and be a guy who contributes instead of being one of the problems," says Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek. "Sure (the trade deadline is) in the back of guys' minds, but we don't talk about it. It's part of being a professional athlete."
MacArthur was traded at the deadline last year, from Buffalo to Atlanta for draft picks. (When he turned on his cell phone that morning and saw 15 missed calls, he figured something was up.) And he acknowledges that if he and the Leafs can't agree on a contract extension, the left winger who already has set a career high with 18 goals could be on the move again. He sees his name in the newspapers. He hears it on sports networks. He can't go anywhere, at least in Canada, without people acting concerned about his whereabouts next week.
"I'm OK with it," he says. "The first (trade) is the hardest move. If you're going to get moved, you'll get moved. This isn't the end of the world. You go to another hockey team and do your thing there. It's not like you're being fired. You're only going to be playing 10 or 15 years tops. Right now I'm having one of the best years I ever had. Last year I was having a good year for a third-liner. Going good or bad, your name can always pop up."
The ineluctable truth that sometimes gets lost is this: amid the flurry of soon-to-be unprecedented trade activity, only one team is going to win the 2011 Stanley Cup. (In case you've forgotten, the playoffs are the big matches that the NHL actually plays indoors.) Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks did zero on deadline day.
Chicago's only move, prior to the deadline, was acquiring defenseman Nick Boynton, who would dress for just three playoff games. Not that winning the Stanley Cup is the only reason for a buyer to import talent at the deadline -- Montreal's shocking run to the Eastern Conference Final last year was worth $10 million, give or take -- but many teams will be chasing the same players, if not their tails, because they are convinced that they might be just one guy away from a playoff berth or the Cup ... or something, if you recall the confounding case of the 2001 Washington Capitals.
The Capitals, who would win their division that season, traded Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis to Montreal at the deadline for Trevor Linden and Dainius Zubrus in a swap of forwards. Washington figured it would have to negotiate its way past Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to get to the conference final, which would require the size and strength up the middle that Linden especially seemed capable of providing.
"We thought that was the deal that would make us bulletproof," says Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who was then with the Capitals.
Linden and Zubrus apparently forgot to bring the Kevlar.
"We went into the tank after that," Wilson says. "It was a tight room and (Zednik and Bulis) were a part of that, yet the hockey part of the trade made sense to us....(But) Adam Oates kinda took the whole thing the wrong way. (He thought) we were bringing Trevor Linden in to take his job. (We just) had a matchup (against) Mario (Lemieux) that made more sense. Zednik and Bulis weren't lighting it up. Trevor had had some great playoff runs and Zubrus was a long-term thing, but it just didn't work. It was weird. Just weird."
The chemistry experiment went boom! when the Capitals lost in the first round.
Happy Deadline Day, but remember sometimes a team's playoff potential can end up in a shambles, too.
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