(Photo Credit: Frank Fimmano)
The salary cap my be the bullet, but parity is the shooter that killed the trade deadline. No longer will we see 30 players change jerseys on this joyous, pseudo holiday. The days of marquee names changing cities to help teams for that final playoff push; well, those days are gone.
So what, happened? How did we become doomed to endure the painfully boring trade deadline such as yesterday?
Well, the short answer is the salary cap is to blame for less trades, but there were a lot of teams with a lot of salary cap space who didn’t make moves yesterday. So, if teams had the financial capability to make moves and didn’t, there has to be a bigger reason as to why deals didn’t get done. After all, NHL GM’s aren’t exactly the paragon of restraint. These are the same guys that proved to have such a lack self-restraint they had to be locked out twice to help save themselves from themselves.
Which brings us to the culprit of boring trade deadlines, coast certainty.
Once upon a time, teams like the Flyers, Leafs, Rangers and Red Wings had a competitive advantage of having payrolls that were twice that of the poorest teams in the league. Budget teams couldn’t attract top free agent talent and therefore didn’t get as many wins, and lost money because they couldn’t market their teams with the big names they couldn’t afford. The result of course was the salary cap which was implemented which resulted in a more evenly distributed talent pool which made it more difficult to pull away from non-playoff teams.
Further socializing the competitive NHL landscape was the “loser point.” The lockout in 04-05 brought with it the three point game giving teams that literally lost, a point because they were able to keep the score even through regulation.
If this were the game Clue, this would be the point where you should be putting together that, “The Loser Point killed the trade deadline in the pantry with the salary cap!”
We saw three teams become what we traditionally know as sellers leading up to yesterday: the Maple, Leafs, Hurricanes, and the Flames. In a not too distant past, we would have saw at least 10 teams shed parts to get ready for next season. But teams like Winnipeg, and the Flyers who are actually not playoff teams have been rewarded with loser points that they don’t deserve to preserve artificial playoff hopes.
Some of you reading this probably have reactions of, “What is this jerk talking about? The Flyers can totally make the playoffs especially with 3 games against Pittsburgh left!” The next logical retort would then be, “You have to be in it to win it! The Kings finished in the 8th playoff spot and won the Cup, so could we!”
Well listen here naive person, I contend that the Flyers could even be the 7th seed in the East but I will not have WIP callers tell me that this Flyers squad can beat any of the other playoff teams in a seven game series right now, let alone 4 seven game series. Put bluntly, if the Flyers make it to the playoffs, they did so through social promotion.
All of this is relevant because whether it’s the Flyers or another bubble playoff team, the trade deadline is dead because all but 3 or 4 teams still literally have a chance at making the playoffs. Which translates to a team like the Flyers who should be – and would have been – sellers 15 years ago under the same circumstance not making any moves because they are mathematically still in the race.
Which – coming back to cost certainty – makes perfect sense because if Philadelphia, Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Colorado all became sellers at the deadline like they should have, who is going to pay to see those husks of a team in the final 20 game stretch of their respective seasons?
Cost certainty provided yet another layer to contributing to artificial competitiveness in re-alignment.
Look, re-alignment happened for one reason and one reason only and that was to provide an apparatus for expansion.
The only way a league divided into two 15 teams conferences could expand is by literally redrawing the lines of the map of the NHL. Sure, it doesn’t make sense for Detroit to be in the West but neither does having 8 team divisions. The reason why we have larger divisions now is to artificially create “rivalries” within those divisions. In some cases it works, in others, not so much.
From a trade inhibiting stand point, 8 team divisions essentially eliminates a sixth of the league as a being viable trade partner on deadline day.
Could you imagine the Hurricanes making a deal with the Flyers yesterday?
Absolutely not because even though the Hurricanes raised their white flag and became sellers, they certainly weren’t going to sell to their now “sworn enemy” to the north and help us achieve what they couldn’t.
Resistance to trading within your own division isn’t anything new but now that there are artificial points being awarded making the competition that much closer, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, you’re not going to see inter-divisional trades (unless if you’re the Leafs whose only reason to field a team this year was to acquire more picks).
So, the game is rigged and we have essentially seen the inevitable end to the circus of the trade deadline. That doesn’t however mean that there isn’t a day we can circle on our calendars as being “trade day.”
The draft will become our new “Trade Christmas.” We’ve already began to see it but I bet that we get all the trade activity that we wanted yesterday on June 24th.
It this new “cost certain” world, draft picks will have a higher value during the draft when they are actual actionable devices. More importantly, there were a lot of (un)restricted free agents that didn’t get dealt which means that we will see player’s negotiating rights be the hottest commodity of 2016. For example, I’d bet all the hairs of Jagr’s mullet that Jonathan Drouin’s rights will be traded at or around the first day of the draft.
So, I, like you, wasted my day refreshing Twitter desperately seeking a trade that never came like a drug addict.
All this really means is that we have to learn to curb our expectations about the trade deadline because it’s not the circus that it once so gloriously was. So, as we mourn over our once great trade deadline holiday, do not fret because the draft will be here before you know it.