Monday, March 1, 2010

Trade Deadline Primer

We've wanted to post on here for the last two weeks, but posting about salary caps and waivers during that time would feel rather like using one's cell phone to buy stocks while at church. It's just a tad on the crass side of things. Olympic hockey was quite wonderful, but for NHL GMs it is back to the dirty business of scheming up a trade to fleece one of the other 29 general managers.

Let us take an overview of the NHL starting with Capgeek's daily salary cap tracker, which may be the best contrivance ever for hockey nerds. It informs us that 3 teams in the playoff race currently have no cap space with which to add players: Boston, Philadelphia, and Detroit. We suspect these three will have great difficulty adding talent.

Furthermore, we are unsure which teams will be sellers. Only Toronto, Carolina, Edmonton, and Columbus are truly eliminated from playoff contention. Florida has declared that they are in sell mode. There's a question about teams like St. Louis and Minnesota, who currently sit 4 and 5 points out of the Western Conference race; they may delude themselves into thinking they have a legitimate chance. Still, both are short on talent and have to hop over much more robust squads to make it in. They should both be sellers.

There are some curious factors at play that we think will make for less trading than usual, and not just because many of the typical 'trade deadline' deals already happened in early February.

First, the salary cap is probably staying where it is for the second consecutive year. We've posted about this extensively, and this will mean that young, inexpensive players are worth their weight in ... well, not gold, but some precious metal. Teams jammed up at the salary cap now are probably offered little or no relief for the coming season, plus there's that Chicago bottleneck. This speaks in favor of prices for trade deadline talent falling, because young talent is at a premium. So let's put a check mark in the falling column.

However, with these salary cap jam-ups comes the realization that for some teams, this may be their best year to go for it. New Jersey and Philadelphia are the first two clubs that come to mind. This speaks in favor of prices for deadline talent rising - a check mark in the rising column.

On the other hand - and we'll be using several hands here - the lack of sellers is a mark in the rising price column as well. We have already seen Matt Cullen, a rather average-ish center who can fill a lot of roles, move for both a 2nd round pick AND a decent depth defenseman with some ability to run a power play. Perhaps this is not outrageous compared to last season, when both Ales Kotalik and Dominic Moore moved for a 2nd round pick. Teams need that extra talent to put them over the hump.

In the prices falling column, however, is the issue that some teams simply don't have room to add another player. We saw Calgary attempt to continue adding players at last year's deadline by going with a 20 man roster down the stretch, and it backfired spectacularly, as some nights Calgary was dressing 16 players - we don't expect any team to try this maneuver again. Capgeek lists 9 teams with less than $3.4 million in cap space; these teams may have some difficulty accommodating the higher-priced talent that may be available.

And yet - with attendance generally down around the NHL and revenues falling, a team like St. Louis is not going to want to eat the $1 million + still left on Paul Kariya's contract - they should be desperate to sell this. That's also in the prices falling column.

To recap, here is why prices for trade deadline talent will rise:

Lack of sellers
Panic among Cup contenders

Here is why it will fall:

Need for young talent, league-wide
Lack of able buyers
Teams desperate to unload unsightly contracts

As we wrote this, Jordan Leopold was traded from Florida to Pittsburgh for a 2nd round pick, so the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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