By Stu Hackel
It wasn’t always this way, this craziness around the NHL trade deadline, when all the talk turns to who might be headed where and the actual games — yes, the regular season is still going on — seem to take a back seat to all manner of rumors and speculation. Once upon a time, the trade deadline came and went with little fanfare. All that changed on March 13, 1980, thanks to Islanders GM Bill Torrey when he acquired Butch Goring, the final piece in what became a great dynasty.
Built largely through the draft, the Isles had gone from awful to very good in a short time, but had a history of playoff failure. Previously reluctant to part with the talented players he’d drafted, Torrey traded winger Billy Harris, the team’s first pick ever (first overall in 1972) and first scoring star (he’d been on their top line — called the Long Island Lighting Company — with Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies before Mike Bossy arrived in 1977) and solid all-around defenseman Dave Lewis.
Coming from Los Angeles was Goring, an energetic center who could do everything well. He was a consistent 20-goal scorer who had already won the Masterton and Lady Byng trophies, and the WHA Oilers had tried to entice him to jump leagues for a huge sum, which he declined. Most importantly, he knew what it took to win in the playoffs, as evidenced by this OT winner for the Kings against the Bruins in Game 6 of the 1976 quarter-finals that staved off elimination. It was Goring’s second OT winner of the series.
Slotted in by coach Al Arbour on the Isles’ second line, his value was immediate and profound. He was good for about a point per game down the stretch and in the playoffs as the Isles won their first of four straight Stanley Cups. The next year, Goring won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
And he had the knack for scoring big goals in the postseason, like these in ’82 and ’83.
Hockey being the business it is, it wasn’t long before all GMs tried to make big deals late in the season the way Torrey did to address needs that had become apparent. One of the best was Craig Patrick, who made big multi-player moves two years in a row that helped the Penguins win two Cups. In March 1991, he swapped with Hartford to acquire Ron Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson (a trade they’ve never forgotten in Hartford), and in February 1992, Patrick hit on the Flyers for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget.
But that sort of major deal late in the year — acquiring players who help form the core of a championship team — is rare. More often, a Cup contender will do what Boston did last season: acquire quality depth players. The last teams to pick up potential impact players near the deadline were the Devils in 2010 when they traded for pending UFA Ilya Kovalchuk, a deal that only now seems to finally be paying off; and the Penguins, who traded for pending UFA Marian Hossa as a rental in 2008. He helped get them to the finals, but not the Cup, and he was gone via free agency that summer.
That’s why the Rick Nash rumors are so compelling because it’s rare that a top-end player is moved at the deadline, even more so when he’s not a pending UFA. It’s still unclear if Nash will go anywhere before Monday at 3 PM. The latest buzz has him possibly headed for the Sharks, as TSN’s Darren Dreger reported yesterday. The thinking is that Nash — whose no-movement clause gives him the final say on where he might go — could select San Jose as his destination because of his friendship with Joe Thornton. The question is, however, what do the Sharks have to offer the Blue Jackets in return? They aren’t inclined to part with Logan Couture, who Columbus GM Scott Howson sought, and they may not have a goaltender Howson wants. So is there really a good fit between these two clubs?
Anyway, here’s video of Dreger’s thoughts on Nash and more from the NHL Network last night.
Dreger’s report that the Ducks’ success has had a chilling effect on trade talks the last few weeks partly explains why we haven’t seen anything like we did last year, when a steady stream of deals began in early February. It’s not just the Ducks, of course, because as Dreger points out, there are seven teams vying for the last two playoff spots in the West and none of them are thinking about unloading players and getting set for next season just yet. And in the East, while it’s a bit more congested, some of the bottom teams have started abandoning their dreams of a playoff spot and begun making moves.
The Lightning, for example, have dispatched Dominic Moore (to the Sharks), Pavel Kubina (to the Flyers) and on Tuesday, Steve Downie. He was swapped to Colorado for defenseman Kyle Quincey, who the Lighting then turned around and shipped to Detroit for the Red Wings’ first-round draft choice and a minor leaguer. It’s a good deal for the Lightning, who have collected two first-round picks for June along with at least three and as many as four selections in the second round.
The Avs wanted some grit, and Downie has that, but how much offense he can provide is questionable, although he did hit the 20-goal mark two seasons ago.
For the Red Wings, however, this could be a very good deal. They drafted Quincey in 2003 and, Pierre McGuire said Wednesday morning over Ottawa radio Team 1200 (audio) that the Wings promised they’d trade or waive him if he couldn’t crack their lineup. They waived him in 2008. Apparently, they still think highly of him. “Kyle Quincey is a nasty defenseman,” McGuire said. “He’s got a big time shot. He’s a way-under-the-radar defenseman.”
Not only do the Wings get depth on defense for the playoffs — and Quincey is a second-tier defenseman who will play on the third tandem for the moment — they have insurance in case they lose Brad Stuart to free agency over the summer. (It’s possible since he’s expressed a desire to return to the West Coast where his family lives.) Quincey is an RFA, and you have to figure he’ll be kept if they gave up a first-round pick for him.
The Canadiens, whose miserable season can’t end quickly enough, are another team that’s ready to make deals. They got Blake Geoffrion, who could be a good NHL bottom six forward and penalty killer (and would be a fourth generation Canadien if he pulls on the bleu-blanc-et rouge sweater some day), a minor league winger, and a second-round pick from the Predators for Hal Gill. That could mean that the Preds now have enough short-term insurance to consider moving one of their many young defensemen in a deal for a scorer, which they desperately need.
The Blue Jackets, too, have bodies to move besides Nash, and on Wednesday they said goodbye to Antoine Vermette to the Coyotes, who need all the offensive help they can get, in exchange for the 2012 second-round pick Phoenix got from Ottawa in the Kyle Turris deal, a 2013 fifth round pick and injured goalie Curtis McElhinney. Vermette has been over or near the 20-goal mark five times during his eight NHL seasons and is a responsible defensive player, which is a must for coach Dave Tippett.
How much trade action we’ll see before Monday is an open question — and we’ll be live blogging the trade deadline as we did last year. And how much these deals will truly influence the stretch run and the playoffs is even more of a question.
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