One of the most exciting days of the year for hockey fans turned out to be a major disappointment. Yes, the NHL trade deadline day was more of a trade dudline, with no high profile players changing location despite a record number of deals.
Now, to be fair, there were really two trade deadline days this year, with a trade freeze also taking place before the 2010 Winter Olympic break. Prior to that deadline there were a couple of blockbuster deals that involved huge names like Ilya Kovalchuk and Dion Phaneuf, so if you add those deals into the mix it starts to look a little better.
Of course, another culprit in the deadline day malaise is the salary cap structure that was implemented following the 2004-05 lockout year. General managers now have a rigid financial structure besides their own team budget that they must operate within. Financially strong teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers used to be able to nab some high priced rentals for the stretch drive to the playoffs, but these days are forced to sit on the sidelines along with their poorer NHL cousins.
Though the day can largely be considered a bust in terms of fan interest there were a few deals of note that went down. Probably the deal with the biggest potential impact down the road was one between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche. Wojtek Wolski, one of Colorado’s highest scoring players with 47 points in 61 games went to Phoenix in exchange for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter. Mueller was a highly touted prospect and scored 22 goals in his rookie season. However, with just 4 goals this season he has been a major disappointment. Colorado is obviously hoping a change of scenery will reignite the talent he showed in the first year of his career. Financial considerations, as they do in just about any deal in this salary cap era, certainly played a role as well. Wolski is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and with the numbers he is putting up would certainly be in line for a large pay raise. It is an unfortunate reality in today’s NHL and one that could impact Colorado’s playoff push down the stretch.
One of the most interesting trades involved the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. Not because of the players that were involved in the deal – Steve Staios and Aaron Johnson – but because the two teams, bitter cross-province rivals, actually deigned to become trade partners. Word has it that this is the first time in NHL history the two teams have actually swung a deal.
Beyond that there really wasn’t much of note that took place. Other familiar names that moved include Lubomir Vishnovsky, Ryan Whitney, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Raffi Torres.
Perhaps more interesting were the players that didn’t move – most notably Ray Whitney and Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle’s name seems to be front and center at every trade deadline, yet so far the trigger has never been pulled on a deal. Kaberle has a no trade clause, but according to Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, Kaberle let it be known through his agent that there were 3 teams he would be willing to waive it for. Burke kicked the tires, but no deal was there to be made.
So now that the trade deadline has come and gone hockey fans can forget about trade rumors and look forward to the final push to the playoffs. With the incredible parity in the league over the past few years this is a massively entertaining time for hockey fans, with playoff level intensity in play every night. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of today’s acquisitions will have an impact on their new team, and perhaps be the reason that team is playing playoff hockey in April instead of hitting the golf course.