There's a public perception in all sports, especially hockey, that if you aren't doing something you aren't moving forward and therefore you aren't competing. Nowhere is that more in evidence then on Trade Deadline Day.
Darryl Sutter and the Calgary Flames are the perceived "winners" of the latest deadline go-round having picked up center Olli Jokinen from Phoenix and defenseman Jordan Leopold from Colorado. The thinking is that the Western Conference's third-place team improved itself greatly. If you overlook the fact that Jokinen has never played an NHL playoff game and has now been moved more times than Terrell Owens, and Leopold is not quite the player he was when the Flames gave up on him the last time, that assessment of Calgary's fortunes might be true.
But what about the teams that did nothing? Surely they can't be doing anything right.
That's the perception. But let's go upstairs and take a look at the tape:
For most of the season, general manager Bob Gainey has been under relentless pressure to transform the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last year into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and do it now because fans expect it during this the franchise's 100th anniversary season
It says here the Canadiens have been little more than a stumbling, sometimes bumbling team with on- and off-ice problems, mediocre or worse goaltending, precious little size, no No.1 center and no game-controlling defenseman (let alone a heavy shot) at the point. One could also argue that Gainey's coach, Guy Carbonneau, is good but a not-quite-right fit for the players on his bench.
Gainey is a smart man and he will solve all those problems over time, but the facts in evidence support the argument that this edition of the Habs isn't good enough to win the Cup. Rather than take on other team's problems, high salaries, and soon-to-be unrestricted free agents while sending his tools for the future (draft choices, prospects) out the door, Gainey did nothing.
To me, that was smart. The price for the under-achieving Jokinen was not only too high for Gainey's wallet, there was no reason to think he was a fit. The price for eventual UFA Jay Bouwmeester was absurd by all accounts. The Canadiens GM did the prudent thing to keep his team's long-term future on course.
He did nothing, and we say "good job."
One could argue that newbie GM Mike Gillis made a similarly good decision. There were rumors that he had an interest in Bouwmeester, but with Florida's unwavering asking price of a foursome -- two players off the roster, a first-round pick and a prospect -- it was a move he didn't need to make.
Does that mean the Flames move past his Canucks? In a word, yes. But they were already in that position, and on the morning after, Gillis still has all-world goaltending in Roberto Luongo, a decent offense, and a defense that has surrendered fewer goals than the Flames. He also has center Mats Sundin rounding into form and a realistic chance of competing well against any team in the postseason. What he doesn't have to ever explain is why he sold out the future for a player he wouldn't have been able to sign in an open competition on the free-agent market. So Gillis, too, made a smart non-move.
Some other transactions worth noting:
They were going nowhere and GM Don Maloney knew it. But instead of conducting a fire sale and continuing to challenge Moses in terms of wanderings in the desert, he picked up a first-round draft pick, Matthew Lombardi and Brandon Prust from Calgary for Jokinen. He also got a second-round draft pick and Scott Upshall from Philadelphia. Maloney then struck a deal with the Rangers to get Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha, two players he knew from his days as an assistant to GM Glen Sather in New York, and he got a fourth-round pick for goalie Mikael Tellqvist, a player he likely wasn't going to retain for next season.
To be sure, Upshall and Lombardi can't be happy, but that could change. What Maloney has done is grab picks and talent that is neither too old nor too young, which should make for a nice fit with the core of a team that has some promise. There is going to come a time when Maloney will need a different and perhaps better coach than Wayne Gretzky, but that day doesn't come until the Yotes get out of either the desert or their fiscal nightmare.
Speaking of fiscal nightmares...
What they did is as convoluted as their ownership's financing play to get control of the franchise.
The NHL signed off on a deal that, in essence, allowed the Lightning to sell a fourth-round pick to Toronto for players who will never play for the Leafs. In essence, the Lightning moved about a half million in salary, which should help the franchise qualify for a bigger revenue-sharing check at the end of the season. The Leafs, who had cap room to spare, took on Olaf Kolzig (torn biceps), Jamie Heward (concussed), and Andy Rogers (minor leaguer). Kolzig and Heward are likely to retire. Rogers will likely never play in the NHL, but what the Leafs really wanted was the pick.
Since you can't trade picks for money, the Lightning tossed in some barely warm bodies and got cap relief in their place. A strange move for a franchise that doesn't have depth in the picks department to begin with, but about on par with what you would expect from an ownership group that put together smoke and mirrors financing to buy the franchise in the first place.
No kudos to the Leafs, however. Eight points out of a still open playoff race, they opted to shut down their No. 1 goalie, Vesa Toskala, for surgery, tank the season and make a run for the draft lottery picks.
Another GM who made smart moves was Bob Murray. His team is still technically in the hunt for a playoff spot in a Western Conference race that's tighter than credit, so he kept both Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, but dealt soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Travis Moen and Kent Huskins to rival San Jose for prospects (including one in goal) and a pick. He also moved center Sami Pahlsson to Chicago for a quality defenseman: James Wisniewski. Unnoticed by many, two of the players he got back -- Nick Bonino from San Jose and Petri Kontiola from Chicago -- are center-ice prospects, filling a noticeable shortage in the Anaheim system.
Murray also got center Petteri Nokelainen from Boston in an earlier deal for defenseman Steve Montador (since replaced by Wisniewski), and sent prospect Eric O'Dell to Atlanta for winger Erik Christensen. Nokelainen should be able to step in for Pahlsson, as he has been strong on faceoffs and solid in both ends of the ice. Christensen appears to be an NHL-ready prospect who could play on the first or second line as early as next season and may get a look right now.
If there was a notable trend throughout the day it was that most teams decided against giving up prospects and draft picks for players they knew were heading for the unrestricted free agent market.
Overall, that's good team management.
It's just that on trade deadline day some GMs handle things better than others.