NHL trade deadline's a different game in the information age
Everything changes, even on a trade deadline day when fewer changes actually happened than in years past. What has changed most is the process, or maybe more accurately, the access to and dissemination of the information. What was once a day shrouded in secrecy has, with the advances of technology, become a very public discourse involving GMs, media, players and fans.
Not that this is a bad thing. It now sets up as another event for the NHL to connect with fans, which is always a positive. On a league level, TSN and Sportsnet in Canada carried over eight hours of coverage, with analysts, former players and writers -- including our own Michael Farber -- weighing in. Stateside, the NHL Network aired TSN's coverage in its entirety as trades were sent to the league office with nearly simultaneous reports on-air. In fact, some of the players first heard on TV that they'd been traded before they got the news from agents and GMs.
In the case of center John Mitchell of the Toronto Maple Leafs, GM Brian Burke had to address his reported trade with the New York Rangers as he opened his local news conference in Toronto before the official call with the league had even taken place. In this sense, I think Burke's viewpoint is telling on the ever-changing scope of the trade deadline. He opted to get out in front of the final day and make his most significant moves well in advance of the big day.
When Burke sent defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim on February 9, it signaled a new starting point for the league's annual trade frenzy. It was one of four trades that went down that day. On Feb. 10, when Nashville Predators GM David Poile acquired centerman Mike Fisher from Ottawa, the trade deadline had seemingly moved up by almost three weeks.
Ray Shero in Pittsburgh, Peter Chiarelli in Boston, and Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia similarly followed suit and made their signature moves well before the February 28 drop-dead date. With those moves "off the board" by deadline day, much of the drama was taken out of the event. Sure, some big moves still took place. Dean Lombardi fortified his Kings by dealing for Dustin Penner from the Oilers. And George McPhee of the Capitals addressed both of his team's needs by securing defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers and centerman Jason Arnott form the New Jersey Devils.
Still, with all the shared chatter nowadays, even those moves and the players in play were hardly surprising. The "speculative intel" out there leading up to the deadline made most moves a checklist scenario as teams addressed needs from a predetermined, well-picked-over list of candidates. It was hard to wow or surprise anyone with anything that went down. I mean, how much wonder can there be in a cap era where exchanging assets is done under much narrower parameters and players send tweets as they walk out of a GM's office, as defenseman Brent Sopel did when he was sent from Atlanta to Montreal? The world was aware of the move before Sopel had gathered his gear and left the building.
In all of this, GMs still have to do their jobs, which have always been a balancing act. Now they sit perched on the electronic fence that is technology. Each organization wants to break their own news first to drive people to their websites -- to let their fans know first what is happening with their team. That was the case with the Capitals as Mike Vogel had the Wideman and Arnott information "first" only to hear everyone else blast it out seconds later, with no attribution as to where the info came from.
From the reporting standpoint, being first to know is losing its relevance because the greater, quicker connectivity means everyone else joins you almost instantly. For GMs, however, being the first to weigh in on trades helps control the process. Waiting until the bitter end these days means risking becoming part of the process. As my SI.com colleague Adrian Dater