In 1980, Butch Goring and the Islanders set the stage for the irrational exuberance of the NHL's annual trade deadline day.
This column originally appeared in Sports Illustrated on March 3, 2009.
The patron saint of the NHL trading deadline is a smallish former player with thinning hair who was renowned for staying out of the penalty box, a dubious fashion sense, and a helmet so battered it looked like troops had spooned soup from it at the Battle of the Somme.
He is, of course,
But nearly three decades ago, Islanders general manager
There is another reason why Goring is a touchstone: he is practically sui generis. Despite the flurry of activity expected prior to the 3 p.m. EST deadline on Wednesday, March 4—we should be good for our typical post-owner's lockout 25 or so deals despite earlier fears that the swap markets had dried up—trades with an impact like Goring's will once again prove exceedingly rare.
As Toronto GM
The NHL trade deadline is, of course, an intriguing exercise in two disciplines: economics and psychology. The economics, especially in the salary cap world, seem to be straight forward enough. Everything has to fit under the $56.7 million umbrella. If, say, the Boston Bruins want Anaheim's
But the dismal science in hockey grows ever more dismal with the state of the world. The coin of the realm is now draft picks or prospects, the rock upon which teams always should build but never more so than now in a shrinking universe. Even the rental player—one whose contract is expiring—is more valuable than ever.
But there are capologists and VPs of finance/marketing to fret that stuff. For me, the psychology of the day, the groupthink that seizes general managers, is a richer vein to mine. Abetted by a three o'clock last call—a deadline can turn anybody into a binger—NHL GMs start to resemble the women who burst into Filene's Basement on the day the store offers its annual wedding dress sale. Except with fewer fistfights.
As Burke said on the conference call, "Any mathematician will tell you that we're all crazy ... We're all nuts because there are 30 teams and there is one parade. After the first round, you get 22 teams on the sidelines. The math is horrible.
"The notion that you're going to add to your team and hope you win a round, the math defies that. But the human element is, first off, there's an optimism we all share, that belief we're missing that one piece. Second, your team expects it. Your players are looking to you to add weapons for this last part of the race. So we all get sucked in."
(So do the media. Me, for example. When San Jose acquired
But players certainly do peek over their shoulders, waiting for reinforcements even as they profess that the team/dressing room is perfect as it is. The players, who live in a state of suspended animation until the deadline passes, internally judge how management addresses the team's perceived shortcomings. While standing pat at a deadline should settle a team on the playoff bubble, it occasionally roils it. Sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if management "quits" on a team, the players will quit on the coach.
But, by inference, the Maple Leafs GM's standards for judging a trade are unrealistic. There is indeed just one parade, but that doesn't make all the other deals unhelpful.
Consider Pittsburgh's trade for
The Red Wings, who always seem to add a depth defenseman, did even better than usual, landing
They don't have to be all Gorings. Look for a decent low-key
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