The Case for ... Moving The NHL Trade Deadline

February 29, 2016

THE NHL TRADE deadline occurs deeper into the hockey season than the deadlines for any of the three other major professional sports. Baseball players in new uniforms have roughly 60 games, or nearly one-third of the season, to hit their stride with a new team. Basketball players, too, get about a third of the season. Traded NFL players have half of the season to learn a new system. But hockey players have only about 20 games left after the deadline—a quarter of the NHL regular season.

That is barely enough time to find a new apartment, let alone acclimate to different teammates and a new system. It's why the final day of trading in the NHL is often a crapshoot.

A trade should allow a downtrodden team to receive value for players who don't fit into its long-term plans, give a team on the verge of the playoffs a shot to make the second season, or let a Cup contender boost its lineup.

The current NHL system benefits only two of those types of teams: the broken and the bubbled. Moving the deadline up would give players more time to feel comfortable, make good teams better and improve the quality of what is already the best playoffs in sports.

Ryan Miller was supposed to be the Blues' savior in goal when they acquired him from the Sabres on March 1, 2014. Miller, the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner who was 33, had just 19 games to get comfortable in St. Louis. He played the worst hockey of his career, with a .903 save percentage, his lowest since a three-game call-up in 2003--04. In the playoffs Miller gave up 19 goals in six games as the Blues limped to a first-round exit. Miller left for Vancouver that off-season, and rebounded with a .911 save percentage.

Last season the Rangers acquired then 28-year-old defenseman Keith Yandle (above) from the Coyotes for forward Anthony Duclair, the team's top prospect, defenseman John Moore and a first-round pick. (New York also got journeyman defender Chris Summers.) The hope was that Yandle would boost a stagnant power play. But Yandle never fit in with the Rangers' style on defense, and he had only seven power-play points over a total of 40 regular-season and playoff games. This season, now more accustomed to the way the Rangers play, Yandle leads the team with 29 assists.

While there are exceptions—Marian Gaborik scored 22 points in 26 playoff games for the Kings after being acquired from Columbus in 2014, and L.A. won the Stanley Cup—players often struggle after being traded. Moving the deadline back two weeks would give them roughly 27 games, a third of the season, to adjust, more in line with their NBA and MLB colleagues.

That extra time could make a difference. When winger James Neal was traded to the Penguins in 2011, he scored just two goals over 27 regular-season and playoff games. The next season, Neal scored a career-high 40 goals. When the Blues acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in '13, he scored only seven points in the regular season. The next year he had 37 points, his most in four seasons.

Giving players a few more games to meld into their new teams will take some of the guesswork out of the deadline, emboldening GMs. A first-round pick to deliver Winnipeg left wing Andrew Ladd to Chicago? Bringing in Canucks right wing Radim Vrbata to play with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in Dallas? How about Hurricanes center Eric Staal moving alongside Ryan Johansen in Nashville? With enough games for players to develop a rapport with new linemates, such trades become less risky and more likely. Sounds like a good reason to move the calendar around.

The hope was that Yandle would boost a stagnant power play. But he had only seven power-play points in 40 games.

PHOTOJARED SILBER/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (YANDLE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)