Down the stretch they come
March 3, 2017 | 12:30pm ET
LOS ANGELES, CA -- So when exactly did the NHL Trade Deadline become
the NBA Trade Deadline? With few exceptions, NHL General Managers
lacked creativity and the testicular fortitude to make bold moves and
thusly turned a deadline into a bumline.
With most using the crutch of the impending expansion draft to justify
their inertia, only two teams stepped and made moves that could be
game changers. If you’re a fan of the other 28 franchises, management
will ask you to have patience until the 31-member clubs reconvene in
Chicago in mid-June for some cocktails and more deals.
But if you a fan right now in places like Montreal, Los Angeles and
Anaheim, you have every right to ask the question of your team -- why
didn’t you do more? Because if the team who is clearly the best this
season can pull off the most impactful trade of the season, then
there’s no excuse for others to follow suite.
It’s called going ALL IN.
Whether he wins or loses, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan
stepped up to the plate and delivered a round tripper, adding Kevin
Shattenkirk to the deepest roster in the League. With a team already
the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup and likely to be the first
overall seed, MacLellan chose not to stand pat. Mindful of all the
playoffs stinkers the franchise delivered, he moved decisively to
capture the top prize on the board of players made available for
Halfway across America, Chuck Fletcher bolstered his forward wall by
grabbing Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes.
Fletcher recognizes that one path to a Stanley Cup is down the middle
and although solid at center with a revitalized Eric Staal, Mikko
Koivu and the underrated Eric Haula in the pivot, he grabbed the best
available center in Hanzal and White who has already provided value as
a bottom six grinder.
Mirroring Dean Lombardi strategy of strength down the middle, a stud
defenseman (Ryan Suter) and a stellar goalie (Devan Dubnyk) and
knowing the path undoubtedly will go through the United Center,
Fletcher took the plunge and mortgaged some future for assets that can
help them win now.
As for the brethren, the lack of decisiveness of managers that are
either on the outside looking in for the post season or are in a
playoff spot but have holes in the depth chart is frankly stunning. No
boldness, no outside-the-box thinking just repetitive quotes about the
inability to do a “hockey trade” or my personal favorite “protecting
our assets with an eye towards the expansion draft.”
If you root for a team whose GM is more concerned about losing a
fourth defenseman in the offseason than making his team better now,
you might want to think about that season ticket renewal that has hit
your inbox. The expansion excuse is just that -- a crutch to use for
lack of decisiveness. If I was a GM and truly felt the draft had major
implications – there’s a simple solution.
Ring up George McPhee in the desert and say, “George, I need (Player
X) next season, here’s a (Y) round pick in June not to select him.”
That type of deal would expand your protected list (you could now go
7F/4D/1G or 5F/4D/1G) so the threat of losing a player like Josh
Manson goes away and the ability to bring in a scoring forward is
Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course there are and I’m sure you
could cite a few off the top of your head, but that’s not the point.
With their teams both struggling to produce offense and resembling
nowhere near what a contender looks like, both Lombardi and Bob Murray
added a bottom-six winger.
In Anaheim, the route traveled was to pull in one during a career
year, this year Patrick Eaves, last year Jamie McGinn, and allow that
gaping hole on the left wing alongside Ryan Getzlaf to remain
unfilled. Lombardi also went a road once traveled, believing that a
veteran in likely his final NHL season can rekindle some magic on the
shores of the Pacific.
Unwilling to break up his solid defense, Lombardi added to it with the
addition of Ben Bishop, a smart move reminiscent of deadline days
past, and took a flyer on Jarome Iginla. Could he have gone into the
market and wheeled either Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez in a, ugh,
“hockey trade”? Absolutely, but he chose to stay the course and ask
the players who have been off the form all season to step up. I have
no quarrel with that ask, but by adding Iginla (a note on him later)
you’re certainly not going all in.
With a salary cap that looks to the staying flat at $ 73 million next
season and the lack of creativity the trade marketplace this time, I
think we’re looking at a game of “Hedge Your Bets” for the next
season’s trade deadline. Maybe McPhee can take his buddies on a casino
tour at the start of next season and get some high rollers to educate
them on the term “All In”.
Some things we heard at the trade
On the Kings moves:
We were the first to give you the news on Ben Bishop coming to Los
Angeles Sunday afternoon:
A wise and better move by Lombardi and the first on the chessboard
that day in the hopes of propping up his inconsistent team.
Bishop, playing for his next contract, has played well down the
stretch and with Los Angeles’ confidence in Peter Budaj receding with
each goal he surrendered, it’s a “net” gain.
One point that hasn’t been discussed is the goalie rotation down the
stretch -- current wisdom says the two netminders (assuming both
healthy) will split the duties. But what would happen if Bishop
outplayed Quick down the stretch? Let’s say Bishop goes 7-2 and Quick
goes 4-5 and the team faces a play-in Game 82 in Anaheim? Do you
choose the hot goalie who’s walking out the door on July 1 or the
goalie who won you two Cups, has a Conn Smythe Award, and six seasons
left on a contract that pays him almost $6 million per?
Next up, Iginla: this year’s vintage of a veteran taking a final
victory lap hoping to raise the Cup. Last year, Vinny Lecavalier was
summoned from Philadelphia press box purgatory to help the stretch
When Lombardi chose to move a long-time Darryl Sutter favorite Dwight
King (our crew nicknamed him Teacher’s Pet) to Montreal, it created
the cash and the roster spot for Iginla. On King, it appears that the
bite to his game that once was had softened and there was no interest
to extend his contract at season end.
We’ve learned that Iginla was third on their target list heading into
the trade deadline – Patrick Sharp was their first choice, but when a
hip issue surfaced (and kudos to Jim Nill for being forthcoming) he
fell out of consideration. They lost the Thomas Vanek horse race,
which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a Vanek-Sutter marriage would
have been tenuous. Refusing to move either Muzzin or Martinez (for
now) for a winger with more term, money and skill, they chose Plan C.
Iginla will bring a mixed bag to the Kings. In speaking to a Denver
source Wednesday night that has watched him throughout his tenure,
there is no question Iginla’s competitive fire still burns hot. He
will give 110% every shift and his attitude has not been affected by
the last two seasons of awful hockey in Colorado. On the ice, he still
possesses a rocket of a shot and if he’s teed up at the dot in the
faceoff circle on the powerplay a la Alex Ovechkin to prop up their
23rd ranked powerplay.
What he’s likely not to give you are quality top-six minutes -- at
this stage, he’s a powerplay specialist and to ask him to consistently
skate with Anze Kopitar is likely too much of an ask. I believe his
first few games in a Kings sweater will give him some extra juice, but
Sutter must be judicious with his minutes to get the best of his game.
NOT RADIO, NOT RADIO
I’ve had the privilege to appear on the NHL Network a couple of times
over the past week and the good fortune of joining the great EJ Hradek
and Steve Mears for my NHL Now debut.
It’s been fun to work with these true pros and been put into a role
that I never imagined I’d be qualified for. Here’s my Thursday
appearance for those interested:
Words will not do this justice, but we’ll attempt to add to praise
that’s not needed. I attended the Bob Miller press conference
announcing him stepping away from the microphone after 44 years as the
Kings play-by-play man.
I wrote a feature on Bob and his play-by-play partner Jim Fox a few
years ago, and though one sentence cannot take the measure of this
man, it’s always stuck in my head when I describe his presence.
If you walked into the press room at Staples Center blindfolded and
went to the table with the loudest laughter, you can bet that Bob
Miller would be sitting at that table. As humble as he is generous
with his time, the terms “Hall of Famer” and “Living Legend” only
start describe what this man means to the Kings organization and
importantly, their fan base.
While there was some sadness in the room when Bob made things
official, the better news is that he appears to be in good health and
towards that end he plans to broadcast the final two Kings regular
From a selfish standpoint, I hope he remains around the barn on 11th
and Figueroa, telling his tales and bringing light to all that cross
Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.