“It’s a sign of confidence for us,” said Max Talbot when he was asked about the Pittsburgh Penguins recent trade that sent Alex Goligoski to Dallas for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. He went on to talk about how Neal’s talents would improve the team, but the message was clear: making a trade near the deadline was Penguins general manager Ray Shero’s way of showing his players and the team’s fans that the Pittsburgh Penguins were still planning on competing for the Stanley Cup, even with injuries to some of their top players.
Yes, the move improved the team but perhaps the statement was even more valuable than the trade.
The same can be said for many NHL general manager actions – and their lack of action.
When Jay Bouwmeester decided he wasn’t going to stay with the Florida Panthers past the 2009 season, the Panthers didn’t trade him at the deadline. Why not? They wanted to show their fans that they were serious about competing that season. Sending Bouwmeester away would have been the equivalent of waving a white flag on the year. By not trading Bouwmeester, the Panthers allowed him to walk away for nothing. It probably would have been a smarter move to trade him, but it wouldn’t have looked very good to the fans and the players
When Brian Burke became the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was seen by many as the team’s saviour. He was going to improve the team quickly and make the historic franchise competitive once again. There aren’t very many people in Toronto who agree with the Phil Kessel trade at this point, but it was a statement from Burke. He wasn’t going to settle for a traditional rebuild. He wasn’t going to blow up the team, tank for a few years and stock up on draft picks. Much like with Florida and Bouwmeester, he was sending a signal to the fans that the team was ready to compete today, not in a few years.
At the time, Burke even said that the Kessel trade is “a statement to our players that we intend to be competitive right away.” It was also a statement to the fans. It was Burke’s way of saying “keep buying tickets, we’re going to be good really soon!”
New York Islander fans haven’t had much to look forward to recently, but the 2009 draft was one of those things. Thousands of Islanders fans filled the Nassau Coliseum on June 26, 2009 to see John Tavares drafted by the Islanders. That’s what they wanted to see, Tavares drafted by the Islanders. As talented as Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene are, nothing but a Tavares pick would make these fans happy. Though some speculated then (and even more agree now) that Duchene would have been the better choice, the Islanders didn’t want to send their fans home unhappy. Again, there isn’t much to celebrate on Long Island and when fans flood your arena with signs supporting John Tavares, you don’t draft Victor Hedman and you don’t draft Matt Duchene. That doesn’t send the right kind of statement. That doesn’t make your fans happy and that doesn’t sell tickets
Very few teams do what the Florida Panthers did on February 12, 2010. The team issued a letter from the owners that said “, it is clear that our team, the way it is currently structured, is not equipped to meet the goals and objectives that we have set for ourselves, our fans and our partners.”
The owners weren’t saying that everything would be fine really soon. They weren’t sugarcoating the team’s situation in hopes of attracting more fans or selling more tickets. They were saying, essentially, that the team wasn’t good right now but that they hoped it would be in the future.
That’s a hard thing to do. The NHL is a business and telling your fans that your team isn’t very talented right now is not a good way to sell tickets. Sure, it’s probably a good way to rebuild your team, but very few people spend money now to support a team that might be good in a couple of years.
That’s why, in many cases, general managers have to make trades and moves that make it appear as though they’re making the team competitive right now, even if these moves hurt the team in the future.