We’re still a full month out from the NHL’s trade deadline, set this year for Feb. 27, and already things have gone totally crazy.
It’s a well-established fact that the trade deadline in any sport is almost always a seller’s market since there are so few teams who know for sure they’re out of it versus the number of teams who:
a) Know they’re in and want to bolster their rosters for a deep run at the Cup.
b) Don’t know they’re in and want to bolster their rosters just to make sure.
c) Think they have a chance of getting in and need a little help to get them there.
d) Are insane and think they have the ability to get in and don’t, but want to get help anyway.
But this year, though very few noteworthy trades have actually been made yet (unless you count Brendan Morrison-to-Chicago, which no one should), the prevailing sense you have to get for the market, based on reports of who will be available and what their teams are asking for them, is that it’s going to be absolutely insane.
Take, for instance, the nascent fire sale in Carolina right now.
Before they re-signed Tim Gleason to that hilarious contract, the asking price to acquire his services on a rental basis was, reportedly, two first-round picks. Now, far be it for anyone to act like Gleason isn’t a perfectly serviceable National Hockey League defenseman. He’s an Olympian and a pretty solid player in his own right. But asking for two firsts for two months of that kind of play? The world’s gone upside down if that’s fair market value. Now granted, that might just be Jim Rutherford, The Loyalest Man in Hockey, thinking his own guy is a big deal. You know, because he traded Jack Johnson for him and the guy has, admittedly, been a soldier for that team. And that’s why, when he couldn’t pull the two firsts for Gleason, he decided to give him way too much money and a no-trade clause instead.
And there Jim Rutherford learned his lesson about setting prices for pending free agent rentals astronomically high, right? Wrong. Full credit to Rutherford for knowing when he’s beaten — and the ‘Canes are very, very beaten indeed — and being willing to be the first GM out of the gates to start actively shopping guys, but it might be prudent to rein in expectations just a little bit.
It was reported last night that Tuomo Ruutu is also being shopped around, which, again, is fair enough. He’s a UFA this summer and, because he’s 28 years old and likely looking for a raise from his current cap hit of $3.8 million (the second-highest-paid forward on the team, if you can believe it), probably not long for the greater Raleigh area. The apparent asking price for a player of Ruutu’s quality — a one-time 20-goal scorer (in 2008-09)who had 26 points prior to last night’s game against the Islanders — is now one of a suitor’s top prospects and their first-round pick.
Did everyone on Earth see the deal for Dustin Penner, who at least had the extra year on his contract after last season, and say, “Well, that’s perfectly reasonable to expect,” instead of, “How bad did Dean Lombardi just get ripped off, eh?” The return Edmonton got for him, or that Toronto got for Tomas Kaberle, are ludicrous, but apparently set the new standard of what you can ask for when dangling mediocre players. I just don’t get it. In a best-case scenario, Ruutu is a second-line wing on a playoff team with exactly three good wings. Any more than that and he gets muscled out of the top-six, as he should. He doesn’t even play 17 minutes a night in Carolina. And they want a first-round pick and high prospect for him. Okay.
And lest you think that this seller’s market has driven only Rutherford to madness, well, you’ll be pleased to know that Scott Howson is exactly that crazy as well.
Despite numerous reports that teams have kicked the tires on Jeff Carter but backed off because he is grumbling about playing in Columbus and has a no-trade clause that kicks in next year, Columbus is still asking for the moon from any would-be buyer. The price tag, apparently, is more or less the same as what they paid for him, which is to say a high-quality roster player (a Jakub Voracek equivalent), a high pick (think Sean Couturier), and a third-round pick.
Think about the lunacy of that for a minute: “We just bought very high on a player coming off a 36-goal, 66-point season who we thought would help take us to the next level as part of a sizable spending spree. He did not. And right now he has 10 goals and seven assists in 30 games and we’re the worst team in the league. So if you would like him, please buy at a height equal to ours.”
What? I get the urge to save face, but if Columbus really wants to offload him, no one’s going to be biting on that bait.
None of this is conducive to actually trading people because, seller’s market though the deadline may be, NHL GMs are, for the most part, not stupid. All but the exceptionally desperate (see also: Feaster, Jay) will refrain from paying gallon prices for a pint. But I really hope, just for the sake of entertainment, that this kind of price holds for the remainder of open trading. I can’t wait to watch Deadline Day specials that feature three hours of guys fiddling with their phones and repeating, “Nothing yet” like a mantra.