The trade deadline is generally a terrible time to acquire players given the circumstances – teams know “buyers” are desperate for that piece to put them over the top, so they pit them against one another, and wham-o, suddenly you’re giving up two second-round picks for a guy you might hesitate to grab off waivers in November. Those bidding wars, they’ll get ya.
There’s also this phenomenon:
Funny how the desirability of a player seems to rise in direct proportion to his availability.
— E.E. (@theory_of_ice) March 3, 2014
It’s an easy time of year to talk yourself into something you don’t really need, like shopping with a gift card. “Oh, Mike Cammalleri is available? I remember when he scored 82 points in 2009-10! Great release! Let’s pull the trigger on this.”
Then you get home, take your Mike Cammalleri out of the bag, and notice you’ve actually acquired a one-way player tallying under 0.5 points-per-game making six million (prorated) who’s gonna walk come summer. That’s some flea market stuff right there, so caveat emptor in March, my friends.
That said, there are certain players that I believe you make the exception for around now, one of which is Canucks’ centreman/winger Ryan Kesler. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth giving up a lot for top talent:
The difference between elite and good IS the difference
It is simply not that hard to acquire capable players to play on an NHL roster. You can mine free agency, the American hockey league, Europe, or your opponent’s rosters at any point during the season and find guys who can play 12-13 capable minutes a night. Congratulations. You now have an NHL team.
The problem now is, you now have a bad NHL team. You need players who aren’t just okay, you need elite skill to best the copious amounts of averageness out there. Before the Sabres started their total rebuild their roster really wasn’t that much of a disaster, it was just built of a bunch of Drew Staffords. Good, fine, whatever at the NHL level…not winning you a Cup.
Your goal, then, has to be to get that elite talent by any means necessary, and that’s easier said than done. When Brian Burke made the huge trade to land Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins people thought he was crazy, but in reality he was getting the only known entity in the deal – elite NHL talent. The pick he moved ended up being higher than he thought in the draft, but given the success of the young goal scorer he brought to Toronto, the optics of the deal have changed. He’s been the type of offensive force they sorely lacked.
Whether it’s Toews/Kane, Crosby/Malkin, Datsyuk/Zetterberg or whoever, the teams that win Stanley Cups have a base of special players they then build around. It’s those pieces that form the nucleus that are rarely available, so you have to act when they are.
Now, Ryan Kesler isn’t quite in the class of the guys above, but he’s undeniably so far above average he can make a huge difference to a Cup contender. He’s scored 40, he’s won a Selke, and he’s an absolute pain in the backside to play. Maybe he’s been injury prone, but you can’t avoid true talent like that on the guess he may get hurt again someday.
The dressing room
Bringing in new players to a dressing room can change the team dynamic. Happier players do better work in the same way that happy people in other professions do. You want to work together, to support each other, and to succeed together.
The dynamic in the locker room isn’t exactly fragile, but if you’ve got a group that gets along there’s no point in risking messing with a group that’s happy just to swap out mid-level players. Change for change’s sake is pointless.
But guys are certainly more open to making space for a guy in the locker room if he’s a difference-maker.
When the team wins everyone’s situation improves, so it’s not too hard to sell the idea of bringing a guy like Ryan Kesler into the fold. He’d be welcomed with open arms.
There are certain positions worth paying for
As my friend Thomas Drance has pointed out, there are a few positions you need to be willing to part with real assets to make great, those being your top centermen and top d-men.
These are the guys that will be eating the bulk of your minutes and playing the toughest competition, so if the cost happens to be something borderline unreasonable, you have to consider doing it anyway. That’s where games are won and lost, which is to say that grabbing David Legwand at the deadline probably doesn’t do much for your Cup hopes, and still might cost an arm and a leg.
Just for a quick refresher of who’s available, the current “top 10″ on TSN’s big board looks like this:
Here’s “the rest of the best” available from TSN – you can check out their full TradeCenter list here.
The trick at this time of year is honestly assessing your teams chances at winning the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins would all but guarantee themselves a trip to the Conference Final with the acquisition of a guy like Kesler. The Philadelphia Flyers, probably not so much. Know who you are, accept that, and act accordingly.
If you’re just getting yourself a rental for the playoff push, I’d be far more cautious than I would be when going after a talent like Kesler who’s still got term left. He seems like a prime target, and while it would take a ton to get him, he’s the type of difference-maker teams should be happy to spend on.