DTFR Overtime: Just Get It Over With Already

Connor and I discussed trading Erik Karlsson on the latest episode of the Down the Frozen River Podcast, which got me thinking about how ridiculous NHL GMs can be as to why they haven’t made any trades yet at this point in the season or why they’re holding onto players for excruciatingly long periods of time (‘sup, Super Joe? Remember the Matt Duchene saga– hey, you won the trade, I’ll give you credit).

This is DTFR Overtime and I’m going to rant about how GMs should break trade traditions.


We all know those couples. They’re dating, then they’re not. They change Facebook relationship statuses more than burgers are flipped at Wendy’s.

NHL GMs are often given a bad rap concerning their ability to make sound decisions in player transactions.

Sometimes players really just don’t have a good fit in an organization– so the player needs to be traded or not re-signed– and do well elsewhere, but more often than not, GMs are left with the blame regardless of the success that comes after the spark (trade).

Sure, not all GMs are good at general management, but I’m not here to reason with the questions of what makes a good GM and what makes a poor GM. Rather, I’m here to critique an oddity that’s been part of the National Hockey League’s 100-year history.

Why aren’t there more trades during the season?

Just break up already

The Matt Duchene-Colorado Avalanche saga is the most recent (and best) example of “why don’t NHL GMs make more trades during the season”. Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, had every right to stall, but did he wait too long for too little in return? That’s debatable depending on where you stand.

Ignoring what Colorado got (Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, a 2018 1st round pick (OTT), a 2018 2nd round pick (NSH) and a 2019 3rd round pick (OTT)), what the Ottawa Senators got (Duchene) and what the Nashville Predators ended up with (Kyle Turris) in the deal, there’s some universal feelings of agony for how long it took to finally trade Duchene both in-and-out of the Avalanche fan base.

Sakic, understandably, wanted what was best for his organization and kept his demands elevated, but at what cost? Did the emotions of being part of the worst team in the NHL last season take a toll on Duchene’s play at times? Did the holdout cause any bumps in the road in the locker room?

We might not get these answers, but just about everyone around the league wondered when the dominoes would fall.

A player that doesn’t want to be part of a franchise’s future doesn’t make for a pleasant time and leaves many wondering what took so long when a deal gets done.

Fans, players and general managers alike could be all the more excited if player-front office relations go sour and result in players being traded sooner rather than later (because it’s very rare for a player to not end up getting traded after being disgruntled with a team’s front office).

Before Duchene there was the Jonathan Drouin-Tampa Bay Lightning saga. We all know how that ended after many “relationship experts” called for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman to just get it over with already and “breakup” with Drouin for better assets.

Yes, Drouin and Tampa resolved some differences, but it was only temporary as alas, Drouin got dumped to the Montreal Canadiens for Mikhail Sergachev this offseason.

Montreal didn’t fully appreciate what they had and the Lightning are happily suited in a rebound now that looks like it could be the one.

Before Drouin, it was Phil Kessel and the Boston Bruins as a high-profile “why don’t they just break up already” case. Before Kessel, one could technically make a case for Eric Lindros‘s drama with the Quebec Nordiques as the original case of “just break up already”– though the Nordiques made off pretty well with Peter Forsberg in the fold.

What is this, the NBA?

Back to that three-team trade the Avalanche, Senators and Predators made in November for a moment.

Are three-team trades an option for NHL GMs to satisfy their cravings for an improved roster midseason, while also not feeling the Catholic guilt of making a trade midseason?

Sure. It’s possible.

The Duchene trade– in its immediate aftermath and one month later– made an already good team even better (Nashville), a bad team replenish a lack of depth (Colorado) and a team that was overhyped end up with overhyped talent (Ottawa).

It was also unprecedented for the NHL.

When you think of three-team trades in professional sports, you think of superstars being tossed around in Major League Baseball, like the Manny Ramirez trade the Boston Red Sox made with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates, whereby Ramirez went from Boston to Los Angeles and Jason Bay jettisoned the Pirates for the Red Sox (among other pieces involved for all three professional baseball clubs).

Or you think of literally any trade in the National Basketball Association, like, ever. That last sentence just now might have been a stretch, but just Google “NBA three team trades” or something and you’ll get the point.

It’s not something that happens in professional hockey at the highest level.

The confusion surrounding who’s getting what in a three-team trade is something that happens to everyone, but gets worked out and well, either makes for an exciting blockbuster or dilutes the point of trading players from the beginning.

Either you’re improving organizations or you’re just maneuvering contracts for some unexplained obligation like the business of entertainment that the sport actually is (spoiler alert) via a three-team trade– or not.

Baby, I’m an outlier

Star players don’t get traded during the season because they’re too good to lose.

Well, if they’re too good to lose, why trade them in the first place?

This is where some general managers try to slip things unnoticed *ahem, in the offseason* in hopes that it’ll make their team better. You might know these guys by the names of Peter Chiarelli or Marc Bergevin, but we’ll just call them “dangerous outliers”.

They’ll save face from the embarrassment of what they got in return for consciously uncoupling with (trading) guys like Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, P.K. Subban and Sergachev in their careers thanks, in part, to the timing of all of those trades.

Seguin was part of a seven-player deal between the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars on July 4, 2013– a day most American fans might not remember if they were celebrating their independence with a few brews.

Or the alternative to trading a star while most fans are probably inebriated at a cookout is to trade said star and talk about how you’re most excited for the upcoming season and that you believe this trade is what will make your team better.

Maybe you’ll take a shot or two at the player’s “character” or something else to get everyone talking the rest of the summer, but the focus levels off by August (when everyone in the hockey world is on vacation) before gaining steam in October– once the guy you traded away immediately makes an impact on his new team (‘sup, P.K.).

In short, if making moves in the offseason actually leads to bad trades and making your team worse (in the long run), why not avoid making offseason trades altogether and save them for during play?

The dangers of doing it in-season

Yes, making a trade, even weeks before the trade deadline can actually still do just as much harm to your team as making a trade in the offseason like normal GMs.

Case in point, the Dion Phaneuf trade.

It was a blockbuster trade that seemed inevitable when the Ottawa Senators had let it be known they were interested in acquiring Phaneuf and had talked it over with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Those talks went quickly and Phaneuf was dealt to Canada’s capital along with forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and defenseman Cody Donaghey. The Senators gave up struggling defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tobias Lindberg and their 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Other than Phaneuf can anyone think of where any of the other players in the trade are these days? Greening’s with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Michalek’s career is basically over due to injury, Cowen tried to land a spot with the Maple Leafs and earned a PTO with the Colorado Avalanche back in September (spoiler alert, he was released with one preseason game remaining) and the rest of them?

Yeah, that’s right. Nobody remembers.

Bailey’s now with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders AHL affiliate), Frattin’s in the KHL, Donaghey’s in the ECHL– in case you were wondering.

Of note, Lindberg was traded this October to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for goaltender, Calvin Pickard.

Other than the lack of talent tossed around between the then rebuilding Maple Leafs and the often underpaid Senators, the biggest surprise from this move was that Ottawa was willing to take on the majority of Phaneuf’s remaining years on his contract that has a $7.000 million cap hit that runs through the 2020-21 season.

Weird, right?

In foresight, maybe the Senators won’t have to worry all that much with a looming lockout around 2020. Then again, they do have to re-sign their best player, defenseman, Erik Karlsson, before or during the 2019 offseason and well, he’s going to cost them a lot more than $7.000 million a season.

Accepting your death– I mean, that you’ll never be good enough

Whether you’re holding out on the best possible return for a superstar or someone with a lot of “character”, the most important thing to remember whenever you go through a breakup with them is that you may never end up with someone as good as what you had (and definitely not in the immediate heartbreak– stop eyeing those free agents you’re about to overpay).

Look, at some point every NHL GM is going to have to make a trade.

Phil Esposito hated being traded from the Bruins to the New York Rangers as much as Jean Ratelle hated going from Broadway to Boston, but both teams knew it was a trade that had to be done. Brad Park led a resurgence for the black and gold, while Esposito proved he still had something in him in his twilight years.

If you want to get something in return, rather than lose a player for nothing, just know that you’ll probably be downgrading for the time being. Rebounds don’t always last, but they can be worth it if you just made a clean break.

You could end up with a guy like Antoine Vermette and win the Stanley Cup like the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2015 before he left them for his ex that summer– rejoining the Arizona Coyotes for a season (before being bought-out and swimming with the Anaheim Ducks ever since).

Or maybe you go through a weird phase of Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser, who then became just Morrow and Jimmy Hayes before one wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer (Morrow) and the other was the victim of a buyout (Hayes) this past summer.

Sometimes things just don’t work out. We get it. You’ll find a better person. You were too good for them anyway.

You just might have to do a little soul searching and cut the cord midseason from time to time.