On Competing and Conceiting: Trade Deadline thoughts

Blame it on the fact that what I do for my bread and butter is sit for 40 hours a week in front of a 13″ TV and digest a constant stream of information.

This was not a national holiday for me, and its responsibilities no different from any other.

The reality of days like today is that it is nothing more than a last-ditch opportunity for clubs teetering on the brink of something to appear like they are doing everything to tip the scales in their favor.

So when Paul Holmgren or any man in charge of the other 29 clubs “chooses to stand pat,” all that phrase represents is a conceit, a false attempt to create drama and negative conversation where there is none.

In fact, Holmgren did more to help the Flyers by acquiring Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossman last week and not acquiring or giving up anyone else than he could have during the mad dash up until the 3 p.m. (et) filing date. Same goes for Dean Lombardi managing to acquire Jeff Carter and hold on to Dustin Brown, or Steve Yzerman, or Ken Holland.

In the Atlantic Division, no team took a risk, so that meant that no other team was willing to follow suit. And with four of five clubs firmly entrenched in the playoff race, why should they take a plunge just to satisfy the machinery which is oiled by the potential for juicy news? The dominoes remained upright for the most part and that spelled trouble for the networks.

One of the best facets of TSN of Canada’s wall-to-wall coverage is the requisite press conferences for the Canadian clubs willing to talk. But unfortunately when the news is scant, each General Manager is regrettably wedged into the entr’acte of the Trade Deadline play, and the nonplussed answers to all to the usual questions are, for the most part, cause for alarm amongst the hosts who are grasping for the thinnest of straws.

That’s why it was totally logical from a business standpoint, and so predictable from a broadcasting standpoint, for the forthright answers of Calgary’s GM Jay Feaster and Toronto’s GM Brian Burke on their inactivity to make sense everywhere but inside the Toronto studios.

Burke had it right, and spelled it out during his time in front of the camera — the process of assessing needs began for him 8 whole weeks ago and Deadline Monday just represents the final day of whatever plan was set in motion. He wasn’t going to pull the trigger just because it’s what has come to be expected. Feaster was just as resolute but less expansive.

The same can be said for Holmgren. As far as the Flyers are concerned, the illusion of making sensible deals which will aid the team in remaining competitive for years to come will always trump the illusion of making a grand push with an 11th-hour trade to satisfy outside interests. He was on point again this afternoon:

“We received some calls about a few of our players with some scenarios that we talked about, but nothing really made sense for us either in the short term or the long term,” said Holmgren. “I think we stated all along that anything we do needed to make sense both ways for us and nothing really came up.”

No matter how you feel about the goaltending situation, the lack of consistency from the forwards, the need to reunite us with another former player, or the desire to acquire a presence that assures a top-four seed in the conference, it doesn’t mean blood can or should be drawn from a stone to satisfy those feelings. Emotion is the enemy of good and effective business.

The Flyers are doing pretty well all things considered, and to add another piece to a club sorely lacking in chemistry for a whole host of reasons would likely spell disaster with just 6 weeks left in the regular season.

So I’m not shocked that the “situation” in Columbus played out as it did. I was impressed with the way Scott Howson expertly played hockey’s version of Morrissey on Monday.

At his own presser following the passing of the deadline, he tread the line of bemoaning his club’s place at the bottom of the heap, while defiantly not sorry for the things he’d done: keeping Rick Nash, claiming satisfaction with the high asking price for him, and bashing Nash’s agent for remarks over the weekend.

“He approached us and asked us to consider trading him,” Howson said. “We agreed to accommodate his request as long as we could get a deal that would provide us with cornerstone pieces that would help us compete for a Stanley Cup championship in the coming year. This is too important to our franchise and our fans to do a deal that was not in our best interest. We pursued a number of options, but none provided the value back that we could justify trading a player of Rick’s caliber.”

The Jackets are circling the drain. Why shouldn’t he ask for a large return if the price is losing the only remaining asset and draw the club possesses?

It’s one thing to head towards DFL in the NHL with at least one marketable name on the roster; it’s another entirely to do it after ridding yourself of the last respectable commodity. That would be like the situation the Penguins found themselves in the 2 years before Mario Lemieux arrived.

There was a visible letdown once it was clear the man TSN had zeroed in on as their marquee name was going to stay put. The station was reduced to pushing the fact that, at roughly 1:30 p.m, there was still a “greater than 50 percent chance Nash would be traded” when it was nothing more than (in the words of Col. Potter) a load of horse hockey.

It wasn’t until the late 90s when the actual termination date of wheeling and dealing gained any significance. That was when the economic imbalance allowed the same 10 teams in major markets the ability to mortgage their futures by picking up veteran assets for prospects and draft picks. The possibility of a chip-less player getting his shot at glory was inevitable and created instant drama.

The salary cap all but eliminated that built-in suspense, and in particularly fallow years like this one, you get the talking heads straining credulity that the Cody Hodgson deal represented an “earthquake” on the Canucks’ landscape. Or you have a host acting absolutely flabbergasted that Samuel Pahlsson couldn’t muster even one excited quote after learning he’d been freed from Ohio’s capital minutes before.

Because it’s about feeding the beast — you don’t give the media as a whole enough to cover their collective asses, and they have to make it up to justify the huge promotional effort. In other words, I’ve seen the circus for 15 years and it’s time to tear down the Big Top.

If the entire NHL were only allowed a specific time-frame, say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the 40th day from the end of the regular season, to do business, I could understand the frustration of the networks who pour a ton into the broadcast over inactivity and the hunger for information. After all, that’s some dog-eat-dog Wall Street stuff and whoever can’t elbow his way into the fray and work his magic pays the penalty and worse, fails to provide compelling content.

If those were the rules, I could understand evaluating this one day as if it stood alone in determining the short-and-long-term fortunes of any team, or stood as proof of a GM’s backbone or salience of his vision.

It would also create a new paradigm and explosive environment that doesn’t need the usual acrobatics to prove itself. Perhaps it’s time for a radical change there. The next CBA would be a prime location for an amendment — one with maximum entertainment value.