Hockey fans love the trade deadline. It's the last chance for playoff teams to solidify their post-season lineups in the run for the silver. And it's the last chance for loser teams to unload some of the contracts that won't be extended, in the hope of bringing in some parts that will eventually turn them into teams that buy instead of sell on deadline day. Fans love the speculation, and the potential for a GM to steal something value for spare parts. One man's garbage and all that.
This is where I find myself diverging from the majority. I see the trade deadline a bit like the Druids used to see Halloween. They believed the veil between the natural and the supernatural became very thin on that night, and all manner of strange visions and phenomena were not just unsurprising, but expected. Similarly, deadline day thins the veil between "the game" and "the business." We fans want the romance of the game. We want to believe in miracle playoff runs and the guy who'll bleed for his team. We don't like to think about the guy who's willing to take the money and run to someplace where expectations aren't so high or he'll have a better centreman to play with. And we certainly don't like to recognize the callous nature of management that sees a player as an asset and doesn't really care that he was drafted and developed by the team or that fans have come to love the guy. If he can be swapped for a high pick or a bigger, younger guy, none of that matters.
The idea that Pierre Gauthier could even contemplate trading Tomas Plekanec brings the business side of hockey much too clearly into focus. Of course, it's not really clear whether Gauthier's been actively entertaining offers or inquiring about the likelihood of Plekanec's waiving his no-trade clause. Just the thought, though, that a guy the team signed to a six-year contract just last year, who was drafted by the Habs and spent his whole career with them, who works his butt off for the team every time he hits the ice and never complains about the shite wingers he's saddled with most of the time, can be expendable because some manager who's never won anything thinks he might get a bigger winger for him is disgusting. This is the part of the game we see when the veil thins on deadline day, and it's not a pretty picture.
The GM sees the deadline differently from the fans, and he must do so. The problem is, unless he's Ken Holland or Peter Chiarelli, the average GM can become so blinded by the opportunity to wheel and deal, to swing a trade, that he sometimes loses sight of the consequences. Say Gauthier trades Plekanec for some winger. So, who takes Plekanec's place on the PK and shuts down the other team's top players? If Desharnais gets that role, does that mean he and his linemates end up playing defence most of the time? What happens if Desharnais or Eller or both slide next year and can't carry the offensive load? What if the new winger doesn't fit or doesn't produce? The risks of trading a guy like Plekanec, unless for a proven player who can reliably take on all the jobs Plekanec does, would greatly outweigh the benefits at the moment. And if a player of similar value is coming back, why make the trade in the first place? Better, by far, to keep the guy with ties to your team and city, who's proven himself an able warrior. Dealing him would leave a gaping hole in the lineup and many, many questions about how it would be filled.
Tomas Plekanec is the kind of player teams trade for at the deadline for a reason. He's the guy who can come to a strong team and play that vital shut-down role that makes the difference between Alex Ovechkin scoring in a 2-1 Game Seven or being held off the score sheet. He can kill the penalty that helps a team win a close one, and he's the guy who can get the shorthanded breakaway goal that puts his team over the top. If the Canadiens are to become a contender, they need to keep guys like Plekanec who have value. The urge to blow up the team after this dismal season must be strong, but it defeats the purpose if one guy is traded for another guy at the same level. Pierre Gauthier needs to keep his head down at the deadline and wait to see what the draft turns up. A good young player who can step in right away could make all the difference in the lineup.
It's a tense day when the veil thins at the deadline. In the height of trade fever, the unpleasant side of the business is very close to the game. It's too easy to make mistakes and much, much too difficult to fix them after the fact. Deadline deals might be for gamblers and armchair GMs, but when you're the seller, the business of selling off players to fix past mistakes can be ruinous.