Sunday, February 26, 2012

Deal Or No Deal

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.


Brian said...

I wouldn't let PG make the decision to use the lavatory without running it by at least three semi-competent people.

Anonymous said...

Pleks is a good player. He is soft. The team is very soft, especially on D. Hammer and Spac are gone. Weber and Diaz are skilled but with Kaberle it is just too much. Too many watchers.

Nothing will happen at the trade deadline. Maybe something like Darche or Moen, two guys who could stay, for nothing. That's the way the team is run. Like some fantasy league. If the NHL was no contact or ringette the Habs would be fine.

And Gomez, who talks to the young players encouragingly - isn't that a coaches job? The highest paid player sets the tone. Soft. Guys like Cole deserve keys to the city just for trying every night surrounded by this...I don't have a word for it...charmin bunch I guess.

Hansolo said...

As always, JT, good post. I wish I could be sanguine about PG knowing not to be emotional about trading players, but this year I can't. PG must feel guilty about not providing his coaches with an NHL caliber defence. So that we're absolutely clear, I don't blame him at all for the Markov fiasco; I do hold him responsible, however, for the Habs overpaying for Gorges and for having to play all four of Weber, Campoli, Diaz and Kaberle on the same blueline. Seriously, PG, what were you thinking? Did you really think these guys were an upgrade on Hamrlik and Spacek, the "two old Czechs" (as Olivier Bouchard called them), who did yeoman service for the Habs? Especially after you let Wisniewski go without even talking to his agent?

But I digress. To return to my point, to assuage his guilt, PG might make a stupid trade, like trading Plekanec or AK46. Neither they nor Eller have been used consistently this year. It's not enough that they have been scapegoats for the team. AK46 and Eller have been benched to no purpose; along with Pleks they have had linemates come and go like speed-daters. Yet somehow they are supposed to believe the coaching staff have a plan and to be professional and go about their jobs when their own coaches throw them under the bus.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Pleks or AK traded. After JM was fired, this season has been a disaster of Houle/Tremblay-like proportions. PG might just feel guilty enough, and thereby be emotional enough, to do something really stupid, and set the team back another 5 - 10 years. PG was director of pro scouting when the Gomez trade took place and had to recommend it. That hardly inspires confidence.

On another note, I hope the treatment that Pleks, AK and Eller have received this season isn't just because they are Euros. I know everyone loves Emelin but he plays like a North American, or in the vernacular, he has "NAG." (In other words, hits forgive many other potential sins). If we treat players differently because we perceive how gritty they are based on their national origin, and then apportion their ice-time because of that perception rather than on advanced metrics, we really have serious problems. I know SK74 and Grabovski had their difficulties but were they in part a reflection of the culture in the locker room? Other teams have gotten them to produce. You can't help wondering.

the Maritimer said...

J.T., I am aware you are a big fan of Tomas Plekanec. Conversely, I've always thought he was over rated as a #1 center. Saku Koivu was better than Tomas and he wasn't a true #1 either. PK specialists and shut down guys can be found or groomed (Eller). If I could get a #1 defenceman for Pleky like Duncan Keith or Ryan Suter I would do it in a heartbeat. Tomas Plekanec is not going to help the Montreal Canadiens in the near future. They are now 3-5 years away from being playoff worthy.

Markus said...

Agree with your assessment of Plex. Aside from being a great 2-way player, there have been times over hte last few years when he's cracked the League's top-10 or 15 in points. When he's on, he can rack'em up in a hurry. Is there a logjam at centre? I do think Eller and DD are here to stay, and deservedly so. Then you have White, and the likely high first round pick (odds are we're in line for a really good centre), and it MAY be an issue, but I doubt it. Gomez will likely be moved/demoted/bought out, and the guy you draft may have to do time in the AHL. Meanwhile, Plex has a history of bouncing back after an off year. I think we'd miss him big time.

Steve said...

I would move Pleks to get Huberdeau. The future is now for the Panthers so a swap of picks plus Pleks is a gamble I would take. I agree Pleks is a super player who makes the team stronger than it appears, but this team is two or three years away from making a serious contender.

Anonymous said...

Pleks will rarely be the centre opponents check against. He's ALWAYS the checker, thus he's a premier THIRD line centre ala Jordan Staal. I would not hesitate to package him for a big top 6 centre, as I've noticed him increasingly avoiding the boards, and coming up short on one on one battles. On the forecheck and PK, there are few like him.

He's less of a playmaker and more of a great counterattacker. He's not a clutch player. I think the habs should keep the possibility of moving him open if they get back full value. Otherwise, might as well keep him. I don't consider him "untouchable" unlike Price, Subban, and Patches.

Raj said...

Well, seeing what Buffalo got for Gaustad, we didn't get good value for AK. And we picked up a goon -- what on earth for? I guess you can never have too much "NAG."

But t least we didn't trade Pleks or Ryan White. I suppose there really wasn't a market for Campoli. Kaberle, I'm a little surprised about. I thought he could be moved.

So, at least we didn't give the farm away. AK fired his agent -- perhaps he could be persuaded to return to Montreal this off-season. Not the worst day I could have imagined.

Anyone know any god GM candidates for the Habs? If the Goat is back, I'll be very surprised.

UK3X said...

JT - I love your passion for the Habs and for Plexxe. Deadline has come and went as I write and I'm glad he's still part of the team. AK wasn't exactly "showcased" in his last game as a Hab so it's no surprise we got nothing for him. No one was ever going to offer us more than a bag of pucks for Kaberle and I doubt if you'd evenget an offer of a whizz ball for Gomez. So, for now at least, wha we got, we got. Now let's see if they can get a last win in February.