Making trades is one of the most crucial responsibilities an NHL general manager is tasked with.
So you can forgive them if they take time to make one.
“We’ve had (for) over a year conversations about a player,” said Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan while speaking with fellow general managers Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), Jim Nill (Dallas Stars) and Sportsnet’s George Stroumboulopoulos. “It comes back to you at some point. So conversations we had at this trade deadline, I think players that didn’t get traded that might get traded.
“You always go back to it and see if it’ll happen.”
Bowman agreed that a lot of moves appear to come together much faster than they actually do. His team made several moves this season, bulking up by adding Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann and Christian Ehrhoff in three separate trades made around the Feb. 29 deadline.
“I think the one misconception out there is maybe you just sit down and we talk about it and tomorrow we’re going to make a trade,” he said. “I mean the deals we made were weeks in the making, sometimes months in the making.
“There’s a lot of factors at play, I think it’s changed now, obviously the biggest thing is just the contracts – the term and the dollar amounts on these deals are the biggest factors. It’s not so much anymore strictly their play.”
While much of the attention is paid to the actual deadline day, for GMs, the weeks leading up to the day can be the most stressful, as team executives do the prep work necessary to be a player in the market.
“You’re making a lot of phone calls trying to get a sense of what other teams, what other managers are doing and then it changes as the deadline goes on,” said MacLellan, whose Capitals acquired defenceman Mike Weber on Feb. 23 and then forward Daniel Winnik on the eve of the deadline. “I mean if a trade happens it shifts the market and you’ve got to make adjustments, you’re calling around again.
“So it’s a constant, from my point of view, analysis of what’s happening – what do we need, how are we going to get there to compete in the playoffs.”
“We’re all trying to get better every day,” said Nill. “We’re trying to get better, three per cent better, you know people talk about the trade deadline, we’re trying to do trades every day. You’re working every day to get better.”
Nill did make one deal at the deadline, nabbing Kris Russell from the Calgary Flames, but his signature moves have all come in the summer. After being made GM in April 2013, he’s made one blockbuster each July since, acquiring Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp to build a core that’s competing with the Blackhawks for a Central Division title.
Sending Sharp to a divisional rival was not an easy decision to make for Bowman, who’s had to move key pieces from his team several times in order to get under the salary cap.
“You can’t let yourself get attached. I mean that’s why, I maintain a good relationship with our players, but I don’t try to get too close to them because I think I’ve had to make more hard decisions than probably anybody,” said Bowman. “I’ve traded away so many good players that I’ve liked. Great guys, great players, young players and we’ve had to part ways with them.
“The only way it works is if you take the emotion out of it. It sounds cold but it is a business at the end of the day … if you fall in love with players you’re going to end up with a team that’s not achieving too much.”
For Dallas, adding Sharp was instrumental in getting to where they are today. They’re on the verge of qualifying for the post-season for only the second time in the last eight years, and when asked who he’d enjoy beating the most, Nill set his sights on the Blackhawks.
“I think there’s a respect to it,” he said. “I think whoever’s won the Cup, whoever’s the defending champions, they’ve set the bar. And that’s why our challenge is to beat Chicago.”
In Bowman’s eyes, the best wins are the ones that come against teams in your own division.
“The divisional foes for us, whether it’s Dallas or St. Louis, they’re tough ones, and we’ve had some battles with Nashville in the last couple years, we’ve come out on the better end but both times we won the Cup when we beat Nashville, we easily could have lost,” he said. “Last year in the first round and same thing in 2010. We had to come from behind in those, so I think that’s sort of what builds up your animosity, when you play a team in the playoffs.”
MacLellan, whose Capitals have had their last three playoff appearances end at the hands of the New York Rangers, was pretty blunt.
“We don’t get to beat them but I’d like to beat New York. They seem to beat us but I mean that’d be the most fun, to beat them I think,” said the Washington GM, whose Capitals should enter the post-season as one of the favourites to win it all.
“It would be fun for us to go through them to get to where we need to go.”