The trade deadline is a tough time to be an NHL GM.
Everywhere you go, everyone is asking you about trades. Are you buying? Are you selling? How many moves will you make? Fans around the league are buzzing with excitement, counting down the hours to one of the most-anticipated dates on the hockey calendar.
So sure, the fans are happy. But you, an NHL GM, are miserable. You don’t want to make a trade. You hate trading. And so do almost all of your colleagues around the league.
It didn’t used to be that way. Back in the old days, trades were frequent and often franchise-altering, and a GM with enough guts could remake his team with just a few bold moves. But those were different times. Back then, two grizzled GMs could sit down at the bar, look each other dead in the eye, and hammer out a blockbuster by the time the third or fourth round had been slammed down.
But not you. You’ve surrounded yourself with a small army of advisors and assistants. The scouts tell you one thing, then the analytics guys say something else. You’re drowning in data, reports and opinions. And if we’re being honest, you’re not really allowed to do anything without running it by the owner first.
Trading is hard. Too hard. Your life would be so much easier without it.
But there’s just one problem: The fans. Those idiots ruin everything. They seem to have it in their heads that the team they support with their passion and hard-earned dollars should actually be doing everything in their power to try to win. They keep expecting you to get off your behind and do what you’re paid to do.
It can wear on you. And at some point over the next two weeks, you might even start to feel like caving into the pressure and actually, you know, accomplishing something.
Resist that urge. Stay strong, NHL GM. You can get through this. And to help you out, we’ve prepared this special guide to help you keep your eyes on the prize over the trying days ahead. Where the prize, of course, is taking the next two weeks off.
1. Blame the salary cap
Repeat after me: “I can’t make a trade, because the salary cap makes my job too hard.”
Honestly, most of the time you can just stop here. Claiming that the cap makes trading too difficult seems to work on about 75 percent of the fans out there, and just about all of the media. They’ll just shrug and accept it, and then they’ll leave you alone.
Never mind that we’ve had the cap for a dozen years, and everyone should have figured out how it works by now. Never mind that working within a budget has been part of a GM’s job for a century. Never mind that this isn’t the NBA, with complex rules around balancing salaries in trades. Never mind that 23 of the league’s 30 teams already have enough cap room to add at least $2 million at the deadline. Never mind that teams can retain salary or take back contracts to balance the books.
Ignore all of that stuff, because that’s what fans have been conditioned to do over the years. Just blame the cap. Most of the time, that will be enough.
2. Point to the standings
How’s your team doing these days? Not well, you say. Well then, you can’t make a trade now. Everyone knows that the absolute worst time to make a deal is when your team is struggling. That’s when other GMs line up to take advantage of you. Anchors thrown instead of life jackets, and all that. Who wants an anchor thrown at them? Not you.
No trades when your team is struggling. It’s just common sense.
What’s that? You say your team is actually doing well? Oh, well in that case, you’d be crazy to change anything now. Why mess with a good thing? If it’s working, you don’t screw around with it. Back away slowly and don’t touch anything.
No trades when your team isn’t struggling. It’s just common sense.
3. Point to the calendar
Fans have come to expect that the trade deadline is a time for making trades, largely because the league foolishly went and stuck the word “trade” right in there.
But really, what do they know? The deadline might be fine for small moves, but GMs like you know that anything truly significant is just too complicated to pull off in the middle of a season. You have to wait until the draft. That’s when the real trading happens these days.
Of course, the draft isn’t great either. With free agency right around the corner, everyone thinks they can solve their problems by signing guys on the open market. Probably better to wait until after July 1, since all those teams that miss out on their prime targets will be desperate by then.
OK, so now it’s after July 1. Whoops. Nobody has any cap room left. Guess you’ll have to wait until training camp.
Weird, now it’s training camp and everyone likes their team. Nobody wants to deal. But just you wait until the season starts, guys start getting hurt, and teams start feeling the pressure. That’s the time to made a deal!
Huh. Apparently nobody trades during the first few months of the season anymore. Ah well, that’s fine. Everyone knows that the best time to trade is at the trade deadline. After all, it even has the word “trade” right in there.
4. Remind everyone that you’re not going to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade
This phrase is your best friend. Read it, memorize it, and repeat it often — at least once every time you’re asked about the deadline. Two or three times would be better. If you wanted to do an entire interview where you just mindlessly repeated it in response to every single question including “How are you?”, that would be fine, too.
And don’t just mutter it like a half-hearted excuse. No, you want to puff out your chest a little bit. Make it sound like a boast. You’re a big boy, and you only do things when you want to do them, not because someone else is telling you to.
Sure, it all might sound a little silly, since literally nobody in the history of sports has ever suggested that anyone make a trade just for the sake of it. It might even feel vaguely insulting to your fan base, as if you’re dismissing them as drooling simpletons who want trades as instant gratification and not, you know, a crucial part of putting together a championship roster.
Ignore that feeling. You’re not going to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. Aren’t you brave!
5. Never ask anyone to waive a NTC
Do you have a roster full of guys with no-trade clauses? Lucky you! That means you don’t have to even think about trading any of them. That’s because NTCs can never, ever be waived.
Well, I mean, they can. And sometimes they are. Come to think of it, it happens all the time. But don’t worry about that. Make a big public show out of announcing that you won’t even ask any players with NTCs about waiving them. Consider trying to make it sound like you’re taking some sort of ethical stance.
(Addendum: It goes without saying that you should offer NTCs on every contract you sign. Consider it a gift to your future self.)
6. Just make everyone untouchable
There was a time when “untouchable” meant something. It was applied to guys who were completely off limits for discussion. You heard his name, you hung up the phone. There was simply no possible situation in which you’d even consider moving him. He was that good.
But today, anyone can be untouchable. Any player that’s good, or on a cheap contract, or young, or used to be young… you can come up with whatever criteria you want. The key is to preemptively take them off the market by declaring them untouchable.
Keeping your options open? That’s for suckers. You want to slam those doors closed right now, just in case there might be a deal lurking behind some of them.
Here’s what you do. Grab a copy of your roster and look it over. Put a checkmark next to any name you see that any other team might ever conceivably want. See those guys? They’re untouchable now. Leak that to a friendly media member, wait for the word to get out, and then watch that ringing phone go quiet.
7. You’re not shopping, but you are listening
Nobody knows exactly what this means. That’s the beauty of it!
The idea seems to be that you’re willing to entertain offers that come to you, but won’t be making any of your own. It takes two to tango, and in your case tangoing means the other person doing all the work before you’re willing to so much as acknowledge them.
Again, fans may occasionally ask you annoying questions like, “Isn’t it literally your job to be shopping?” Ignore them. Just keep listening. If enough of you do that, eventually the day will come when all 30 NHL GMs are just sitting in their offices, listening intently to total and complete silence. Sweet, blessed silence.
8. When in doubt, remember: Only one team wins the Stanley Cup
By now, you should be safely insulated from any demands that you make a deal. You’ve already lined up your excuses, you’ve cut off most of the conversation before it starts, and you’ve already kicked the can down the road to the off-season. The next two weeks should be easy.
But every now and then, all of that still isn’t enough. Maybe your team is free-falling down the standings. Maybe you haven’t made the playoffs in years. Maybe your roster has so many obvious holes that the fans just aren’t buying your “My job is so hard” talk. It happens.
If so, you’ve always got one more bullet to fire: Remind everyone that only one team wins the Stanley Cup every year.
It’s true. Historians have confirmed that ever since the NHL came into existence and took possession of the trophy, only one team has won it every year. In the case of lockouts, sometimes fewer. But one is pretty much the maximum.
Your job as a timid GM is to remind everyone of that fact, over and over. The implication is clear: Since the only thing that matters is the Cup and only one team wins it, anyone else who even tried was just wasting their time.
Will your fans buy it? Probably. Will they realize that you’re basically saying that 97 per cent of the league’s teams are failures every year, which sounds like a horrible way to market a sport? Possibly. Is there a risk that they’ll notice that the teams that do win the Cup, like the Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings, also tend to be the most aggressive traders in the league? Oh man, I sure hope not.
Just remember: Only one team wins the Stanley Cup every year. It’s science.
Will that team ever be your team? No, but then again, that’s not the point. Winning a championship is for other GMs. Your priorities are simpler. Stay in your comfort zone. Look as busy as possible while not actually doing anything. And then, of course, cross your fingers that the team owner doesn’t realize he’s paying you a full salary to do part of a job.
You can do this. It’s almost over. The next two weeks will be the toughest of the season, but it’s only two weeks. After that, this will all be over, and nobody will ask you about trading ever again.
Well, at least until the off-season. Might want to start getting your excuses ready in advance.