Down Goes Brown: Six risky NHL Trade Deadline targets

Kris Russell's first goal as an Oiler proved to be the difference against Florida, Washington pummelled the Flyers and the Ducks handed the Bruins their first loss under their new bench boss

• NHL becoming increasingly risk-averse
• Iginla, Doan having down years
• Is Shattenkirk worth Blues’ asking price?

An NHL rink has never been a place for the prim and proper, and when things get heated there isn’t much in the way of vocabulary that’s considered off limits. But these days, there’s one four-letter word that causes even the bravest hockey lifer to clutch at his pearls and reach for his fainting couch.

Risk.

Coaches won’t tolerate it, as demonstrated by their game strategies. Players are benched for engaging in it. Fans don’t always understand it. And general managers hate it, which is why most of them go to such great lengths to avoid making trades.

As this year’s deadline draws near, every potential trade target carries some risk. Anyone can get hot, or get hurt. Young prospects can turn out to be the next Brett Hull or Markus Naslund, and tossed-in draft picks can turn out to be the next Ray Bourque or Patrick Roy. No trade, no matter how minor, is ever risk-free.

But some trade targets carry more risk than others. If you go out and pull the trigger on a move for Brian Boyle or Martin Hanzal, you pretty much know what you’re getting. Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog would cost you plenty, but you could feel reasonably confident about what the future would hold with either guy.

Other players on the market… well, you wouldn’t be so sure. Maybe that’s a good thing — it’s hard to find a game-changing bargain in the “sure thing” pile. But in a league where nobody ever seems to want to roll the dice and take a risk, these are some of the names that will require doing just that.

JAROME IGINLA AND SHANE DOAN

Best case: We’re going to group these two together because they both offer up the same question: At what point does reputation, character, veteran leadership and good old-fashioned narrative outweigh actual performance?

Both guys are former all-stars and longtime captains who’ve been around forever, and neither has ever won it all. They’re classic Old Guys Without a Cup, and from Lanny MacDonald to Ray Bourque to Teemu Selanne, the hockey world loves its OGWACs.

If you want to get all romantic about things, either of these guys would report to work for a contender and leave absolutely everything on the ice in what could be their very last chance at that elusive title. Then the rest of the team would see that, crank up their own effort level, and go to war for their new teammate. It’s a beautiful, vicious cycle, and it ends with one of those Stanley Cup handoffs that makes everyone cry.

Worst case: Neither one of these guys has been very good this year.

Sorry, I know that sounds harsh. But it’s reality. Iginla has seven goals and 16 points, while Doan has five and 20. Those aren’t exactly the sort of numbers you want to mortgage the future for.

And sure, both of these guys bring more than offence to the table on and off the ice. But this is a young man’s league now, and time comes for us all (except maybe Jaromir Jagr). If these two guys look like they’re missing a gear now, what would they look like two months into a grueling playoff run?

It’s possible that either guy could come cheap, especially if their no-trade clauses mean their current team lets them choose their destination. And that inspirational-veteran narrative is awfully hard to resist. But if this turns into a bidding war, there’s a good chance that you give up a decent pick or prospect to bring in an inspiring story that just can’t play anymore.

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BEN BISHOP

Best case: Like Iginla and Doan, Bishop would presumably be a short-term rental. And like Iginla and Doan, Bishop is having an off year.

But unlike those two, Bishop isn’t some creaky veteran who’s almost done. He’s been a very good starter in this league for four years, and has 21 playoff wins over the last two seasons. And it’s not like his season is all that hard to explain – between his expiring contract, an injury that cost him a few weeks, and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s inevitable shift into the starter’s role, it’s no surprise that Bishop hasn’t quite been himself.

Still, with the Lightning charging hard but still on the outside of the playoff race, he could be available. GMs always whine about how top-tier goalies are never up for grabs on the trade market. Well, here’s one. Even if it’s just for one playoff run, why not go get him?

Worst case: Sure, the odds are that Bishop’s off-year is an aberration. But if he’s a short-term rental, then him turning it around next season doesn’t help you. You need him to turn it around now. And sometimes, players enduring tough seasons just don’t snap out of it until training camp.

On top of that, goalie is inherently the riskiest position. Goaltending is voodoo. Maybe you’re the Wild getting Devan Dubnyk, but maybe you’re the Blues getting Ryan Miller. Over a small sample, is Bishop really going to be that much better than the guy you have now? How much are you willing to pay to find out?

Here’s one thing to consider for any GM thinking of making a play on a Bishop rental: If you trade for him and he struggles, that’s on him, at least in the eyes of some of your fans. If you stand pat and the status quo in the crease turns out not to be good enough, that’s on you. At deadline time, even doing nothing at all carries plenty of risk.

PATRICK EAVES

Best case: If you’re looking for goals, nobody on the market has more than Eaves. He’s sitting at 21, which is a career high. And despite what you might assume, he’s not doing it based on some crazy shooting-percentage bender. At 32 years old, the veteran winger is having a career season.

Will it last past this year? Maybe not, but it doesn’t need to. Eaves would be a rental, and at $1 million he’d be one that virtually every team can fit under their cap. Add him now, give your offence a boost for the playoff run, and let some other team figure out whether or not this year was a fluke once free agency hits.

Worst case: As Sportsnet’s Dimitri Filipovic argued yesterday, there’s a good chance that whichever team acquires Eaves won’t be getting what they think they are. He’s been scoring most of his goals this year on the power play, where he ranks near the top of the league. At 5v5, where the vast majority of the playoffs will be played, his numbers aren’t all that impressive.

Maybe you trade for Eaves and then drop him onto your own power-play unit. But there’s no guarantee that he’d click right away under your system the same way he has in Dallas. And if he doesn’t, you may have just paid 20-goal-scorer prices to land a guy who lingers on your third line and doesn’t score all that much.

The Hockey PDOcast with Dimitri Filipovic provides entertaining and thoughtful dialogue about the game of hockey with an analytical edge. Not as nerdy as it sounds.

THOMAS VANEK

Best case: If an alien showed up from another planet and wanted to know who the best scoring forward available at the deadline would be, Vanek would be well up the list, if not the best guy on the market. In terms of point-per-game, he’s basically the top scorer on the board. And it’s not like he’s some journeyman having a fluke year. This is a former 40-goal scorer, and at 33 he’s past his prime but not exactly washed up.

If you want to get a guy who can score 30 or 40 points on your third line, there are probably cheaper options. But if you want a top-six guy who might even sneak in some top-three numbers, then as far as rentals go it’s pretty much Vanek or bust.

Worst case: That alien from another planet has apparently never heard of the playoffs.

Vanek’s track record in the post-season is, to put it kindly, not great. It’s not awful — he drops from being a roughly 0.8-point-a-game player to something just north of 0.5, which is still worth something. But he has a reputation as a guy whose game fades when spring arrives.

That was the case in Montreal in 2014, when Vanek himself said he “wasn’t great, obviously.” And it was the case in Minnesota in 2015, when he didn’t manage a goal in two rounds. He was OK for the most part in Buffalo, but that was a while ago, and even then he was never dominant.

So what does that tell you? Maybe not much — the playoffs are a small sample size, and while the playing style changes it’s not like it’s an entirely different sport. If you don’t put much stock in post-season stats, Vanek might be a great bargain. But if you believe that some players have it and some don’t, you might find yourself paying up for 20 solid regular-season games followed by an unscheduled vacation.

KEVIN SHATTENKIRK

Best case: Let’s close with the big one. Shattenkirk is easily the best rental available at this year’s deadline, and you could make a good case for him as being the best player, period. Just about every team in the NHL is constantly going on about how they need help on the blueline, especially from a right-handed shot. And now, along comes an all-star who’s good at both ends and is currently having the best offensive season of his career.

Most of the time, deadline rentals are a game of looking for small edges at the margins, adding a player or two who might add up to winning you an extra game over the course of a long playoff run. But Shattenkirk could be that rare game-changer. There are playoff teams right now where he could be the best defenceman on the team, which means all six spots on your blueline get better as everyone else drops down. That’s invaluable.

And as an added bonus, whichever team adds him will have an advantage when it comes to signing him before free agency. They’ll be able to offer him an extra year and get an exclusive window to hammer out a deal before July 1. So if all goes well, your big deadline rental won’t end up being a rental at all.

Worst case: Shattenkirk is a very good player, but let’s keep some perspective. This is a guy who’s been in the league for seven seasons, and has received just a handful of Norris votes over his career. He’s never finished higher than 17th in post-season all-star voting among defencemen. And this year he’s only fourth on his own team in blueline ice-time, and the Blues rank in the bottom 10 in goals allowed. The guy’s a good player, but let’s maybe pump the brakes a bit on the hype here.

Beyond that, he’s going to cost you. The Blues aren’t going to let him go cheap, and given their recent reemergence as a quasi-contender, they don’t necessarily have to move him if nobody meets their price. Part of the appeal of deadline rentals is that they’re supposed to be relatively cheap; this one almost certainly won’t be.

So maybe you end up paying a ton to get a good-but-not-quite-great defenceman for a few months, and then he bolts to the Rangers in free agency. Or maybe even worse, you open up the vault to keep that from happening and end up with a $50-million defenceman who isn’t really among the very best at his position.

Add it all up, and there probably isn’t a bigger high-risk/high-reward name on the board. Trading for Shattenkirk could win you a Stanley Cup. It could also torpedo your prospect pipeline and/or cap situation for years to come.

It’s not a deal for the faint of heart, which means it’s probably not a deal for most of this league’s GMs. But chances are somebody will step up — just like somebody will pull the trigger on most of the guys on this list. Not all of those moves will end up paying off, but there’s only one way to find out.

So how brave does your favourite team’s GM feel? Remember, risk might be a four-letter word. But when it comes to the Stanley Cup, so is “ring.”

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