Down Goes Brown: 10 annoying things NHL GMs say at trade deadline

NHL insider John Shannon joins Ken Reid to talk about the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline and which players could be on the move.

It’s trade-deadline week, which means at some point you’re going to be hearing from your favourite team’s GM. Whether it’s a press conference, a segment on the local radio station, an impromptu scrum between periods, or even just an off-hand comment or two relayed through the media, communicating with fans is part of a GM’s job this time of year.

And some of them are better at it than others.

Occasionally, a GM will offer up some real insight into their deadline approach, hinting at a broad strategy and process without giving too much away. But most of the time, we just get clichés and filler, and sometimes stuff that doesn’t even make sense. If you’re a fan hoping for actual insight, that can be annoying.

So today, let’s count down the 10 most annoying things a GM might say in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Feel free to print a copy and check them off as your team’s GM makes the media rounds.

No. 10: “We’re open for business.”

You hear this one fairly often this time of year, although it’s one of those points that’s often fed through the media rather than offered up directly. Either way, it’s always a strange one. When it comes to making trades, NHL front offices are supposed to be open for business. At this time of year, that’s kind of their whole job.

And yet they seem to feel the need to remind us that they are, in fact, open. Maybe someday we’ll get the other side of the coin, and some team will proudly announce that nobody should bother calling because they’re closed for business. They could post one of those signs on the front door, with a little clock and a handwritten note reading “Be back in the off-season.”

Until then, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone is indeed open, and just skip this cliché entirely.

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No. 9: “We’re not going to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal.”

This one’s annoying for two reasons. First, and most obviously, nobody has ever suggested that a team should make a deal just for the sake of it. This well-worn quote (and its cousin, the always popular “we’re not going to make a panic move“), is a pre-emptive strike against a scenario that literally nobody is asking for.

And yet GMs still pull it out time and again. Most of the time, they even sound vaguely proud of themselves as they say it, as if they’re reassuring the fanbase that they’re firmly in control of the situation. It rarely works.

All of that is frustrating enough. But then comes the kicker. The deadline arrives, the clock ticks down, and inevitably some team having an otherwise quiet day will beat the buzzer by trading away a career minor-leaguer in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. Hey wait, that’s a trade just for the sake of making a trade! You can’t fool us. You knew you were going to get ripped by fans and media for taking the day off, so you cooked up a meaningless last-minute deal to break the shutout.

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No. 8: “Only one team wins the Stanley Cup every year.”

We’re cheating a bit here, since this gem typically gets offered up after the deadline. Usually right after, and usually by a GM who couldn’t get much done and wants to preemptively make the case that it probably wasn’t going to matter anyway. If 97 percent of the league isn’t going to win the Cup, the logic appears to go, then what’s the point of even trying?

This is, it goes without saying, nonsense. Put aside the fact that in the age of parity, every team that makes the playoffs has at least some chance at winning it all. “Only one team wins the Cup” implies that every other team is a failure, and that anything else that might happen during a post-season run is worthless. That’s a miserable way to market a product — “Come watch the NHL. There’s a 97-percent chance you’re wasting your time. Eat at Arby’s.”

And it’s not how sports fans think. Sure, we all want our favourite team to win it all. But plenty of great sports moments — from Brad May to Jose Bautista to Stefon Diggs — came during playoff runs that didn’t end in championships. Imagine trying to tell fans that those were all a waste of time.

Make a deal to get better now, and maybe you win the Cup. But yeah, you probably won’t. That doesn’t mean it can’t be worthwhile to try.

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No. 7: “It makes more sense for us to wait until the off-season.”

This is another one that can come up before or after the deadline. And sure, sometimes it does make more sense to wait until the off-season to move a player, especially one with a big contract. Maybe you end up with more teams with enough cap room to join the bidding, or someone suffers through a disappointing season and decides to overpay.

But maybe not. Maybe a better player becomes available somewhere else, and all your bidders turn their attention there. Maybe the market dries up with free agency right around the corner. Maybe your player gets hurt, or publicly says he wants out, or does something else to drive down his market value. Maybe you find yourself realizing that you actually need to wait for training camp, or the regular season, or the next deadline, and you just keep kicking the can down the road as far as you can.

The point is that while timing is key when it comes to big trades, the right timing isn’t always “later.” We all like to put off tough decisions as long as possible, but at some point you just need to grit your teeth and pull the trigger. That point won’t always be the trade deadline. But sometimes it is.

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No. 6: Anything involving the word “untouchable.”

GMs love to label guys as untouchable. Sometimes, they use the word directly. Other times, they dance around it, declaring that their fellow GMs don’t need to waste their time calling about certain players. Either way, it rarely makes sense.

Without digging too deeply into the whole “If Wayne Gretzky could be traded…” cliché, an untouchable is supposed to be a player who literally couldn’t be traded under any circumstances. He’s so important to a team, so engrained in its very fabric, that there’s no conceivable way he could be moved. The current list is basically Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Maybe Auston Matthews if we’re stretching it. That’s about it.

Crosby’s a multi-time Hart winner and his team has won two straight Stanley Cups, so sure, he’s untouchable. Meanwhile, your team is 12 points out of a playoff spot in the most parity-driven league in pro sports, so no, your third-line winger is not untouchable. And with this much work ahead of him, your GM shouldn’t be taking anything off the table.

No. 5: “I just made a trade with David Poile.”

Translation: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

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No. 4: “We want a player, a pick and a prospect.”

This is a relatively recent addition to the GM’s cliché toolbox, but good lord are they ever making up for lost time. These days, the asking price for pretty much any reasonably big name is a player, a pick and a prospect. It’s become the automatic answer.

But why? There’s nothing magical about that combination of assets. Why not a player and two picks? Why not three prospects? Hell, at least switch up the order and demand a pick, a prospect and a player, just to be different.

Or, and I realize this is going to sound like crazy talk, maybe consider as many different options as possible, as long as they improve your team. That would work, too.

No. 3: “It’s hard to make a trade in today’s NHL.”

Unlike a few of the other items on our list, this one at least has the benefit of being true. It is hard to trade in today’s NHL. The salary cap, no-trade clauses and leaguewide parity have all combined to make it harder than ever to get a deal done.

So yes, NHL GMs who offer this one up are telling us the truth. It’s just not clear why that should matter.

My job is occasionally difficult. So is yours. More importantly, so are the jobs of NHL players, and coaches, and scouts, and popcorn vendors. But none of them are ever allowed to shrug their shoulders, declare that the work is too hard to do, and call it a day.

Any first-line forward who complained that it was too hard to score goals in the NHL these days would be ripped as a quitter. Any coach who said it was too hard to match lines or run practices would be fired by the end of the day. But NHL GMs get to pout about their jobs being too hard, and many of us just shrug and accept it. It’s weird.

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No. 2: “We’re not going to just give the player away.”

This is another one that’s rarely spoken directly by a GM, but rather gets filtered through the media. It’s also completely worthless.

You’ll occasionally get slightly muted variations, along the lines of “Teams had better be willing to pay a fair price,” or “It has to be a deal that works for both sides.” My personal favourite is “They’re not going to make a deal unless somebody is willing to meet the asking price.”

None of those phrases actually mean anything, but they sound good, and conjure up an image of a GM driving a hard bargain. Well, maybe not a hard bargain, but some kind of bargain at least. It’s always reassuring to know that your team’s GM isn’t answering his phone by immediately screaming “OK, we’ll do it!” at whoever is on the other end.

You’ll make a trade, but if and only if there is something on the other side of the trade. Got it. Clearly, we’re dealing with the second coming of Sam Pollock here.

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No. 1: “We’re not shopping, but we are listening.”

This is the worst of them all, because unlike most of the entries on our list, it actually means something. GMs mumbling about untouchables, not giving guys away and being open for business aren’t actually telling you much of anything. They’re mostly stalling, filling some air time until they can stop talking and get back to the comfort of their office.

But the GM who tells you that he’s not shopping but is willing to listen is actually telling you something pretty important. Namely, that they acknowledge that there may be a market for a player, and that it might very well make sense to make a move. They’re being given an opportunity to shut down a particular rumour, but they’re not doing it, because they know that on some level it makes sense. There are times when you do have to consider making a trade, this GM is basically admitting, and this is one of those times.

In other words, he gets that there’s work to be done. He just doesn’t want to, you know, be the one to do it.

A big part of a GM’s job is to establish a market for the assets he might need to move. That means working the phones, keeping in touch with other teams, and eventually making offers. Some of those offers might be accepted. Most won’t be. But maybe you get a counter-offer, or some other name gets added to the mix, or a different scenario comes up. Sometimes you just plant a seed for a deal that might not happen until weeks or months down the road. But all of it takes work.

In other words, shopping.

But according to some GMs, they don’t want to do that part. They just want to listen. That’s it.

And sure, we get why a GM would say this. In some cases, they may not want it known that they’re actively working to move a player. You don’t want to set unrealistic expectations, or upset a player who doesn’t want his name on the block. It’s quite possible that a GM is furiously shopping a guy behind the scenes while denying it to the public.

But that’s where a well-placed “no comment” can come in handy, or even a simple “no, we’re not moving that player.” The occasional lie is part of the job, after all. But when GMs tell us that they’re not shopping but are listening, they conjure up an image of a guy sitting at his desk waiting for the phone to ring. They’ll grudgingly answer it, sure, and then they’ll patiently listen. But that’s it, they’re telling us. The other guys will have to do all the hard work.

It’s just about the last thing you want to hear from your GM, especially when the team is spiraling and the season is looking like a write-off. Modern fans are used to GMs who come up empty when it’s time to swing a deal or two. But the least these guys can do is pretend that they’re trying.

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