In the lead up to the 2017-18 NHL season, Matt Duchene’s name topped any rumour list and it was expected he would have been moved before puck drop. But as Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic’s asking price remained high and potential buyers were reticent to pay up for an up-and-down player two seasons away from UFA status, Duchene stayed and the summer’s biggest trade chip was never moved.
“Colorado improved, their young players look really good. The one sense I’m getting is that the frustration with Duchene is growing a bit,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “I don’t think Colorado gave him a deadline of ‘you’ll be traded by this time,’ but I think everybody here felt that this was going to be done by now.
“I think it’s something that we’ll watch as the season continues because I think there was a hope from Duchene it would be done by now.”
When looking out for trades in the NHL, there are certain deadlines or dates that can spur movement. The trade deadline certainly encourages moves and the NHL Draft season has been a popular time to make deals in the recent past.
And then there’s the American Thanksgiving in November.
Generally falling around the quarter-mark of the season, the late-November holiday is a benchmark in the season for NHL GMs. By this point, teams know what they have, what they need, and where they stack up against their competitors — historically, if you’re more than a few points out of a playoff spot at this date, you’re not likely to crack the top eight in April.
But this year, there are a number of teams that started the season with high expectations and have stumbled badly out of the gate. Montreal, Edmonton and the New York Rangers headline this group and since the best of those three are already four points outside of a wild card spot, it’s worth wondering if an early trade market will kick up.
But just how often are trades made before the American Thanksgiving? Since 2005-06, there have been 65 deals before that date, most of them minor. We decided to point out three of the bigger early-season deals made over the past 10 years, and learned that a Duchene-sized move would be an almost unprecedented occurrence.
Nov. 15, 2005: Columbus trades Francois Beauchemin and Tyler Wright to Anaheim for Sergei Fedorov, fifth-rounder in 2006
At the time, Beauchemin was in his mid-20s and still trying to crack the NHL full-time, which he would finally do with the Ducks where he launched his successful NHL career. The Blue Jackets hadn’t yet qualified for the playoffs in franchise history, so Fedorov was acquired to add some offence and fill an important role on the penalty kill.
But at 36, Fedorov’s age was beginning to show. He didn’t benefit from the uptick in offence around the league following the 2004-05 lockout and fell from 65 points in his last season with the Ducks to 43 and 42 in two seasons in Columbus. The Blue Jackets didn’t get much better after the deal either, finishing 13th and 11th in the West. They ended up trading Fedorov to Washington for Theo Ruth in 2007-08, putting them firmly on the losing side of these deals.
Nov. 24, 2008: Toronto trades Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for Lee Stempniak
This trade landed on the Friday of the Thanksgiving long weekend and it’s one that Leafs fans will look back on with regret.
The trade marked the last trade made by Cliff Fletcher as Leafs GM, as Brian Burke was brought in as his replacement five days after this deal. At the time, all three of the players were in their mid-20s, but the Leafs were buying in on the 13-points-in-14-games start to the season Stempniak was enjoying.
Meanwhile, coach Ron Wilson was not buying into Steen or Colaiacovo. Both players had seen their ice time slashed and Steen was struggling with just four points in 20 games to start the season — this after he reached the 40-point mark in two of his first three NHL seasons.
In the end, Stempniak turned into a journeyman scorer and a regular on the block around trade deadlines. Steen developed into an important player for the Blues, topping out at a career-high of 64 points, reaching 30 goals once, and doing enough to earn a long-term contract that pays him $5.75 million annually.
Oct. 27, 2013: Buffalo trades Thomas Vanek to NY Islanders for Matt Moulson, 2014 first-rounder, 2015 second-rounder
This season marked the beginning of the tank in Buffalo and after a 2-10-1 start to the season, the Sabres shipped off Thomas Vanek, who had finished the previous lockout-shortened season with 41 points in 38 games. The Islanders had an option on the 2014 first — they could keep it and ship their 2015 first to Buffalo instead. This is what they ended up doing, and Buffalo used the pick to send to Winnipeg in the deal that landed them Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian.
The Islanders got pending-UFA Vanek to try and improve their scoring and get them back to the playoffs for the second season in a row. But despite scoring 44 points in 47 games, Vanek wasn’t enough to lock them in as they finished eighth in the Metro. The Islanders ended up trading Vanek to Montreal at the deadline for Sebastian Collberg, who never reached the NHL.