The art of the deal
"Let's make a deal...."
Those are the famous last words of game show hosts and NHL general managers. Trade speculation and coverage is a favorite topic for sports fans. For NHL general managers, the art of the deal is their reason for being.
While the players involved in a swap are always the focal point, don't discount the general managers involved. When it comes to the art of the deal, GM's require vision, knowledge, instincts, hard work, great organizational management, trust, accounting skills and in some cases, guts. Without those ingredients, few, if any trades would come to fruition.
General managers are the talented architects of the 30 NHL teams, men who shape and mold franchises on a daily basis. In order to have a successful product on the ice, both in the present and the future, the GMs have to know the tricks of their trade. Each day on the job is like a round of poker for these hockey executives as they have to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" when making a trade, otherwise they may find their team spiraling in the wrong direction.
GMs such as St. Louis' Larry Pleau and Atlanta's Don Waddell are aware that they have to know the art of the deal in order to improve their clubs, especially at March's annual trade deadline when the NHL phones are ringing non-stop. This is the time of year when teams are trying to bolster their lineups for the Stanley Cup Playoffs without mortgaging the future of their franchises. On the other side, it's an opportunity for weaker teams to bolster their rosters for the future.
"A big part of your job is to improve your hockey team and trades are definitely one of the ways to do that," Pleau said. "You have to try and make trades that work out for you without hurting your club.
"When you're making a deal you have to try to read whether or not you're the only one talking or are there four other teams or are there three other teams? That's all part of the poker hand. Each deal is unique in it's own right."
"Trades are a very emotional process," Waddell said. "You've got to make decisions not based on your feelings for an individual player, but what's good for the organization."
Both Pleau and Waddell are keen evaluators of talent. Pleau has had a hand in drafting NHL standouts Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, and Barret Jackman, while Waddell has been responsible for players such as Patrik Stefan, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pasi Nurminen.
"I think you always look at your team's needs," Pleau said. "I think you have to see if you can find a match. I think you make a trade when the right pieces of the puzzle come together. If it doesn't come together until the final day [of the deadline] that's fine, but if it comes together a month before that's fine, also.
"Two parties, sometimes three, have to dance together and make the puzzle work. I don't think there's any set time when it's put together as long as it's right."
Both Pleau and Waddell believe that most of the trades during the year come when there's some sort of deadline lurking.
"I think of lot of your trades are created because of deadlines," Pleau said. "You have the March deadline where a lot of teams have a lot of conversations trying to help themselves that year or some try to help themselves three years down the line. It all depends upon what situation you're in with your organization. But I think the deadline definitely creates opportunities to get something done.
"It's like your deadline at Christmas time. It's like the deadline of the Waiver Draft. Anything that has a deadline, I think creates an interest for teams to get something done."
Waddell says that non-trade deadlines play into trade patterns as well.
"I always say things happen, not just trades, but signings, happen when you're forced with a deadline," Waddell said. "When we have a deadline that's when things usually happen. Whether it's July 1st and signing free agents or getting your own players signed, everything happens when there's a mandate of when it can happen.