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GMs Contemplate Deals as Deadline Nears, page 2

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
“The calls are slowly starting to come in now from general managers basically saying, ‘We're on the bubble and we're going to see here over the next week or 10 days whether we're a buyer or a seller,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland in a conference call last week. “And if you look at last year's trade deadline, there was some real steep prices paid and ultimately only eight teams can win a playoff round.

“We're three years into the CBA,” noted Holland. “We're starting to get in my opinion a real feel that the draft developing in the back end of your roster have to be cheaper players. If you don't have those players through the draft, through development, where do you get them? And I think teams are going to have to make harder decisions about trading first-round picks and real good prospects. I'm not saying it's not going to happen. But I think as we go along here it's going to be harder and harder to do just because of the way the CBA is starting to flush itself out now.
“We're starting to get into the system, and I know in our case we've got 15 players on our roster that make a million two or less. And over the next two or three years some of those players will retire. Some of those players will move up into our group where we're going to pay them more. How do you fill out the back end of the roster if we continually trade away high picks and prospects?”
Ken Holland with WIngs coach Mike Babcock (right)

Every general manager in the league must realistically assess his team’s chances of winning it all, and weigh that against the cost of what it would take to bring in big-name and/or high-salaried players at the deadline. And even then, there are no guarantees. The biggest trade at last season’s deadline was Nashville landing star center Peter Forsberg for two players and two picks. Forsberg scored two goals and totaled 15 points in 17 regular season games with the Preds, and added two goals and four points in the playoffs. But Nashville was bounced out in the first round.

It’s not just the buyers that have to beware.

“There are a lot of teams right on the bubble right now,” says McPhee. “So they don’t know whether they’re selling or buying.

“You’ve got to be careful when you’re selling. If you’re three points out of a playoff spot and you start selling off, it’s not a good message for your fans. We did it the last few years because we were far enough out of it that it was the right thing to do. It’s a darned good league this year. It’s great that so many teams are in it. Nobody is really going to know who is in and who’s out until the last couple games of the season, for about eight teams. It’s pretty impressive.”

It’s impressive, but it’s limiting the number of sellers. That may in turn skew supply and demand and drive up prices. Because races are so tight and only a few teams have fallen far off the pace, there is a large disparity between buyers and sellers this season.

“If you can make a deal you believe improves your hockey team,” said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren in last week’s conference call, “chances are you're going to move forward. I think right now there hasn't been a lot of movement to date so far, and I think that's probably more due to, A, the salary cap, and, B, the closeness of the league. It's unbelievable how close it is right now.

 “And I don't see a whole lot of separation between now and the deadline either. So it's going to be interesting to see what transpires.

Another factor is the new post-lockout CBA. The new agreement has changed not only the league’s economic landscape, but also the way the general managers do business. Impact in-season trades have all but dried up.

“It’s harder for managers now,” starts McPhee, “because you could quite often say, ‘I don’t like what’s available now so we’re not going to do it because we’ll pick something up along the way.’ But there is so much less of that now.

“I can think of instances in the past where we didn’t sign a [Rick] Tocchet and a [Brian] Bellows became available to us late in the year. We couldn’t get [Craig] Berube’s deal done, but Jim McKenzie was available to us later in the year. That doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore, and it’s harder for management because you feel like if you don’t get it done in the summer, you don’t get it done.

“It’s a lot easier making decisions on your team during the season when they’re in front of you every day and you’re watching every practice and every game. Things are clearer. Doing it in the summer is hard.”

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