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Experience eases deadline jitters

by Shawn P. Roarke

Peter Chiarelli served as an assistant GM in Ottawa, before coming Boston.
NAPLES, Fla. -- Scott Howson, the first-time general manager in Columbus, might believe he is ready for his first trade deadline. But the next week will present challenges that Howson has yet to imagine, say those who have been through the trade-deadline process.

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As a long-time assistant to Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe, Howson has clearly developed the skills to lead an organization. He knows how to identify organizational assets, evaluate talent and open conversations with other GMs, all necessary skills to survive the trade game. And he has also sat in on countless high-level trade discussions initiated by Lowe.

While that training will be invaluable, it is merely a foundation for trade-deadline preparation, says Boston GM Peter Chiarelli.

Chiarelli should know. Last February, he sat in the same exact seat Howson now occupies. After serving as an assistant GM in Ottawa, Chiarelli was given the Boston job before the start of last season. The first-year Boston GM didn’t make any deals at the 2007 deadline, but he did move Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart to Calgary for Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew a few weeks before the deadline.

Chiarelli said none of his experiences as second-in-command in Ottawa fully prepared him for the maelstrom of emotions and information that swirled about him as the deadline approached.

“You can (prepare) by being an assistant general manager or a director of player personnel,” Chiarelli said. “You can sit in the war room for a sustained period of time with your GM. Again, having said that, when you are the person making the decisions it is a lot different; a lot differerent. You have to go through it.”

And it is not always easy going through that first deadline. There are extenuating circumstances as well as entrenched expectations that can make the deadline a trying time for even the most level-headed and experienced executive.

When Kevin Lowe took over as the general manager in Edmonton, he was considered the perfect fit to manage that team back to its former glory. He was considered both intelligent and logical. Just, as importantly, he had proven himself fearless during his long tenure with the club as a player and during his one season as the team’s coach. Yet, the Edmonton media cut him no slack as the trade deadline approached for the first time in Lowe’s executive career.

“I remember some members of the media telling me; ‘You are going to have to do a deal, it’s your first deadline,’” he laughed. “I’m like; ‘I have to do a deal for the sake of doing a deal?’ I’m never going to do that. What do they think I am, an idiot? But I remember I had some anxiety thinking that people thought I needed to do a deal just for the sake of doing a deal. What’s this all about?”

Anxiety at the deadline is a prevailing theme for first-time GMs, it seems. Buffalo’s Darcy Regier took over as the head guy for the Sabres in 1997 and has been doing trade deadlines for nearly a dozen years. He doesn’t remember the specifics of that first deadline, but he remembers the apprehension.

“Yes, it was scary,” says Regier. “I would have to go back and look to see if we did anything, but it was scary because there is an expectation that you are supposed to do something and you want to do something, but you also want to make sure that while you keep an eye on the short-term and an eye on the longer-term, that you help the organization and don’t hurt the organization.

“Sometimes to help the organization, or not hurt the organization, you subsequently end up not doing a deal. That’s not the situation you want to be in, in most cases, but sometimes that is where you are left.”

As if the pressure to make a splash isn’t intimidating enough, special circumstances can also be thrown into the equation to make things even dicey. Like what? Like having to deal with a high-profile player on your roster approaching unrestricted free agency, says Don Waddell, the Atlanta GM.

Waddell faces that exact scenario this February, being forced to decide whether or not he will move superstar Marian Hossa, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But Waddell has several years of experience to deal with this trying scenario.

“I wouldn’t want the Marian Hossa thing my first year, that’s for sure,” Waddell says. “We didn’t have a lot of top guys that first year, so the level we had to go through wasn’t that bad. We had a few guys we moved that first year. I think we had Kelly Buchberger and Nelson Emerson. It wasn’t like we had a bunch of guys we had to move on.”

For the record, Howson has seven potential UFAs on his roster, but none of the caliber of Hossa.

Sometimes to help the organization, or not hurt the organization, you subsequently end up not doing a deal. That’s not the situation you want to be in, in most cases, but sometimes that is where you are left. - Darcy Regier

But it is not all doom and gloom that Howson faces. Those that have come before him have survived, and even prospered. That inspiring message is what Howson and other first-time GMs should walk away with as they digest their actions surrounding their very first trade deadline.

“It was a little trying,” Chiarelli admits. “We were trying to do some things that we didn’t get done. We did do something we tried to do, but we did it earlier on. I’d be predisposed to getting your stuff done early, which we ended up doing last year with the Stuart/Primeau trade. It’s tense.

“You think you can help your team in the long run or short run and you have to be prepared and you have to weigh all your options going in, knowing that in the last two weeks really knowing what your plan is. But, it is exciting.”

Dale Tallon, named the GM in Chicago in 2005, has presided over a couple trade deadlines, always a buyer instead of a seller. Today, he looks forward to the swap meet a lot more than he did as he approached the 2006 deadline as a neophyte.

“It’s getting a lot more comfortable as we move through it,” he says. “The more experience you have in anything, the better. You become more comfortable in all the situations.

“I learned a lot the first year. We did a lot of selling and you see a lot of things go right down to the wire and the pressure of it. Now, I have a better understanding of how each GM works and what their attitudes and approaches are. I’m a lot more comfortable with the whole process.”


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