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'Fair' not a four-letter word to NHL GMs

by Shawn P. Roarke

Lou Lamoriello believes in fairness when making a trade.
NAPLES, Fla. – Contrary to public opinion, none of the NHL general managers are looking to fleece their fellow GMs in the flurry of trades likely to be consummated in the final days before Tuesday afternoon's 3 p.m. ET deadline.

The intense media scrutiny of the NHL's trade deadline has given birth to the concept that there are immediate winners and losers in these late-season transactions. But the general managers -- the architects of these much-scrutinized deals -- insist it is not at all about "winning" a deal in convincing fashion.

Rather, it should be about making a deal that helps your team, while also helping the other team with its stated goal, whatever it may be.

And, it is important to remember that each team has a different agenda when making a deal, according to the GMs. Some teams are looking for short-term help, others are looking down the road. Some teams are trying to build depth, others looking to lose salary. The variables are almost limitless, says Scott Howson, the first-year GM in Columbus.

"You are always trying -- first and foremost -- to better your team. But the best deals are the ones that help both teams and both teams walk away and, in the future, see that the deal was good for both teams," Howson says.

Now, before you go dismissing Howson as an idealistic newcomer to the usually cut-throat world of executive decision making, listen to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, who has been making NHL trades for the better part of two decades.

"To make a deal, you have to give to get," Murray says. "That's the way I have always approached it. If I can help my team by getting a piece and I have to give up something, then that's OK -- as long as it helps me long-term. And I'm hoping that it helps the other general manager so that, down the road, we can make another trade."

Murray makes a cogent point. The general manager fraternity virtually is a closed society, even with the regular turnover that occurs within its ranks. Your reputation -- be it good or bad -- in trade dealings will follow you for as long as you are in the business.

Consequently, if a GM always is trying to get over on his peers, he'll discover his ability to trade -- one of the foundations of a franchise's ability to build -- has been severely compromised.

Anaheim boss Brian Burke has made trades as the head of three NHL franchises. He prides himself as a fair trader, a reputation he takes great pains to maintain so he can continue to make deals to benefit his club.

"If you make a lopsided or one-sided deal, that GM is not going to deal with you again," Burke said. "I think, long term, you are far better off working your deals so they are productive to both sides."

Burke believes so strongly in that philosophy that often he has put "insurance" clauses, in the form of conditional picks, into many of his deals.

"If the player overachieved, the team that gave him up got back a compensatory pick and, if he underachieved, the team that paid the freight for him got back a pick," Burke explains. "I think there are ways to do it and weight the deals so they are fair. Most of my transactions have been fair over the years and maybe that is why I can get people to dance again."

Lou Lamoriello, the long-time GM with the New Jersey Devils, has made a lot of big deals in his day, including major trades that secured each of New Jersey's three Stanley Cup titles. Despite the fact that he has benefited from making late-season deals, other GMs do not hesitate to deal with him.

Part of that reason, it seems, is because Lamoriello is another GM that subscribes to the fairness doctrine when making moves.

"I think the most important thing when doing a deal is that you make your team better," Lamoriello said. "In my opinion, I always like to see any transaction made benefit both teams. I personally like to see any player that leaves our organization and goes somewhere else that he does well because we appreciate what he did while he was here with us."

Most GMs don't pay much attention to the countless words spilled in analyzing the moves they make, especially at the deadline. As Lamoriello suggests, only those making the deal have the right to judge the merits of a particular deal.

"I don't think any trade should be made by either team unless you can help yourself," Lamoriello said. "You should not make a judgment on whether it can help another team -- only they know that because there are different pieces that somebody might need.

When you look transaction for transaction, I don't look at who got the 'good' deal and who got the 'bad' deal because there are intangibles to any transaction that you make. - Lou Lamoriello

"When you look transaction for transaction, I don't look at who got the 'good' deal and who got the 'bad' deal because there are intangibles to any transaction that you make," Lamoriello said. "It could be chemistry; it could just be a certain ingredient in a position. I can remember over the years some of the trades that we were fortunate to make on the recommendations of some of our people because we were looking for a certain type of player in a certain position and that player might not have been of value to other people. But for us, it was what we needed -- the piece in the puzzle or part of the framework of how we wanted our team to look."

Obviously, the scrutiny on transactions increases this time of year as teams make riskier moves in an effort to best prepare their team to be at its best for a long, and hopefully successful, run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And the competition to make that one move that might deliver a championship also makes it a prime opportunity for teams that are selling to exact a heavier -- and perhaps unfair -- price from a buying team.

But Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli says that doesn't often happen because the GMs know they have a responsibility to themselves, and each other, to keep the battleground as fair as possible. That way, nobody walks away with hard feelings over the perception that they were hoodwinked in a transaction, or used to drive up the price before the player in question was moved to another team.

"As long as you are fair, that's the key," Chiarelli said. "If you are the team that is trading and you have three or four teams after that person, you have to let them all know what is going on because you don't want them, as a business partner, left out in the cold. Maybe they have another deal hanging out on the limb if they don't get the deal done with you.

"You have to be professional about it. I feel you have to, to the extent you can be, be upfront about your needs and your timing and, that way, at least they know. If you tell them timing is of the essence, then they know they have to act quickly."

Plus, Murray says that lopsided deals are as passé as wooden hockey sticks for one simple reason: The men making the trades are too smart, and have too much information at their disposal today, to make huge mistakes very often.

"Obviously, if I can get a slam dunk I'd really like that," Murray said "But it just doesn't happen."


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