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Behind the Deal - An Inside Look at Trading in the NHL

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


Making a trade in the National Hockey League is simple. Two teams get together, discuss a few players, shake hands and set up a press conference. Right? Wrong. Very wrong.

The process of striking a deal at the NHL level is far from an easy one. It is a meticulously complex process - a strategic, detailed and emotional decision that can shape a team's make-up and balance on the ice and in the locker room for many years.

How do teams actually get together and decide on the players involved in a deal? How and when do potentially constructed deals fall through?

With the NHL trade deadline set for Tuesday at 3:00 PM ET, Rangers Vice President of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manager Don Maloney sheds some light on these questions and many others as he examines the process of making a deal.


HOW IT ALL BEGINS
Usually what happens is the general managers will talk and they'll throw out some names. In our case, Glen will have an idea on some players and he will call me. I'll then go out and canvas our professional scouts for info. 'What do you think of a guy?' 'How much have we seen him?' We have scouting reports on every player that date back years and years. If we have the time, we'll send a pro scout to watch a particular player - not that you're going to base your entire decision on that one visit - but just to get a fresh look at a guy. It's not only the play of a player, but it's also what people have to say about certain guys. We talk in the press box to try and get a better feel on why a player might get traded. What are the 'spots' on a player? It's just a matter of trying to gather as much background research as possible.

I then bring that info to Glen's attention. A lot of times, Glen will even talk to other GMs. 'How has this guy played against you?' If there is an injury history, we have to do research in that area as well. A lot goes into the decision.

Sometimes we'll have weeks to prepare ... sometimes it's a matter of hours. That's really what the manager's job is. Ultimately, it's the manager who makes those final decisions, whether we do a deal or not.

We have all of our pro scouts in town now, like we do every year at this time, and we'll be making some assessments and sharing opinions. But the manager has to pull the trigger at the end of the day to make a deal.

It's not as simple as it was 10 or 15 years ago when you pick up the phone and just hammer out a deal. There are a lot of people who you have to touch base with.

Years ago, you could afford to make a $25,000 mistake. If you did something financially that you weren't aware of, so be it. Now you're talking millions and millions of dollars. If a guy has an injury that you're not aware of or if a guy has a character issue, you're stuck. That's why things are a lot more involved now then they've ever been when it comes to making a trade. It takes two teams to tango and with money being such a big part of any deal now - it's the key element these days - things are much more complex than in the past.


HOW A DEAL CAN FALL APART
Generally, nowadays most deals fall through because of an issue with money. That's usually a non-starter in most deals that don't happen. You throw out a lot of names and the first question is 'How much does he make,' which often leads to the response 'no, we can't do that.' That's usually the end of the story.

If you can get over the money part, then you start fiddling with the player component of a deal. I would say that you get a pretty good feel early in the process as to whether or not a deal is going to happen or fall through. We can go out and say we want to get a player and you'll know right away that it's just not going to happen. You'll have a pretty good idea from the initial conversation that there's a deal there. It might not be the deal you think you're going to get, but you almost get a sense that you're working with something. They have this player that we want ... they want more than we are willing to give right now. This stuff can usually be manipulated and tweaked as the process moves along.

As long as teams can work their way through these issues, a deal can generally be struck. One thing that might help a deal along, particularly at this time of year, is the fact that teams are working against a deadline. It forces clubs to make decisions and then move on.


THE FINE LINE BETWEEN EMOTION AND BUSINESS
The hardest part of making a trade generally involves the 'people' involved. Every player that signs a NHL contract is well paid. They know that trades are part of the job. I go back to Adam Graves. Here's a guy who did so much in the community and had the support of every Rangers fan and yet, we felt that it was time to trade him. It was probably good for him in that he was given a fresh start out in San Jose. But the bottom line is it's still hard to do that. You get friendly with all of the families and do things together and it's not an easy decision to make.

But I think that everyone knows that this part of the game comes with putting on the skates. It happens to almost every player at least once in their career. Very rarely does a player go through his entire career and not change teams.

The bottom line for us in management is we have to win. That's our job. If we're in a position to make a deal, regardless of whether it's your best friend, decisions have to be made. And often times, they are tough decisions. It's not a pleasant part of the job - that's for sure. But it's certainly part of the job and part of the game.

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