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Trading Deadline Day: Buy, Sell or Hold on tight

by Bruce LeVine / Dallas Stars

Trading Deadline Day is sometimes one of the most pivotal days in the course of an NHL season. It is also a time when cultural differences between the United States and our neighbors to the north are laid bare for all to see. In the U.S. the only way to keep up with the day’s events is to either stay glued to social media or hope ESPN runs a written “crawl” at the bottom of the screen during one of their 19 live basketball games. In Canada, Deadline Day gets 10 hours of live coverage. 10 HOURS!!!! That is more live coverage than you will see on Election Day 2012 when the United States elects the next president. This only proves that Canadians care about hockey more than Americans do about who becomes the leader of the free world. Very few Americans took the day off to see if Rick Nash was traded out of Columbus while thousands of Canadians came down with a mild version of the 24-hour flu to watch events unfold. We’ll save the age-old argument of why both countries can speak English but can’t agree on how to spell “defenseman” (or is it defenceman?) for a later day. 

One thing is certain no matter what side of the border you reside, it’s not only this day that brings pressure, but the two weeks leading up to the deadline. This short time frame forces general managers and their hockey staffs to evaluate where their team is, and where that team needs to be at the end of the season. In their history, the Dallas Stars have been buyers, sellers and somewhere in between. Deadline Day can be the key to instant success or just another piece to a long term vision for the future.
Buyer- There is no greater example of being a buyer than 1998. The Stars were a team loaded with talent but GM Bob Gainey felt the team needed upgrades on the 3rd and 4th lines to contend for a Stanley Cup. On that Deadline Day, Dallas pulled the trigger on a deal that netted the team C Brian Skrudland and RW Mike Keane. This trade paid immediate dividends. During the next  three years Dallas would win the Presidents’ Trophy in 1998, the Stanley Cup in 1999 and a return to the Finals in 2000 (I still think the Stars win the Cup in ’98 if Bryan Marchment had not connected on the cheap shot that injured Joe Nieuwendyk's right knee). Keane and Skrudland were the missing pieces to a team on the cusp of hockey greatness and one deal in 1998 proved to be the difference in creating the franchise’s greatest hockey moment.

Seller- Sometimes being a seller is a matter of getting the most you can for a player that will not be a part of your future. Defenseman Nick Grossman had been a solid performer and a stand-up teammate since playing his first game with the club in 2006. It was common knowledge that Grossman was going to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The rugged Swede’s salary was likely to be too high for the Stars’ budget and he would most likely be leaving. Faced with a choice of losing Grossman and gaining nothing in return, GM Joe Nieuwendyk turned seller and traded the defenseman to Philadelphia for a 2nd round pick (2012) and 3rd in 2013. Sometimes it pays to sell early, as two high round draft picks for a soon to be UFA seems like a very nice haul.

Give to Get- This is by far the most interesting of the three stages of deadline thinking. Trades where both teams give up a supposedly equal commodity can be debated for years. Case in point, last year’s trade of James Neal and Matt Niskanen for defenseman Alex Goligoski, With Neal scoring more than 30 goals for the first time in his career, some say the Penguins got the best of the deal. Others counter that a #1 D-man, who can play 25 minutes a night, is a rare commodity and Dallas will be the winner long-term. Give this one about five years and let the argument begin. There is one more version of the Give to Get trade. It’s commonly known as the “swapping of problems and hope for the best” scenario. Seemingly underachieving players can be traded in the hopes that a change in location will turn things around. For Dallas this can easily be summed up in one deadline move: Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick to Atlanta for Kari Lehtonen. One is a first round pick, underachiever, who never made it in the NHL. The other has become the backbone of a franchise and an elite player at his position. If you see a member of the Stars Hockey Operations staff laughing maniacally for no apparent reason, chances are they are thinking about this trade.

For members of the media gathered at Stars headquarters the pressing question was would having a new owner mean a difference in the day’s proceedings? The answer was an emphatic YES. Last year with lenders in charge, the reporters had to pay for their own lunch. This year, the Stars had sandwiches delivered. If you have never seen reporters around free food, turn on Animal Planet and watch wolves attack a wounded moose. It’s not pretty. 

As it turned out, the feeding frenzy was the most action witnessed all day in Frisco. The Grossman trade was assumed to be the snowball that was to turn into an avalanche of player moves. But something interesting happened along the way to selling the present to rebuild for the future, the Stars started to play their most intense hockey of the year. The first four-game winning streak since November catapulted Dallas back into playoff position and only 3 points out of first place in the Pacific Division. Still considered a team that does not have enough talent to win on talent alone, but now with a tenacity and mental toughness that results in finding ways to win.

“Three weeks ago it was hard to figure out what our team was all about,” said Nieuwendyk. “We didn’t look like a team, we were having a lot of difficulty. That’s been encouraging to see how this group in the absence of Benn and Morrow has really come together.

Three players were most prominently rumored to be targets of contenders looking to add talent but each proved to be too valuable to the team. A needed performer for what is hoped to be a memorable drive to the playoffs.

Sheldon Souray: After being on the IR for almost a month, it was possible to believe the team could move forward without the “Hammer.” But then Souray got back on the ice and showed why he is crucial to a playoff run. As the season winds down, referees tend to be more lax on penalty calls and let the players decide games. No one on the Stars has a nastier streak in front of his own net than Souray. Watch tape from Sunday’s win over Vancouver and check the battles in front of the net with Ryan Kesler. This is hockey at its most combative. Souray kept Lehtonen’s vision clear and dished out serious punishment to any Canuck who tried to set up camp in the slot. I hope some of the younger defensemen took notes on how to play nasty and protect your crease. I felt bad for thinking the team might be just as good without Souray and thought maybe I should apologize. Then I remembered he is a former all-star, has a 100-mph slapshot and his girlfriend was just on the cover or Maxim magazine. I think he’ll be just fine without the apology.

Mike Ribeiro: As the Stars struggled to put pucks in the net, the talented Ribeiro was the target of several teams looking for an offensive upgrade. Then one play turned the season around. The OT game winner against Calgary was the Goal of the Year and reminded everyone how special Ribeiro can be. Playing center between Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder, the team now has a bona-fide number one line for the first time all season. Ryder has a chance for his first 30-goal campaign since 2006-07 and Eriksson continues to be Loui. But it’s the emergence of the Montreal native that has transformed this line into an offensive force. With apologies to Reggie Jackson, when Ribeiro is on his game, he is the straw that stirs the Stars drink. At the deadline one team did get an offensive upgrade, it was the team that needed it the most.

Steve Ott: To most Stars fans the possibility of trading Ott was the hardest decision of all. His total package of checking, antagonizing the opposition, penalty killing, face-off success and intangibles made Ott the most sought-out player in the Stars organization. Your head understood why a trade could be made but most fans hearts couldn’t rationalize the decision. Playoff hockey is a battle of attrition and players like Ott are coveted for their heart and determination. It would have created the biggest return n talent but also would have caused the most backlash. Through social media, Ott made it clear he wanted to stay as much as fans wanted to keep him. While offers were made, Dallas is not in a position for a fire-sale and had the conviction to name their price or walk away. Now the man who coined the term Pesky Stars remains in Dallas and gets the chance to prove that pesky is good enough to earn a place in the Stanley Cup tournament while  his loyal legion of fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief.

As it turns out, Deadline Day 2012 for the Dallas Stars was the moment that rumors came to an end and the decision was made to dance with the ones that brung you. The front office has shown the belief that Coach Glen Gulutzan has the necessary pieces in place to get to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. There will be no mortgaging of the future to help the present. That boost to the playoff run will come in the form of healthy Jamie Benn and return of the captain, Brenden Morrow. In a world clamoring for instant analysis, it doesn’t get any simpler than this. The decision to stand pat on Deadline Day will be proven right or wrong, not in future years but in a matter of weeks. Forty days and 19 games remain to determine whether faith in the current roster has been rewarded or was a mistake. On day 41, the answers will be perfectly clear. Hang on to something, the best part of the ride has just begun.

Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket.  Email Bruce at or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22

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