Director of Hockey Operations
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
At about 1:30 p.m. today, a half hour before the NHL's deadline on dealing, owner Craig Leipold walked into the hockey operations war room and remarked enthusiastically, "So, it's time to play poker, right?"
His attempt was to lighten the mood of a group that had poured months into scouting and analyzing players and teams and strategizing for this day. Still, he wore the grin of a man in search of a no-limit table, a hand to be dealt to him, and a cigar. And that is kind of what Doug Risebrough, seated across the room, had going. A no-limit table of GMs on the phone. His hand (our players, prospects and picks). And, he was close, but no cigar.
The deadline, like any good poker game that merits retelling, involves painful bad beats. In poker, these are the losses you don't shake, usually to a lesser hand that caught the right combination of cards. In a setting like today's, the equivalent is thinking you match up best with a team only to learn that team has a better deal elsewhere, or thinking you have a deal close to complete only to learn that the other GM has cooled to the idea.
Did we experience this? Not deeply. We were in some big pots, but in hockey management, as in poker, you learn quick that it rarely pays to chase a pot.
So, we focused mostly on improvements by way of what we call "switches" -- an NHL player for an NHL player, or something slightly more complex, the end game being addressing our need and another team's need without either team undercutting its future. The "switch" is becoming the most common type of trade in the NHL. Teams no longer want to relinquish high picks (only one first-rounder moved today, in the Olli Jokinen deal). And teams are similarly loathe to part with a single can't-miss kid. Switches are en vogue, because of the cap and because just about any team still can make the playoffs.
Take these two deals as examples:
? Phoenix sent UFA D Derek Morris to the Rangers for UFA D Dmitri Kalinin and young NHL players Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes.
Phoenix moved Morris, in part, because he's unrestricted at season's end and the team didn't want to lose him for nothing. Still, because the Rangers are up against the cap, Phoenix wasn't getting a top pick or top prospect. The Coyotes had to take some salary back. And Phoenix, which remains in contention for the eighth spot in the West, probably didn't mind accepting ready players in return. They Coyotes took back a UFA defenseman in Dmitri Kalinin who can help them compete this season. And they landed two young roster players.
? Anaheim sent UFA C Samuel Pahlsson to Chicago along with prospect Logan Stephenson and a conditional pick for D James Wisniewski and prospect Petri Kontiola.
This is the same type of deal as the Phoenix-Rangers swap. Anaheim didn't want to lose Pahlsson, a highly regarded checking center, for nothing. At the same time the Ducks, who are 9th in the West, want to compete this year. Wisniewksi helps in that area. Kontiola, who has played mostly in the AHL, may help this year, too. Plus, Wisniewski is contractually controllable beyond this year, bringing the Ducks some stability to the defense position, where they could lose UFAs (Niedermayer, Beauchemin, Hedican) this summer.
Though the principals varied, many trades across the league stood out as being similar to these two in principle. This was the pattern of the day. No teams, ours included, want to give up top young assets. It's a crippling notion in a cap system.
So, the deals that get done are "switches" that are "fits" for the two teams. If we target a player who is being shopped by another team, we must have a player the GM of that team likes, who plays the position that GM is seeking to fill, and who has a contract that is acceptable to the team (in dollars and years). The GMs must have a good working relationship to keep the conversation going to completion. And, we must be willing to give up the player that GM wants on our team.
That's a lot of variables.
Though the weeks and months that lead to today featured methodical preparation, the experience of that last half hour before the deadline is similar to sitting at the poker table as the turn card and river card come. You hope they match what you hold in your hand. And, if they do not, you accept that there is not a great deal you can do to change that. Wednesday, 11 a.m. CST
The waiver period -- 24 hours between 11 a.m. and 11 a.m. -- just ended for players placed on waivers yesterday. Awarded
New York Rangers D Erik Reitz to Toronto
Anaheim C/LW Brendan Morrison to Dallas
Chicago RW Craig Adams to Pittsburgh
Ottawa G Martin Gerber to Toronto Cleared
Wild C Peter Olvecky
New York Rangers LW Aaron Voros
Pittsburgh RW Miroslav Satan
Tampa Bay LW Gary Roberts
New York Islanders LW Jonathan Sim
Atlanta C/W Eric Perrin
Ottawa D Brendan Bell
The players who cleared waivers will not necessarily be assigned to the American Hockey League. Most, possibly all, won't be. It appears that teams were more curious to see if they could reduce payroll than anything else. The fact that these players were on waivers, and the fact that they went unclaimed, signals that team budgets (i.e. the economy) are a factor this spring.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. CST
The quiet in our war room at this hour mirrors the quiet across the league. In fact, the only developments of note yesterday were two players staying put: our goaltender, Niklas Backstrom
, signing a four-year, $24 million extension and Canucks winger Alex Burrows signing a four-year, $8 million extension to remain in Vancouver. Any minute, though, the scouts will walk in and our GM, Doug Risebrough, will begin making and taking calls.
We'll call the personnel in the hockey operations war room the Group of 9.
Doug is in charge. He makes and takes the calls, listens intently to all ideas/opinions expressed by our group to determine the conviction level of what he hears us say, and makes the ultimate decisions.
Tom Lynn, Assistant GM for Hockey Operations, assists Doug in all strategic planning and in matters of CBA interpretation, cap interpretation, etc. As the Houston Aeros GM, Tom also advises Doug on any potential deals involving a player on our minor league team. Tom Thompson, Assistant GM for Player Personnel, also assists Doug in all strategic planning. He is the person in the room most familiar with the amateur hockey world. He counsels Doug on the strength of the draft (in case we consider acquiring or moving a pick) and on the amateur prospects belonging to our team and other teams (in case we consider a deal involving an amateur prospect).
The four pro scouts provide us information about players across the NHL and AHL and in some cases amateurs, if the scouts happen to have seen or known an amateur. Most of the year they work the rinks of the NHL, AHL and beyond. Today is a day when they see their labor put to action. The pro scouting group includes Director or Pro Scouting Blair Mackasey and pro scouts Jamie Hislop, Chris Kelleher and Todd Woodcroft.
Shep Harder, our Project Manager, and I assist Doug in strategic planning and in the area of information. We work to synthesize the information we have (scouting reports, salaries and cap data, contract data, statistics, video and more) into specific information we feel Doug needs as he makes decisions. We also work on Doug's behalf with the scouts to compile lists of players we'd want if we were to make a deal with another team.
A detail about the day: The deadline is at 2 p.m. Central, but some deals are announced minutes or hours later. This is because there is a process to consummating a deal beyond the two teams agreeing.
Both teams, once reaching agreement, must sign a "Proposed Trade Memorandum" listing all terms of the deal and fax this to the league. This must be in by 2 p.m. The league schedules trade calls in the order the faxes are received. So, if a dozen deals occur in the minutes before the deadline, it could take hours for the league to schedule and execute the calls that make the deals final.
The league, in the time between the fax being received and the call, studies the deal to be sure it is sound. The league studies the cap implications for the teams, to be sure the teams have the cap space needed. If a pick is involved, the league researches the team's pick availability to be sure the pick is unencumbered. The league also researches the contracts of the players involved and explains the terms of the contracts during the call.
Time to get to work. We'll be updating you whenever possible.
Previous editions ...
Feb. 27, 2009: 'Deadline Day' deal breakdown
Feb. 9, 2009: Koivu's club team comes calling ... and chanting
Jan. 30, 2009: Relationships and deal-making
Jan. 29, 2009: Why Fritsche fits
Jan. 26, 2009: The Outliers: Three teams win at historic rate
Jan. 21, 2009: Thoughts about our team at the All-Star break
Jan. 2, 2009: On ... Marian Gaborik's surgery