Brian Burke has said it for two-plus decades: Beware the trade deadline.
"You can dig up the original quote, I bet you it was back in 1999 or 2000 when I said, 'Our group makes more mistakes at the trade deadline than we do the rest of the year,"' the Calgary Flames president of hockey operations said over the phone this week.
"I still feel that way. I always tried to get out ahead of the deadline when I was still a GM, tried to make my deal several weeks in advance. At the trade deadline itself, it just gets too crowded. A small number of players that teams are chasing."
The point is, only one team wins the Stanley Cup. So, how many of the 16 playoff teams will feel the price was truly worth it for a rental?
"The math doesn't work," said Burke. "Anywhere from 12 to 16 teams will upgrade, will add, and there's only one parade."
"That ends the debate, if you have the parade, there's no debate as to whether you paid too much in a trade," said Burke. "But there's 10 to 15 other cities where teams gave up valuable assets, usually long-term assets in the form of draft picks or prospects, to add players often just to get in or to win a round. That's where the math becomes daunting.
"And, hey, I've done it. I'm not throwing rocks just at everyone else. You make a trade just to make a statement to your players or your fans that you're trying to win. But it produces a lot of poor decision-making."
Two recent cases involving the same team illustrate both sides of paying a steep price and getting different results.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings traded a first-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman Andrej Sekera just before the deadline, then missed the playoffs and watched Sekera bolt to the Edmonton Oilers during the offseason.
The season before, though, the Kings traded Matt Frattin and second- and third-round picks to get pending UFA winger Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Gaborik was gold in the playoffs, scoring 14 goals and 22 points as the Kings won the Cup, and then re-signing with L.A.
It's beautiful when it works. What are the Kings and others in the Pacific Division likely to do this time around? Here's our weekly look at the seven clubs in the Pacific approaching the Feb. 29 trade deadline, in order of the current division standings:
Drew Doughty played a whopping 35:16 in Thursday night's 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues -- in February. As mentioned before, the trade deadline focus for the Kings remains on adding to the blue-line corps. Pending UFA Kris Russell would be a nice fit if he doesn't re-sign with the Calgary Flames. Another top-end option is pending UFA Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks, if he's willing to waive his no-movement clause. There are other, less enticing options too, but either way L.A. needs to add a blue-liner.
About a month ago, Ducks GM Bob Murray might have been willing to sell off a few parts closer to Feb. 29, but now that his team is kicking butt and taking names while re-emerging as serious Cup contenders, things have changed. Will Murray add now? Anaheim is deep in goal and on defense, and the offense is finally scoring. No one ever feels like his team doesn't have a need, but the Ducks now don't have many holes. Still, that depth on defense might come in handy closer to the deadline if there's a deal to be made that makes sense in terms of bolstering the forward group.
Nothing has changed here since last week. The Sharks would like to add depth to their blue-line corps, a guy who can play anywhere from the No. 4-6 roles. As I've mentioned before, a rental such as Roman Polak of the Toronto Maple Leafs would make sense, or another pending UFA veteran of that ilk. I also wonder if the Sharks won't at least inquire on a bigger name such as Hamhuis if he is interested in waiving his no-movement clause.
We are hearing the name of pending UFA winger Mikkel Boedker more and more when talking to other teams, which is to say the Coyotes appear to be shopping him. They have made a couple of contract offers to Boedker's camp, but there's nothing doing yet on that front. I'm sure they'll keep trying to sign him as long as they can, but it's becoming more and more likely that GM Don Maloney will have to move him, unless there's an 11th-hour signing.
The Canucks' front office was in pro scouting meetings this week to plan their deadline strategy. They'd still like to make the playoffs, but recurring injuries and recent losses suggest that's a diminishing reality. At some point over the next few days, GM Jim Benning will likely speak with pending UFAs Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata to get a feel for what they want to do. Vrbata would need to submit a list of eight teams to which he'd accept a trade, and that hasn't happened yet. It also limits Vancouver's options even if/when he does. Hamhuis, a British Columbia native, has a full no-trade clause. Will he want to waive or not? The Canucks are likely sellers, but what exactly will they have to sell? Pending UFAs Adam Cracknell and Matt Bartkowski, and previously waived players Brandon Prust, Chris Higgins and Yannick Weber are obviously available, but they're also not going to get you a whole lot in return.
Sell, sell, sell. That's where Flames GM Brad Treliving has to focus on now that the playoffs look very remote. That means getting the most you can for Russell and pending UFA winger Jiri Hudler. Russell could fetch the most among rental blue-liners, not only because he's a good player, but also because his $2.6 million cap hit is an easier fit for other teams to fit than many rental players. Pending UFA winger David Jones could also be moved. At some point, whether it's before the deadline or in the offseason, the Flames also have to figure out their goaltending situation. Both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller are unrestricted free agents on July 1, and I think the Flames need to look elsewhere for a long-term solution.
Like their Alberta cousins, for the Oilers it's all about selling assets. That means getting what you can for pending UFA winger Teddy Purcell, pending UFA blue-liner Nikita Nikitin and pending restricted free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz is still young and I think some teams feel he can resurrect his career, but that's not going to happen in Edmonton, where his development was mishandled. Winger Lauri Korpikoski has another year left on his deal after this season at a $2.5 million cap hit, and he's also believed to be available.