x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lots of trading but it was no big deal

While last Wednesday was the busiest trade deadline day in league history - 31 deals were made - many of the swaps were bereft of big names.

Last week saw an NHL trade deadline unlike any other. While last Wednesday was the busiest trade deadline day in league history - 31 deals were made - many of the swaps were of the Kris Newbury-for-Jordan Owens variety. Who? Precisely. Before we blame the lack of intrigue on the usual post-lockout suspect - the salary cap and how its restrictive nature prevents teams from making significant moves - it is necessary to consider a couple of other contributing factors.

First, there was the pair of pre-emptive blockbuster deals that occurred about a month prior to the deadline, when Toronto obtained the star-crossed defenceman Dion Phaneuf in a seven-player trade with Calgary, which was soon followed by Atlanta sending their elite goalscorer Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey in exchange for prospects and draft picks. Suddenly, the list of available players was bereft of big names. Kovalchuk was the obvious candidate to be the darling of the trade deadline because he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer and his desire to remain in a losing situation in Atlanta had disappeared.

When he declined the Thrashers' mid-season contract offers of seven years for US$70 million (Dh257m) and 12 years for $120 million, the die was cast and Kovalchuk's days in Atlanta were numbered. The expectation was that NHL general managers would besiege Don Waddell, the Thrashers' GM, with outstanding offers, and that Atlanta would wait until the final moments of trade deadline day before accepting the most outrageous package of players, prospects and draft picks

It did not exactly happen that way, though, with the New Jersey GM, Lou Lamoriello, making Atlanta an early offer that Waddell could not refuse. And then we had the Olympics - there was an NHL trade freeze while the Winter Games were on. Since the Olympics did not end until February 28 and the trade deadline was March 3, this gave teams 72 hours to wheel and deal. GMs could talk during the trade freeze - and apparently many of them did, given the volume of business - but nobody was interested in doing anything bigger than Lubomir Visnovsky (to Anaheim) in exchange for Ryan Whitney (to Edmonton).

A notable deal, but hardly one that will drastically alter the league's power balance. All of this is not to say the NHL trade deadline was completely without interest. The Washington Capitals bolstered their championship chances by adding four enviable pieces in the grinding forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger and the defencemen Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina. And Phoenix, the league laughing stock last summer, made no fewer than seven transactions, bringing in a number of support players.

Not bad for a franchise who were given up for dead. Who knew the Coyotes would be loading up for their first playoff appearance since 2002? Finally, Calgary and Edmonton pulled off the first trade in the history of the "Battle of Alberta" rivals as the Flames obtained the sturdy defender Steve Staios in exchange for another solid defenceman, Aaron Johnson. A significant swap? Of course not, except when you take into account the unlikely deal between two teams who have a strong dislike for each other.

The 2010 NHL trade deadline had plenty of action, but few moves of consequence. The salary cap was a constraining factor, but the lack of big names being shopped and the Olympic trade freeze were the real reason the deadline was a downer. @Email:sports@thenational.ae