LeBrun: What NHL general managers are saying about a crazy trade deadline – and if it could be the new normal

Is it a trend or a unique event?

No one can say for sure, of course, but the unprecedented number of trades in the run-up to Friday’s NHL trade deadline has you wondering.

Is that how it’s gonna be from now on?

It was pretty amazing for the league, at least. Quality and quantity. Day after day after day for weeks. Blow after blow.

This made deadline day itself a bit of a miss as there was hardly anyone left to trade. Bruce Boudreau entertained us at TSN, at least.

And of course we had Bad for Bedard.

But seriously, is this how the NHL is going to conduct business in the weeks leading up to the deadline, going forward?

The first word on this goes to a managing director who has half a century of business stints under his belt.

“My two cents: I think we’re very competitive people, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a trend. I think every year is different,” said retired Predators general manager David Poile. Athleticism. “I believe in a domino effect – that certain things happen and people react to that, whether they intend to or not.

“I think the (Bo) Horvat deal was a big deal that kicked things off, and things snowballed from there.”

Veteran Blues GM Doug Armstrong had a similar read.

“I don’t think a season is a real indicator of a trend,” Armstrong said. Athleticism. “I think the separation of playoff and non-playoff teams seems to have become clearer earlier this season than in recent years. It seems the first trades were made by teams who accepted their position, placed a value of active on the players they would move and expressed that to teams in the playoff picture.

“For us personally, the 11-day break from the All-Star Game gave us time to begin the process with limited dynamic ranking changes to consider.”

The Blues did indeed tell teams early on that they were ready to listen to pending free agents Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev and Noel Acciari. They didn’t have to wait. This helped fuel the market early on.

But it turns out they weren’t alone. The Canucks, as Poile said, kicked things off in a big way with blockbuster Horvat on Jan. 30.

In the days that followed, you could feel the buzz around the league as GMs gained intensity and focus in their trade conversations. I remember noticing this buzz, but I always thought, because of past practice, that a lot of what was to come would happen closer to March 3.


Then come Tarasenko on February 9, then O’Reilly-Acciari on February 17, Dmitry Orlov-Garnet Hathaway on February 23, Nino Niederreiter on February 25, Timo Meier on February 26, Tanner Jeannot on February 26, Jack McCabe-Sam Lafferty on February 27, Mattias Ekholm on February 28, Patrick Kane on February 28, Jakob Chychrun on March 1…

Absolutely wild.

Veteran Oilers general manager Ken Holland thought it could be a repeating pattern.

“With many teams in rebuilding mode and a relatively flat cap next year, this could become the norm,” Holland said.

Wild GM Bill Guerin, who was busy the last week with five trades, added: “In my opinion it was because there were an unusual number of star players available… the teams couldn’t risk waiting for the end just to get a better deal. I think that might be something we see more of, but not necessarily like it always will be.

As Guerin noted, the multitude of good players in the market may have played a role. It’s not every year – not as deep as this market was anyway.

“There were a lot of good options available to buyers,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said, “so sellers wanted to close the deal as soon as the return met their needs. In other years, with fewer options on the market, sellers may drive the market up while waiting for better offers to appear.

The other dynamic to consider is that some long-running winning programs suddenly sell out.

“You also had situations like us, where we decided to be big sellers,” Poile said of the Predators. “St. Louis a big seller. It’s not always the case to that extent.

And you can also add Washington to it.

A managing director, who did not want to be quoted, thought the Capitals alone seemed to play a big role in trading volume. Indeed, Washington was a real joker. The Caps looked like buyers a month ago, but an untimely losing streak prompted general manager Brian MacLellan to switch gears and trade five players. It was a quick year-long re-equipment attempt on the fly as Washington hopes to be competitive next season — hopefully with better luck on the injury front as well.

The change in direction of the Caps had an impact, of course, on the market as a whole. Boston, Toronto, Colorado and Minnesota have all done business with them.

I would say Detroit’s decision to sell suddenly was second only to Washington’s status, in terms of market impact last week. After losing twice to the Senators on Monday and Tuesday, the Red Wings wasted no time, trading Filip Hronek on Wednesday and Tyler Bertuzzi on Thursday.

Be that as it may, we have witnessed an unprecedented deadline.

Trend or unique piece?

Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, the busiest of them all before the deadline, says the truthful and honest answer for him is, “I don’t know.

“Hard to say,” echoed Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “Every year is different.”

Short and sweet answers, of course, from Dubas and McCrimmon. But perhaps the truest statements.

Each delay period is its own organism, feeding on various elements, from standings to ceiling space to expectations to rebuilds and expiring contracts. These elements are there every year, but never in exactly the same form or in the same ratio.

Like a work of art, you might say, each time frame is its own design.

This year’s expiry period, however, was an absolute masterpiece.

(Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko top photo: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

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