The Disparity in Action Between Trade Deadlines

Christopher Burgess

Every year basketball and baseball fans get drawn into the fervor of the rumor mill and expect their team, or other teams, to make huge trade-deadline day deals. Sometimes teams will make a trade, but often it will be for a role player, say a defender or three point specialist off the bench in basketball or a LOOGY (Left handed specialist reliever) in baseball. Yes, these trades matter; in fact they can be just what a team needs to make a deeper playoff run. However, more often than not, these trades don’t live up to the fans’ hype. Why then do fans still get excited every deadline? They hope for a big trade. Often this hope is in part drawn out of the excitement that can be (and often is) the NHL trade deadline.

In the past month we have seen two trade deadlines come and go. In the NBA Evan Turner was traded for Danny Granger in the trade with the most name recognition. While this is nothing to scoff at, Danny Granger was bought out of the rest of his contract, and Evan Turner, while good, is still young and at most Indiana’s sixth man. So while this trade was fairly big, it still netted neither team involved a starter.

Over in the more frozen, and often forgotten, segment of United States professional sports leagues, the NHL also had their trade deadline. The NHL is a little different than MLB or the NBA where most of your roster gets significant playing time. That being said the recently normal type trade in the other sports might translate to either a 4th line forward or backup goalie or something in hockey. That’s roughly what some people expected the NHL deadline to bring this year. The logic went, “Well teams are just getting back from a two week Olympic break. Teams might look to fill small needs, but it’s about as doubtful we’ll see a Blockbuster Video as it is we will see a blockbuster trade.”

The Rangers traded their captain, Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis at the NHL trade deadline this season.

Knowing this, you might be surprised to learn that amongst the players traded this first week of March included, Roberto Luongo, Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan and Tim Thomas. To our non-hockey fans that have probably already deleted the bookmark to the blog, I might as well be speaking French. Translated, that would be two starting goaltenders and two of the top forwards in the league. The last trade deadline that saw anything close to that in the NBA was 2012 when Monta Ellis was dealt from Golden State to Milwaukee for (an injured) Andrew Bogut.

The past two NBA trade deadlines have been about the opposite of what the NHL saw this week, and has seemed to fairly regularly see in the past. While there are likely no singular solid reasons for the NHL GM’s being busier on deadline days than their NBA or MLB counterparts, there are some factors in play. The big one in baseball would be the “soft,” deadline. While they set a July 31st trade deadline every year, teams can still trade players after that date by passing them through waivers. This along with the draft pick compensation for teams losing free agents that is only available if a player has not changed teams has seemed to stunt some of the action at the MLB deadline.

Baseball, along with the NBA, does not have to deal with as hard of a salary structure as that of the National Hockey League. Both leagues have set levels of spending that get taxed, and that fine goes up for repeat offenders. Thus teams with available money try to avoid that, which can in effect suppress some of the trading action. In Hockey they have a set spending-limit along with a minimum that each team must spend. The NHL also gives teams a 7 round draft, and allows the picks to be traded, where in baseball picks are off limits to trades. The NBA allows draft pick trading, but only has two rounds and restricts the number of first round picks you can give up in a trade. These factors, along with teams needing to spend, or dump, salary seems to lead to the NHL often having the busiest trade deadline.


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