The quick and snarky answer for why I loved the trades that sent Trevor Daley to Chicago and then to Pittsburgh for Rob Scuderi is that the Senators, in need of defensive help, avoided acquiring one or both of these bad options. That’s terrific from an Ottawa perspective.
The longer answer for why I loved these moves is because these trades illustrate how difficult it is to both improve your team and trade from a position of weakness in the NHL. For all the talk about how NHL front offices still have trouble accurately assessing a player’s worth outside of traditional stats like goal and point totals, GMs are fairly adept at recognizing when another GM is in a bind.
Chicago was predictably in cap hell this past off-season and would need to move a few notable pieces to be able to dress more than 14 skaters when the season started. Patrick Sharp, a four-time 30+ goal scorer, with multiple Cup wins, and an Olympic gold, things GMs generally salivate over, was made available. Chicago GM Stan Bowman, who’s generally regarded as smart and a cap maven, knew this and set the bar high for Sharp: a first round pick in the most anticipated draft in years, an A-level prospect, and a top-six forward still on his ELC. Now Sharp, on the wrong side of 30 and making nearly $6M, wasn’t going to command such a lucrative haul, but it was a big ask designed to pry a prospect and high pick or some variation out of another team. It’s pretty standard practice. The problem was no one bit. What the other GMs saw was the Cup champs were in a bind and why help them out unless you get a sweet deal. In reality, Bowman had to give up one of his own well-regarded prospect in Stephen Johns to send Sharp to Dallas for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. A win for Dallas and not a good salary dump for Chicago.
So it was a bad deal. But it also seems just as obvious that Bowman didn’t want to give up Johns and would have made a better deal if he could, but was stuck and took the lesser of two evils.
There are reasons Daley didn’t work out in Chicago (he isn’t that good, they expected him to fill a role he wasn’t capable of filling, Joel Quenneville wasn’t a big fan etc.), but at least Bowman wisely tried to move on from a player who wasn’t working quickly. Again, the asking price was set fairly high for a player of Daley’s age, calibre, and cap hit: a second round pick and a prospect/young player (of the Shane Prince and Matt Puempel ilk in Ottawa’s case). After being part of the rumour mill for weeks, Daley was eventually traded to Pittsburgh for 37-year-old and frequent healthy scratch, Rob Scuderi. While Pittsburgh retained a third of Scuderi’s salary (saving Chicago $1M off the cap) for this season and next, Scuderi is simply one of the worst defenders in the league at this stage in his career and he’s under contract until 2017.
How could this happen to a smart, with it, analytics-accepting GM and architect of the first, cap era NHL dynasty? Because other GMs knew he was up against it and wouldn’t budge an inch.
All of this reminds me of the Jason Spezza trade. Yes, the rumoured deal to Nashville (including Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, and the 11th overall pick, used by the Preds to select Kevin Fiala) would definitely have been better in the short term as Hornqvist is a legit top-six forward. It may still be better in the long term. But Spezza didn’t want to go there and he controlled the move. Unfortunately, Dallas was the only option.
Could Ottawa have made a better trade with Dallas? Sure. Could Bryan Murray have insistent on receiving a first round pick instead of a second? Sure, though I suspect Stars GM Jim Nill, generally regarded as a Very Smart Hockey DudeTM in his own right, knew Murray had no other option unless he wanted to risk losing Spezza for nothing, so Nill obviously refused. Should Bryan Murray have asked for pre-NHL breakout John Klingberg? Absolutely! It’s possible he did! It’s also exceedingly possible, Dallas had some understanding of the players in their development system and didn’t want to give up a potential star on defense, deciding instead to give up a player from a position of depth.
It wasn’t a good trade. Could they have waited it out and tried to trade Spezza at the deadline? Sure but the fear of a Spezza injury probably prevented that.
Wanting a better outcome is understandable. Wanting your team to make trades that improve your team makes sense. But expecting a GM to win when they’ve been dealt a losing hand isn’t realistic. GMs know the score and can tell when a team’s in a bind. Stan Bowman knows it, Bryan Murray knows it. Sometimes they lose.