NHL trade market has rebounded

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - It happens every year about this time.

There are all kinds of trade rumours involving big names heading into the NHL draft and then when the general managers hit the floor the lack of action winds up being a major buzzkill.

But you keep hoping.

Now we have to wonder if there are going to be any deals left by Friday night.

The Boston Bruins got things rolling in draft week with the deal to pick up Nathan Horton from the Florida Panthers and Wednesday the Chicago Blackhawks were forced to unload a load in big Dustin Byfuglien, defenceman Brent Sopel and grinder Ben Eager - along with prospect Akim Aliu - on the Atlanta Thrashers so the ’Hawks could start to get in position to limbo under the salary cap.

Just as market forces made it difficult to trade players in the wake of the lockout, now it appears they have swung the other way.

There is probably a little more reason to hold out hope we will see some more moves over the next few days because the options for general managers to improve their teams through free agents are becoming fewer. In the immediate wake of the lockout, the quick fix was to simply dip into that market.

The players were plentiful and teams had more and more cash every year to throw around. The salary cap has gone up better than 50 percent since the current CBA was put in place. It was about $39 million in 2005-06 and will be $59.4 million for next season, up about $2 million from the season just concluded. The lower end of the cap for next year will be $43.4 million. In five seasons, the floor is now about $4 million more than the first cap.

But the growth has slowed dramatically and this year’s increase was largely the result of the players opting for a built-in five per cent bump.

Now, with five seasons behind us since the lockout, the free agent pool is shallower than a Lady Gaga interview and teams aren’t finding themselves with a an extra $5 or $6 million to throw at somebody.

Each passing summer since the lockout brought a wave of star players signing those six, seven, eight, even 12-year contracts which have resulted in fewer players being available to replenish the pool.

Heading into July 1, a GM looking for help in the middle is going to find the pickings lean with Patrick Marleau leading the potential class of unrestricted free agents (and that’s if he doesn’t sign back with the San Jose Sharks before then). After that it’s somebody like Olli Jokinen, Vaclav Prospal or Pavol Demitra.

Ditto for defencemen. After Sergei Gonchar, there’s a dropoff to the likes of Paul Martin and a bunch of solid, stay-at-home guys who are going to get way too much money from somebody.

So, if a general manager wants to make an aggressive move to improve his team, going the trade route, in many cases, is now the better option.

Down the road, I think we’re also going to see more teams wind up in the position of the ’Hawks where they will load up for a big run at the Cup and then wind up in a position where they have to dump salary when the big money deals for their young core players - like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane - kick in when their entry level bargain contracts run out.

That’s help lead to an eventful week already and it’s only Wednesday...and we haven’t heard from Brian Burke yet.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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