Deadline not about talent

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Ryan Smyth was supposed to be an Edmonton Oiler for life.

That's what they told us.

In the post-lockout, salary capped, collectively bargained National Hockey League the idea was the little guys weren't going to lose their big players anymore. Edmonton wasn't going to have to have an annual going-away party for one of its stars.

Only Smyth, if not the face of a franchise then certainly the heir-apparent, is gone. The Oilers have written off their season, and we wonder how it is a team that did so well last season it paid into -- rather than collect from -- league revenue-sharing could find itself in the position of seller once again.

The great myth of the new NHL ends here.

The great myth of equality amidst all the screams of inequality has morphed into a league with a trading deadline that is no longer about trading at all.

This is a league that shut its doors with vigilance, fighting for the little guy and the little franchise, striving for cost certainty, parity and equality, and profit for one and all. This is a league where the hated commissioner was given standing ovations in Edmonton because he was fighting for their very existence.

Wonder what people in Edmonton think of the NHL today.

Wonder what it's like to wake up and find the face of your franchise is now an Islander.

Yesterday was trade deadline day, but hardly a single trade of equality was made. The trades were almost all one-sided, almost all financially motivated, almost all involving a player whose contract expires on the first of July.

Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson, who vowed he never would trade his draft picks away, again traded a draft pick away, this time a second-round pick and a throw-away defenceman for a 35-year-old centre with a bum shoulder. Never mind he could had Yanic Perreault for nothing six months ago.

He now gets him for two months -- longer if the Leafs make the playoffs -- before Perreault goes back and re-signs with Phoenix, which he already has told people he will do.

Like Smyth, Perreault is a free agent this summer. So are Bill Guerin, Peter Forsberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Keith Tkachuk, Gary Roberts and just about everybody of prominence who was dealt in recent days.

It also should be noted that not a single player of first-line or second-line status was exchanged for any of the big names who moved teams. Not one.

So if you happen to be a ticket buyer in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Florida, Edmonton or Phoenix, you are being asked to pay the same price for less and being asked to be patient in the process.

That's what this new Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought you, the fan. The notion of liberalized free agency is a wonderful concept being terribly twisted and manipulated here.

For example, the first-round draft pick sent to St. Louis yesterday by San Jose in the deal for Guerin originally was acquired by the Sharks when New Jersey had to rid of itself of cap room and traded that pick in exchange for Vladimir Malakhov's retired contract.

In other words, one phony deal led to another.

The NHL, in truth, never saw this coming, and to its credit as a league would like to put a stop to this silliness. The league has requested that the Players' Association agree to an arrangement whereby no player traded with 30 days of the trade deadline would be allowed to return to their previous team within the following six months.

Needless to say, the Players' Association, in between its own fights, would not accept those terms.

Last year, Mark Recchi was traded to Carolina from Pittsburgh and Doug Weight was traded to Carolina from St. Louis. Both players won Stanley Cups, then returned to their previous teams.

The betting here is that Guerin, Tkachuk and Perreault, to name three, will do the same next year.

The same is not true of Smyth, who couldn't come to a financial arrangement with the Oilers and desperately wanted to stay in Edmonton. But only at a price he thought was fair.

The new hockey world was supposed to allow that to happen. Jarome Iginla would stay a Flame. Smyth would always be an Oiler. There was supposed to room to pay your stars what they deserve to be paid.

The trade deadline used to be about hope. Now, it is nothing more than distortion.


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