As the National Hockey League Trade Deadline approaches, the eyes of the hockey world once again fixate upon the general managers of the league’s 30 teams. “Will this guy be traded?” “Will that guy re-sign?” “Will he accept a rental deal?” These are the questions fans and commentators alike have begun churning out, given the flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks, most notably Seth Jones and Ryan Johansen swapping cities, and Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier going to the Kings.
Inevitably, GMs will be dichotomously divided into the categories of “geniuses” and “idiots”, the breakdown of which shall occupy everyone’s time until the Playoffs actually begin.
But should we really be so hard on general managers? Would you REALLY want their job? Okay, yes, they make a lot of money and have – ideally – significant control over a National Hockey League team, entities worth hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars. It’s not near as simple as it looks, though; I argue that GMs are truly a unique breed.
Last season, I signed up for a Fantasy Hockey league with a group of my friends. Pick a bunch of players and track them through the season, all in an effort to beat everyone else in various statistical categories. Simple, right?
At the draft auction, I spent my biggest chunk of change on Henrik Lundqvist. Perennial Vezina candidate, good team – albeit not possession-wise (seriously, check out the Rangers’ possession numbers for the past 2 years), very durable… I should be set in goal, right? Well, a puck to the throat changed that. And then my backup, Steve Mason – who has very quietly been posting some real solid numbers the past couple of years in Philadelphia – went down, as well. Gahhh. What to do?! Do I look at the Free Agent pool? Do I make a deal? Do I bring my goalie coach out of retirement?
I ended up trading for Brian Elliott, who had a rough end to the season, ultimately ceding the starter’s role to Jake Allen. I was so desperate for a goalie though, I was willing to give up Patric Hörnqvist and Kris Letang. Now, in hindsight, that was, obviously, an awful deal. But hey, the pressure to win was on, and I did what I thought was best. I had a need, and I addressed it. Granted, it blew up in my face. Didn’t I do what a good GM is supposed to do, though?
“Yeah, but fantasy sports aren’t real sports”, you’re probably saying to yourself. “You’re an idiot!” might come to mind, as well. And you’d be right, on both counts. But how is Marc Bergevin, for example, feeling right about now? The one-time division-leading Canadiens are plummeting in the standings, having lost all-world Carey Price to injury a couple of months back. They can’t score and they can’t keep the puck out of their net to the same degree: not a recipe for success. Should they make a move for a goalie? Well, you’re not going to find a goalie anywhere near the calibre of Carey Price (sorry, Ben Scrivens) for an affordable price, and a trade for a top-tier ‘tender would likely eliminate a strength to address a weakness. Maybe the Canadiens’ skaters weren’t quite as good as projected, so perhaps some more offence is in order. But what would you need to give up for that? Or, as Montréal fans have been screaming about for years, maybe the coaching style is the problem. But do you really want to change horses in the middle of the stream? Especially when you are still – barely – in Playoff contention?
Beyond the explicit statistics and team performance, there are innumerable less-obvious, yet critically important, things to consider – most of which are mercifully absent from Fantasy Hockey.
"Will I have a job next season if I don’t make this trade?"
"Will I have a job next season if I do?"
"Why is the other GM willing to do this?"
"Will the player we agree to come here?"
"What’s his personal situation like?"
"Will he re-sign with us next season?"
"Will he fit in nicely in the dressing room?"
"Can we use him properly?
"How will this affect the team in the coming years?"
"What will my legacy be?"
Every year, some general managers cave in to their worst instincts, at the Trade Deadline or otherwise. Remember when the Thrashers traded away young stud Braydon Coburn for greybeard Alexei Zhitnik?
That said, GMs have to feel comfortable walking into their dressing room, looking each player in the eye and saying, “I’ve done all I possibly can to help you”.
They have to be comfortable at a podium, telling the media that, “Yeah, we have a real chance this year!”
They have to be comfortable telling ownership, “I’ve given us the best chance to win”.
They have to be comfortable with going home to their families and friends, who have no doubt been inundated with opinions galore.
And they have to be comfortable looking themselves in the mirror and saying, “I’ve done the best job possible”.
That’s one hell of a tough job. Are we really right to criticise?
Well, yes. We are the fans who invest the time, energy and money to keep our teams going. Just be thankful you don’t have their job.
Buckle up, folks; February 29th is coming faster than you think.