In these playoffs, there are quite a few players who are making their former teams look silly for ever moving on from them. Phil Kessel is one such example, Kyle Turris is another. There are also skaters who have been fantastic for their teams but the sight of whom doesn’t instill hatred in former team’s fans. Arizona faithful surely grimace every time Turris touches the pucks and drives up ice, but James Neal is still loved and adored by Pittsburgh fans. The primary reason being that the Penguins aren’t regretful. Neal was involved in a very important and team-altering trade that ended up benefited the Predators as much as it did the Penguins.
Rewind the clock to the 2014 Draft. The Penguins have just been eliminated for the 5th straight postseason in disappointing fashion. The aging Jim Rutherford is brought in to right a ship that looks destined to take on more water. The Predators had completely missed the playoffs, tallying only 38 wins and relying upon a totally inept and anemic offense. Shea Weber had led the team in points on D and they had recently lost Ryan Suter to free agency, and after Hornqvist, Craig Smith, and Mike Fisher, there was practically nothing to push the pace offensively. Carter Hutton had to take the crease in the wake of Pekka Rinne having injury trouble and poor performance. Both teams needed a desperate shake up, and it wouldn’t come painlessly for either. GM David Poile spent the time with Rutherford to hammer out a deal that contained a fair bit of risk on both sides.
The ultimate deal resulted in the 61-point getting, former 40-goal scoring James Neal traded to Nashville for their leading scorer in Patrick Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, and a 2nd-round pick. Nashville lost two solid players on a defensive oriented team in hopes of shifting focus to a more offensive game. Pittsburgh isolated net-front presence and physicality as pieces they were lacking come playoff time. Both teams ended up reveling in the results of this gambit, but it is the sort of deal we see little of in today’s NHL – a win-win trade.
A recent example of an attempted high-risk win-win trade would be Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. One could make the case that GM Marc Bergevin was following a valid needs-based brand of logic, but for many reasons the move was short-sighted for the Canadiens. Montreal fans can claim hindsight, but Weber was always going to be due for decline and was arguably already lesser in value. Without delving further into that particular transaction, Nashville again made a prudent (but difficult) decision to move their captain, which paid dividends. Subban will be an integral part of their franchise for years.
Many teams are overly rigid in sticking to their core when it is obviously in need of change. Nashville not only shifted their core in a few short years, but adapted on the fly to a changing game. Poile acquired the necessary personnel to go deeper into the playoffs in an exceptionally talented Central division, and all GMs would be wise to look to his example. The blueprint for a win-win trade is to isolate what your team desperately needs, who can fill that need, and being willing to part with important players to acquire your man. Winning the value comparison on paper isn’t what should truly matter to GMs, Taking risks to make weaknesses strengths will never be a safe or easy move, but it is the sort of mentality that can win a franchise a Stanley Cup. This offseason, perhaps there will be more moves of this ilk.