Thursday, March 8, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: Can We Tone Down The Trade Deadline Rumours?

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - is the rumour mill out of control leading up to the NHL trade deadline?

Can We Tone Down the Trade Deadline Rumours?

(Photo - TVOS)
There was no shortage of hype heading into the NHL’s annual trade deadline, but it came and went with few trades actually taking place. In the salary cap era, it is difficult to make a blockbuster move and with so many teams still in the hunt for a playoff position, many were not prepared to give up on their season just yet. While fans and perhaps a few GM’s ponder the moves that did not happen, the teams that did add a player or two feel that they are one step closer to Stanley Cup contention. As exciting as the day is though, is it time to tone down the trade deadline rumours?

Don’t get me wrong, the trade deadline is a good thing - it keeps the competitive balance in place. A team cannot acquire a star player days before the playoffs begin; teams must decide whether they are “buyers” or “sellers” before the final push to the playoffs begin. My issue with the deadline lies in the coverage and the lead up to the big day.

What used to be an afternoon of trade coverage has become an all-day televised event, with coverage starting at 8am and continuing right through until that night’s games begin. This year though, it seemed that the trade talk took on a new trend - the “trade tracker” segments began six weeks before the deadline on the major sports television networks, in print and on the radio. During intermissions, pre-game shows and in daily columns, hockey analysts would introduce us to a player, explain why he should be moved (usually because he was a pending unrestricted free agent), and provide a list of teams that needed to trade for him.

For six weeks, night after night, the same names were on the lists without any thought for the players involved or their families. Now that the Internet provides “experts” and “insiders” the ability to throw names around for weeks leading up to the deadline, the rumour mill is spiralling out of control. If you toss enough trade possibilities up in the air, chances are one might happen, but that does not make you an expert.

(Photo - TVOS)
Fans often associate players with their salaries and while their professional life is tied to the team that they are under contract with, let’s not forget that we are talking about real people with real families. The names being tossed around leading up to the trade deadline are not commodities and contracts; that should be acknowledged and respected.

A few years ago, listening to a former player discuss the realities of trades in the NHL on television, I heard a story that opened my eyes to the reality of these situations. During the conversation, he spoke about finding out late in the evening that he had been traded. His children were already asleep in bed and his new team needed him in the lineup right away. Travel plans were made for him and before his kids woke up in the morning, he was heading for the airport. He kissed his sleeping children goodbye and did not see his family again for six weeks. That is the reality of professional sports and we do not see this side of the game making headlines or appearing as the top story on a television broadcast.

As I wrote earlier, don’t get me wrong - trades are an exciting part of the game and necessary too. They are good for the teams involved and fans love to see them happen. What I ask you to consider in the days leading up to the deadline is to keep in mind that your favourite player is a real person. The first line star, the backup goaltender and the fourth line depth guy on your team are real people. While it is easy to think of them as a “piece to the puzzle” or a contract that needs to be moved to clear future cap space, keep in mind these guys are husbands and fathers too. Perhaps it is time to tone down the speculation and shut down the rumour mill.

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