Pooping the Party
Don't know why they decided to wreck the fun.
For years, particularly on the northern side of the Canada-U.S. border, trade deadline day arrived with a flood of anticipation and speculation. Both TSN and Sportsnet have gone gavel-to-gavel with casts of thousands in recent years, The Fan 590 has set up it's own "trade desk" and even Leaf TV II - snoozy old Hockey Night in Canada - has been forced to pay attention.
(Quick note. Had to chuckle last Saturday when HNIC, which loves to argue it's not Leaf-centric, spent the entire pre-game show analyzing the burning,nation-wide issue of "What's Wrong with the Leafs?")
So everybody was having a good time watching trades unfold on a day, really, that had grown more interesting and sexy than the first day of entry draft or any other single day on the NHL calendar. Office jobs didn't get done properly, children bolted home from school to see if James Duthie was in a full sweat yet and canny NHL managers with a nose for the camera got a little tube time for their laboring squads.
So what did the NHL do? It changed the rules and, quite possibly, destroyed the party atmosphere.
The deadline used to be 26 days from the end of the schedule. Now it's 40, a creation of last summer's new collective bargaining pact, and there's a broad sense that will play a role in substantially reducing trade traffic up to the deadline.
Two weeks probably won't make a major difference in the NHL standings. But to NHL general managers, there's a big might there, a chance that after wallowing in mediocrity all season their team might just rip off eight straight triumphs and suddenly find itself proud owner of the eighth and final post-season berth in its conference.
The NHL cited competitive legitimacy in changing the date, something you haven't heard from these guys since they were explaining why it was okay for Brett Hull to have his toe in the crease.
Now, not that it's not a whole heapin' heck of fun waiting to see where Mariusz Czerkawski lands tomorrow. Geez, you get the feeling the Leafs would dress Morris Peterson - or David Peterson - before they gave the Polish Prince his skates back.
(Second note/digression: Wasn't that really, really nice the way the Leafs jerked around young defenceman Brendan Bell on Tuesday? They called him up on Monday, let him to all kinds of interviews in which he talked earnestly about getting a shot in the bigs, then let him show up for the pre-game skate on Tuesday before telling him they liked Wade (Norris) Belak better and to get back to the Ricoh. I'm sure ol' Brendan is bleeding a little more blue today)
Waiting for the annual avalanche of deals, and then seeing 20 or so come through, supplied the NHL with a boatload of news and publicity for which it didn't even have to pay a rights fee.
Maybe some GMs and owners didn't like deadline where it was 'cause it gave the smart kids in class yet another advantage. But did you ever hear a single fan complain? And, with the "Thank You Fans" still painted on NHL rinks across North America, isn't that what "My NHL" is supposed to be all about.
Hopefully, I'm wrong. Hopefully tomorrow will include a host of wheelin' dealin' craziness. Even deals bigger than Czerkawski to the Belfast Giants to provide muscle for Theo Fleury, who just might not be on his way back to the NHL any time soon after all.
But if it doesn't, and if the sports networks decide coverage more massive than a federal election has become pointless, and if Barry Bonds' pharmaceutical interests overwhelm every other story, what will the NHL have gained?