Why Is It So Damn Hard To Make An NHL Trade?

*Okay, so since this was written – and just before it was ‘published’ – the Winnipeg Jets traded Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres, in a deal involving six other players. I think my points below still stand, so I’m not going to change the text at all. Also, I’m lazy.

Why’s it so hard to make a trade in today’s NHL?

Because it’s never really a trade, is it?

The idea often is, a trade has to be even. But that’s impossible. Because if a trade was truly even – if it was, I give you something, and you give me an equal value in return – then there wouldn’t be a point to it. Why would you give up ‘A’ just to get ‘A’ back? Instead, a trade happens when one side wants something, and the other wants another. It’s not really just about want, though… it’s also about need.

Take the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, they didn’t just need a couple roster players, but they also needed to get rid of Ryan Kesler. Luckily for them, plenty of teams could have used him. And while Anaheim gave up a few pieces that may have helped them later – Nick Bonino, d-man Luca Sbisa, and a pick that became Jared McCann – they didn’t actually lose anything worth what they got in Kesler.

But advantages went north and south. Vancouver had a talented player who didn’t want to be a Canuck. They got rid of him, and they had to. Anaheim replaced Bonino with a superior second-line centre (Kesler), and all it took was a depth defenceman who was hardly starting in Sbisa. McCann’s a good prospect, sure. But the Ducks had already grabbed the No. 10 overall pick in that year’s draft from Ottawa, which they used to nab Nick Ritchie. So neither club lost anything they couldn’t replace in the same deal.

Does it always work out like that? Of course not. But more and more GMs, it seems, are finally realizing they should do their best to make it happen. They’re realizing, perhaps, that while it’s exciting to put the mortgage on Red and roll, it’s not responsible gaming.

No more trading for Marian Hossa in his contract year, giving up all your youngest assets and then a couple picks more. No more selling the farm for the cow, on the off-chance you just might survive the Stanley Cup’s two-month gauntlet and win this year.

And besides, how often does one superstar make the real difference anymore, anyway? The Boston Bruins’ most valuable players in 2011 were a bunch of cheap signings and projects, from rookies like Tyler Seguin to role players like Scott Thornton, to wander-lost goalie Tim Thomas (who was actually a backup the year before, and then went on to win the Vezina with Tuukka Rask hurt), to stars like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, to underrated playmaker David Krejci and physically awkward power forward Milan Lucic, to effective depth forwards of varying ages – Brad Marchand, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, and Rich Peverley.

There’s not a Crosby on that list. No Ovechkins or Malkins.

Not to say a superstar can’t win the Conn Smythe… Malkin has proved you can. But is it absolutely necessary? No way. Even Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, they won the Cup in their second years in the NHL. Since then? They’ve gone belly up after April.

But, even though the tides are currently coming in to shore, it seems some execs are still trying to charge a fortune to fill out a WordPress site. (You know those types, the Internet contractors who demand your entire quarterly profit because they think they’re the only ones who can build a website in 2015?)

The Toronto Maple Leafs want both a prospect and a first-rounder for Cody Franson. The Winnipeg Jets would reportedly, if the dancing partner is Vancouver, expect Jake Virtanen (a 6th overall pick), Bo Horvat (a 9th overall pick), and a first-rounder for Evander Kane.

Kane could very well prove worthy of that package. As a fourth-overall pick in 2009, the Jets’ power forward developed almost immediately into the total package Atlanta (now Winnipeg) hoped he’d become. He’s 23 and he’s already a veteran, and his ceiling is still a long ways away.

But why in the world would Vancouver take that chance? They don’t have to. The market’s not there… if all Kesler could command was Bonino, Sbisa, and a late first-rounder, there’s no way Kane demands arguably double that haul, with a lot more potential.

Same goes for Franson.

And sure, a lot of this could be the owner asking a high price for their home in a soft real estate market. But it could also be delusion – and since Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has never made a player-for-player trade before, it could be either.

Current Leafs GM Dave Nonis pulled Roberto Luongo over to Vancouver for Alex Auld, Bryan Allen, and Todd Bertuzzi. (Bert was obviously the biggest part of that deal going Florida’s way, but he’d only play seven games for the Panthers before suffering a season-ending injury.)

Nonis fleeced Mike Keenan in that deal. Perhaps he thinks he’s dealing with 29 other Keenans this time around.

But unfortunately, all of North America’s iceheads know the Leafs are in clearance – Franson, Bozak, Kessel, Phaneuf, Gardiner, Santorelli, even Bernier, all could be on the block. All are on the block, in some way. You know that line from The Godfather? “If history has taught us anything, it’s that anyone can be killed.” Well, anyone can be traded. The Gretzky deal taught us that.

With Toronto essentially opening up its doors and tacking for sale signs to everything in its garage, anyone wanting an asset is aware. And sure, Nonis can play coy and try to squeeze his suitors – perhaps his only hope is if he plays Detroit, L.A., Nashville, and Anaheim against each other, in the bidding for Franson or others. But after a while, they’re going to sit down with him and say, “Listen. We know you have to move this guy. This is the most we’re willing to pay. Take it or take nothing.”

The Leafs have lost the luxury of choice. They have to move one, two, or several of their pieces. They have to trade Franson, or sign him with the money they already gave to Tyler Bozak. (And then, trade Bozak. Which they shouldn’t want to do.) They probably have to move Santorelli or Gardiner. And Phaneuf, if they could.

The ship has sailed on David Clarkson, who they signed for first-line money the last time they gambled it all when they had the highest stack of chips. But they’ll never move him, not with his contract and his tumble off the offensive cliff.

Vancouver didn’t have a choice with Kesler. Would they have wanted their 200-foot power centre to stay in B.C.? Of course, but he wanted out. The trade was forced, and GM Jim Benning turned lemons into lemon water.

A similar solution’s available for Winnipeg and Toronto. They just need to wake up and find it.