It’s time to leave this old-school mentality in the garbage can where it belongs…
We’ve all heard the unwritten rule: you don’t trade within your division, and you never trade anything of significance with a rival. While these are not hard-and-fast rules, they generally carry weight in all major North American sports. Over the past three NHL seasons, only about 19% of all trades have been made within the same division, and a large portion of those deals were simply for draft picks or minor league players.
In decades past, All-Star games used to be especially important events for the league, in which the local populace got exposure to their favourite sport’s greatest athletes and television sets devoid of viewing options all tuned in to watch. Before the advent of digital cable, satellite television and the internet, this was the only time of year where they could witness the league’s best in one shot.
The viewing options afforded to today’s audiences make the event seem tiresome – we can see any one of these players multiple times a week as we channel surf and watch two different games that span the width of North America at the same time through picture-and-picture. We have Netflix, a thousand channels and YouTube. A meaningless hockey game is doomed to fight for space in our collective conscious.
It’s old, true benefit to local populaces is still important from an economic and marketing perspective because it will always draw in the host city, but it’s old grandeur on the North American stage is dead thanks to the evolution of technology.
For the very same reason, the old school trade mentality of refusing to deal with divisional rivals should be dead.
No longer can rebuilding teams on the East coast trade their older stars out West where fans can’t see coverage of them. Teams looking for a roster shakeup don’t have the option of “burying” a questionable locker room presence in another conference. The Tyler Seguins and Taylor Halls of the world will haunt you no matter where they go. No one is “out of sight, out of mind” anymore. Everyone is in sight, all the time.
Coupled with extracurriculars such as fantasy hockey pools and the rise of freelance internet journalism, franchises can no longer limit blow back from fans by dealing in geographic distances rather than objective judgement. In fact, they would be stupid to.
An important lesson
When the Senators dealt Mike Hoffman this past summer, it was leaked shortly after that General Manager Pierre Dorion was instructed not to trade him within the division. He of course ended up there any way – sporting a Panthers jersey after being immediately flipped by San Jose.
Dealing from a position of weakness with the media frenzy, the Senators served to weaken their bargaining position even further by eliminating potential trade targets. Mikkel Boedker and a second round draft pick highlighted the package they received from San Jose. After some paperwork, the Sharks had utilized an on-ice asset of the Senators to net themselves a second rounder in 2019 as well as a 4th and 5th round selection.
Refusing to trade with divisional opponents and rivals is nothing more than voluntary diminishing your own bargaining power by limiting potential trade partners and handcuffing your position. From a business standpoint, it represents nothing more than poor asset management. By the very nature of a trade like the one the Senators made this past summer, you’re telling your fan base that you’re not willing to maximize value because you’re scared of “losing” the deal. That’s a funny thought, because whether Mike Hoffman is scoring 30 goals in San Jose or Florida, every Senators fan will be following right along.
As we move closer to this year’s trade deadline, this is a plea to all 31 teams – don’t be the 2018 Ottawa Senators. Be the 2009 Boston Bruins.