You’re not going to find any real data on trade rumors that became reality. Not even NHL stats whiz Benny Ercolani could keep such records. If you consider all the conversations, add media speculation, multiply by 100 million for social media, and the accuracy rate hovers around 0.00001 percent.
Although most are easily dismissed and quickly forgotten, some leave you wondering about what might have been. General managers don’t talk about trades that didn’t happen, of course, because nobody wins. One gets blamed for even considering such a deal and the other is criticized for not pulling the trigger.
Just for fun, let’s turn back the clocks 17 months and revisit discussions between the Ducks and Sabres. The two camps definitely talked trade in November 2011 before backing off, going their separate ways and missing the playoffs. Anaheim and Buffalo have since gone in opposite directions.
To be clear, exactly what the two teams discussed was never made public. Ducks GM Bob Murray was looking to shake up his roster after a miserable start and showed up last season in First Niagara Center for a closer peek at the Sabres. It was widely reported that he was dangling scoring winger Bobby Ryan as trade bait.
Other big names tossed around included Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller for Anaheim and Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller for Buffalo. Was a package in the works that would have included players, prospects, draft picks or all of the above? Anything was possible. Like so many potential trades, it amounted to nothing.
More telling than the Ducks and Sabres’ failure to make a trade was how the two teams proceeded after talks broke down.
Murray thought his team was stale, fired coach Randy Carlyle and snapped up Bruce Boudreau shortly after he was sent packing by the Capitals. The Ducks climbed back into the playoff race with a 15-2-4 tear in the middle of the season. A late-season tumble was their doom en route to a 13th-place finish in the West.
Check the standings these days, and the Ducks had a 27-9-5 record, first in the Pacific Division and second in the conference, after a 24-3-4 start. Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry, their top two scorers, signed long-term (too long?) contract extensions. They kept Ryan, who still isn’t playing at full capacity but was third on the team in scoring.
The Ducks added veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray, who had more goals (seven) and points (16) while Stafford struggled with five goals and 15 points for Buffalo. Souray has proven two years after his fallout with Edmonton that he can still play. Anaheim added Daniel Winnick, a serviceable bottom-six forward.
Anaheim has been riding goalie Viktor Fasth, who had a 14-4-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He has shared the net with Hiller, who has a career 2.53 goals-against average .917 save percentage while making $1.725 million less than Miller, who has a career 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage.
The Ducks have the 21st highest payroll after accounting for $3.625 million in salaries (for a full season) by trading for Ben Lovejoy, Matthew Lombardi and David Steckel. The Sabres fell from eighth to 15th in payroll after dumping $12.3 million in salaries by trading away captain Jason Pominville, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold.
Buffalo retained GM Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff after last season, and the Sabres had another miserable start this year. Ruff was kicked to the curb. The Sabres appear to be keeping Regier through the rebuilding process even though he built the team that eventually crumbled. Make sense?
Vanek and Miller have one full season remaining on their contracts. Vanek sounds like he can’t get out of Buffalo fast enough. Miller will likely be gone, too, if the Sabres can move him before next season. Their trade values decrease with every day they draw closer to next season. It’s nowhere near what it was 17 months ago.
Anaheim clinched a playoff spot, which was a formality after its great start. The Sabres had a 0.251 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to sportsclubstats.com, before playing the Flyers on Saturday. You can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if trade rumors in November 2011 became reality.
The chances of him landing there were slim, anyway, but Miller might as well scratch Detroit from his list of eventual destinations after he leaves Buffalo. The Red Wings were finalizing details on an extension with Jimmy Howard.
The Red Wings for years didn’t spend big money on goaltenders because they would rather distribute the dough to the rest of their players. Howard is set to sign a six-year deal worth $31.8 million. It’s high for them but reasonable for him.
“It’s really, really, really close. Pretty much just the little stuff,” Howard told reporters in Motown. “I wanted to be here. I get along great with everyone here, and I believe in this organization and I want to get the job done.”
Howard is finishing up the final year of his current deal, which paid him $2.25 million that was prorated to about $1.3 million with the shortened season. He’ll take a $5.3 million cap hit starting next year, which is 11th-highest among NHL goalies.
It’s a good deal for the Syracuse native, who had a 2.41 GAA and .917 save percentage in 226 career games. He had a 2.39 GAA (20th) and a .918 save percentage (16th) this season. He appeared in 34 of the Red Wings’ first 40 games this season.
Smyth nears end of line
Ryan Smyth has another year and $2.25 million remaining on his contract with the Oilers, but he’ll have a hard time convincing anyone he has treads left in his 37-year-old wheels.
The proud winger, who entered the weekend with 1,190 NHL games on his resume, had not scored in 24 straight games, had only one assist to show for 15 games and had two goals and 10 points all season.
Sometimes, the hardest part for players is coming to the realization that they can no longer keep up with the kids.
Edmonton could bring him back as a mentor to its younger players, but it’s more likely they’ll buy out his deal and offer him a job.
Elias miffed at Devils
Patrik Elias is one among many who do not subscribe to GM Lou Lamoriello’s policy of not negotiating contracts during the season. Elias would rather stay in New Jersey, but it looks like he’ll test the open market.
“Who wouldn’t want to talk about it during the season? Then you would see they have interest. And, if you like the offer, why wouldn’t you sign?” Elias told said. “But that never came up here. If it had happened it would’ve been great, but it didn’t happen. It’s getting kind of late now.”
Lamoriello lost Zach Parise to free agency last season because he refused to work on an extension. His basic rationale is that players would be distracted by contract talks. He did make an exception for Martin Brodeur, however. For some players, a team refusing to talk contracts can become a burden.
“It’s also a distraction,” Elias said. “There is also pressure on you to play well because you know free agency is coming up. So that’s pressure for some guys. It depends on how you handle it.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on the additions of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and former Sabre Leopold: “Solid, responsible, smart, patient. Smart and patient would be the key, and that allows us to be better in our own zone. … [Bouwmeester] gets a lot of the name recognition, but Leopold has added a ton to us.”
Around the boards
• Anze Kopitar entered the weekend without a goal in nine straight games and just one in 13 games. Jonathan Quick had an .897 save percentage. Dustin Penner is coming back from injury. Not to worry, Kings fans. They’ll be ready when the postseason comes around. By the way, Regehr is on the top defense pairing with Drew Doughty.
• Winnipeg’s top line of Bryan Little between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler combined for four goals, 15 points and plus-11 during its three-game winning streak last week. In the previous five games, all losses, they had one assist and were minus-21.
• NHL.com and NHL Network asked 10 hockey writers and television personalities to name the top general manager in the league. Ken Holland had five first-place votes and 74 points overall to lead the league. Eighteen different GMs had at least one vote among the top eight. You might find this shocking, but Regier did not.
• Now with the playoffs a fantasy and a strong start a memory, the Hurricanes will turn their attention to getting depth among their forwards. Their top line of Eric Staal centering for Jiri Tlusty and Alex Semin combined for 33 even-strength goals. The other 16 forwards who have played this season had combined for 32.
• The Flames like what they see in 22-year-old defenseman T.J. Brodie, who has been logging many of the minutes Bouwmeester left behind. He was averaging about 24 minutes over six contests leading into the weekend, which was more than Bouwmeester averaged in his first five games with the Blues.