Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trade Winds Keep on Blowing

bobby ryan ducks trade
Bobby Ryan was close to being a Maple Leaf… or a Ranger… or a Flyer… or pretty much anything but a Duck. Well, at least that’s what it looked like for a couple of days before Anaheim fired head coach Randy Carlyle less than an hour after a 4-1 win over Montreal.

Yes, Bobby Ryan was reportedly available. Bobby Ryan, the 24-year-old power forward drafted right after Sidney Crosby. A player who has scored back-to-back-to-back 30-goal seasons.

But Ryan has struggled this season, with only 12 points in 24 games, a pace which would be a severe drop-off from last year’s 71-point campaign. Ryan’s struggles, combined with the team’s awful performance set off the perfect storm.

The Ducks lost 18 of 20, sat second last in the entire league and were beginning to get desperate. The Ducks’ thinking was that if they could ship out Ryan they could patch a lot of holes on the roster – a top-4 defenceman, a top-6 forward and a high pick/prospect at minimum. The rumour mill was going crazy, pretty much linking every team in the league to Ryan, because seriously, who wouldn’t want this guy.

The mere thought of trading Bobby Ryan was an idea born from desperation – the type of thought that arises during an almost interminable losing streak. It was as if the Ducks were drunk with losing. Not happy go-lucky drunk where everything is fun, but a depressive, end-of-the-world, nothing is right type of drunk.

But the rumours seem on hold now with Bruce Boudreau taking over behind the bench. If the Ducks start winning Ryan isn’t going anywhere. And the fact that Boudreau is the fastest coach to 200 wins and is taking over another talented roster, my bet is that the Ducks do indeed start winning.

But just the possibility of Ryan’s availability really emphasizes the fact that no one in the league is truly untouchable, it simply takes the right combination of factors. The old cliché is true: if Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can.

Heading into the season there was no way the Ducks would ever consider trading Bobby Ryan. But then a slow start to the season, combined with his major trade value, and a slumping team made the idea much more palatable than before.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter thought they were Flyers for life, so too did their fans. Then the Flyers finally decided they needed an elite goalie after an end of season collapse and disappointing playoff finish. All of a sudden the two core forwards were gone over the course of a few days. Calgary

Flames fans probably thought that Dion Phaneuf was going to spend the rest of his career in Calgary, challenging for the Norris Trophy every season and anchoring their blueline for years to come. Then Phaneuf’s game declined rapidly, his salary looked more inflated by the day, and the Flames played poorly amidst rumours of locker room discontent. Within the course of two seasons, Dion Phaneuf went from absolutely untradeable, to being shipped out for a grab bag of players whose last remnant is an overpaid third-liner struggling to crack the lineup. Events transpiring over a few years can slowly force a player out of a situation that seemed like a perfect fit.

Events can happen over the course of a few days as well, some that have nothing to do with anything on the ice. The Edmonton Oilers know this pain too well. They thought they had a Hall-of-Famer to lead their team and help them become a perennial contender for the first time since the glory days of the 1980s. Then almost immediately after losing game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Chris Pronger wanted out and it was all over.

The chaotic nature of the NHL works the other way as well. Even players with large, cumbersome contracts and little production - ostensibly untradeable players - can change locales. Maple Leafs fans resigned themselves to watching Jason Blake launch harmless 30 foot wrist shots from the half-boards for the duration of his contract. Then Brian Burke pulled some magic dumping him on Anaheim, requiring only a season and a half of J.S. Giguere’s large contract.

Even more impressive, Scott Gomez was somehow dumped in Montreal, despite one of the league’s highest salaries and declining production level. He might seem totally settled in Montreal as his play has amazingly gotten worse, but the Habs received a glimmer of hope from Florida this summer. Brian Campbell ended up with the Panthers after being one of the league’s highest paid defencemen (one who was a #3 in Chicago). A rising salary cap floor made sure he wasn’t untradeable for long. Maybe even Gomez could be dumped somewhere else (perhaps a morgue).

That’s all well and good, but what about Sidney Crosby? Certainly the best player in the NHL can’t be traded. Well, right now I would whole-heartedly agree. But that might not be the case if he goes through a period of years where he can’t stay healthy and his contract is expiring. Will he be the same untouchable player he is now? I’m not so certain.

Even Alex Ovechkin isn’t the lock in Washington that he was a few years ago. Of course no one is talking about trading him right now, but a lot can happen over the course of a few years.

Anything can happen in the NHL. A cascade of pressures can pry loose any player, no matter how good. The greatest player of all-time was traded in what amounted to a thinly veiled business transaction.

Bobby Ryan’s name in the rumour mill might be initially shocking, but we shouldn’t really be overly surprised. The NHL is wildly unpredictable. If Wayne Gretzky and Scott Gomez can be traded, truly anyone can.

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