Trading for rental players a risky move | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaTrading for rental players a risky move

Posted: Sunday, March 2, 2014 | 03:20 PM

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New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek is set to become unrestricted free agent. (Getty Images) New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek is set to become unrestricted free agent. (Getty Images)

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Mike Brophy explains why trading for unrestricted free agents is a risky move for general managers as these 'rental players' may leave in the summer.
The temptation is always there.

Go for it now and to heck with the future.

With no clear Stanley Cup favourite anymore and dynasties a thing of the past, there are probably a dozen teams that believe they are one or two players away from winning it all.

And there are plenty of available rental players to be had.

Need some scoring help up front? Make New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow an offer for Thomas Vanek. Or give new Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray a shout to see what Matt Moulson will cost you. Murray is in trading mode having already pulled the trigger on a blockbuster when he sent goalie Ryan Miller and forward (also the captain) Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues for goalie Jaroslav Halak, winger Chris Stewart, a first round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional second round pick.

Vanek and Moulson are set to become unrestricted free agents as are forwards David Legwand, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Callahan Lee Stempniak, Olli Jokinen and defenceman Andrew MacDonald. There are others.

The problem with trading for any of these players is they may walk in the summer and if you don't win the Stanley Cup and you lose the player, you may end up setting your program back a few years.

Different perspectives 

Some GMs are quick to make deals from the live-for-today perspective while others are more cautious and never lose sight of the big picture which means carefully protecting the future.

"From our point of view, we always look at players primarily who fit for now and for the future," said one GM who requested anonymity. "We have done rentals at certain times, though. If somebody is not playing up to speed or you have a suspended or injured player, you may have to make a deal. We try to do everything we can to put our team in the best position to win every year."

Veteran NHL GM Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators said there are many things to consider when contemplating trading for a rental player.

"It usually costs you a fairly important draft pick or a good, young prospect," Murray said. "For the short-term you hope you get the benefit of the trade, but long-term you know in all likelihood you are paying a price."

The Blues were willing to make the deal with Buffalo because they are among the best teams in the NHL and believe Miller and Ott bring them one step closer to winning their first-ever Cup. It is interesting to note Ott played for Dallas when Blues GM Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock worked with the Stars; so they know what they are getting.

The price a team pays for a rental player is based on what team's needs are as well as supply and demand. Some teams take a swing at it and then, win or lose, have to hit the reset button or go into a complete rebuild.

"It's all asset management," the anonymous GM said. "We want to see our young players step up and take a job. If they do it, great. If they don't then maybe you have to dabble in the rental market to fill the need for your team. If you are going to pay exorbitant cost because of the supply and demand then in most cases it should be for a guy who fits now and for the future."

Team chemistry key

The other thing to consider is team chemistry. Generally speaking, teams that would risk the future for a rental player are already playing pretty good hockey. To bring an outsider into the dressing room could have the opposite effect.

"Absolutely, you have to consider chemistry," the GM said. "The integration of a player is huge. You're bringing in a guy who, on paper, looks like he should fit in, but maybe he has played an advanced role on his team. Maybe he was on the No. 1 power play. You plug him into a role and he's got to be willing to accept that role, be accepted by his teammates and buy into and understand the system.

"People don't understand the chemistry and dynamics of a team. You can alter that and think you are doing the right thing on paper, but you might be doing the wrong thing in your dressing room. You had better be careful. And remember, you only have 20 games to integrate this person."

Murray said making a deal at or near the deadline isn't always to win the Cup. Sometimes it is to set your team up for future success; to get a taste of winning in the post-season.

"Sometimes you acquire a player to help you win a round or two," Murray said. "The prime reason why you do it is you're in [the playoffs] or feel you're in and the player you get can make a bit of difference.

"I think the message you are sending your players is important and that is management is doing everything it can to help you succeed. For the most part players accept that. If you do nothing, they are happy because they don't lose a teammate, but maybe they don't get the strong message that you're trying to help them."

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