Lost in the flurry of activity that surrounded this year's trade deadline is the notion that there are lessons to be learned from the most successful general managers in the game. There's a reason GMs such as Pittsburgh's Ray Shero, Nashville's David Poile, St. Louis' Doug Armstrong and San Jose's Doug Wilson seem to always make the savvy move and, in turn, usually have a team in playoff contention.
When you deconstruct a few of the deals made at the deadline and throughout the past year, themes emerge -- as do mistakes teams should try to avoid. Here's a look at seven of the deadliest sins of NHL roster construction:
1. Handing out too many, over-restrictive no-movement clauses
It's just not realistic anymore to say that teams shouldn't give no-movement clauses to unrestricted free agents because it's all but a requirement to get a player signed -- regardless of whether he is a franchise player or a depth defenseman.
"It's a fait accompli," one NHL source said.
Flames GM Jay Feaster's hands definitely were tied in Calgary, thanks to a wide range of no-trade restrictions on that roster. The fight has to be in limiting how far-reaching the no-trade clause is. And although the players like having the control of a no-trade clause, not everyone on their side of the table thinks the clauses are in the best interest of all the players. One respected agent believes no-movement clauses potentially hurt the overall revenue the league brings in, which in turn cuts into the amount of money players can earn.
"I hate them. First and foremost, you're giving players' money to an individual," he said. "When Rick Nash gets to handcuff the Blue Jackets and doesn't allow them to get as good a return as they could have gotten, in theory, they won't perform as well, hurting their revenues. And the [NHL]PA won't get as much money."
2. Public negotiations
The Nash saga is a good example of a player's unhappiness in a situation that became public and ultimately hurt the trade return. It might have been too much to ask, but if Columbus could have dealt Nash well before the entire world knew he wanted out, the package coming back might have been better than what GM Scott Howson received. Case in point: the Nashville Predators.
Nashville Tennessean reporter Josh Cooper revealed after the Martin Erat trade to the Capitals that the veteran forward had requested a trade two weeks beforehand and had provided the Predators a list of 10 teams to which he would accept a trade. None of this became public knowledge until after the trade was completed, and GM Poile was able to maximize his return for Erat, acquiring prospect Filip Forsberg in return. It's quite possible Forsberg will make a bigger impact in the NHL than anyone Columbus got in the Nash deal.
3. Waiting too long to trade a player
It's never easy trading a franchise forward, so the Flames can be forgiven for waiting to trade Jarome Iginla. But there's no doubt the return for the future Hall of Famer would have been dramatically bigger two years ago. Or even this summer at the draft. When owners support a decisive general manager, the payoff can be strong, such as when the Penguins loaded up with young defensemen in the Jordan Staal trade or GM Darcy Regier hauling in Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and two high draft picks for Jason Pominville. The Wild were willing to part with so many assets because they weren't getting a rental. Pominville is a player who can help them contend for a Stanley Cup for the next couple of seasons.
4. Skipping the bridge contract
Teams that take a hard line on the second contract for players, as the Rangers did with Michael Del Zotto and the Canadiens did with P.K. Subban, provide themselves with more salary-cap flexibility to bolster their rosters while core players are still young ... and it keeps those players hungry and motivated to cash in on the third contract. There were definitely some team executives who questioned Edmonton's decision to sign Taylor Hall to a seven-year, $42 million contract and Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million contract this summer. When I asked Hall about the criticism of the deals during the lockout, he realized they probably weren't popular deals at the league level, either.
"I'm sure Gary Bettman wasn't happy when he saw me and Ebs sign those deals. I know some other teams in the league weren't too happy to see them, either," Hall said before the season. "Nobody put a gun to Edmonton's head and said 'You have to sign these guys.' We're good players in the franchise, and we really appreciate the commitment they gave us."
The Oilers have now set that precedent as an organization, and Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz likely will expect a similar commitment, speeding up the time frame in which the Oilers have to win with this young group.
5. Paying on potential
This goes hand-in-hand with No. 4, but it's worth pointing out how the philosophy of avoiding this has helped the St. Louis Blues compete for a Stanley Cup while maintaining one of the lowest payrolls in the league. GM Armstrong firmly believes that you reward proven production with a long-term contract rather than give a long-term contract to a player who has the potential to produce. In theory, you might be able to sign a player to a lower number if you bet on future production, but Armstrong would rather pay market price for a player after he has proved himself in the NHL than weigh down his team with inflated contracts on players who might produce. That philosophy helped the budget-conscious Blues afford Jay Bouwmeester's big contract ($6.68 million per season) for their playoff push.
6. Long-term contracts beyond a players' prime
It won't be long until we start seeing the fallout of some of the long-term contracts signed before the lockout. There's already speculation that the Rangers should buy out Brad Richards' deal this summer, just two years after signing him to a nine-year contract when he was 31 years old. Every year we get closer to the end of some of those extended pre-lockout deals, the uglier they're going to look.
"We haven't seen the back end of these long-term commitments and what they look like. You're managing risk; the longer you extend a contract, the higher the risk," said one Western Conference exec. "At some point, some of these commitments that we all seem in a rush to make are going to all start piling up on each other. It hasn't happened yet."
It could get ugly when it does, and there will be teams ready to capitalize. San Jose refused to give any of those long-term deals and will have huge salary-cap flexibility in two years. And it won't be long until Brian Burke's refusal to hand out those contracts looks pretty smart for the Maple Leafs.
7. Too much term for goalies
The long-term contracts for Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov should be warning signs to teams in negotiations to sign franchise goalies this summer. Goalies such as Tuukka Rask, Jimmy Howard and Mike Smith will want the stability that comes with a long-term deal, and there's a case for each of them to get it. But goaltender can be a volatile position, and teams might be better off paying more annually on a shorter term than taking a long-term plunge.
"You've already seen Rick DiPietro, and maybe in Vancouver you're going to see that blow up on them with Luongo," one NHL source said. "My feeling is [to] pay more shorter term and let some guys just go."