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Is Trading a Dollar For a Quarter a Good Deal? Views Differ

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I have observed before that many of the worst sports trades are driven by disappointing teams focusing on the weaknesses (real or imagined) of their best players. Trades of stars made for the purpose of BLOWING UP THE CORE and CHANGING THE CULTURE IN THE ROOM have an absolutely abysmal track record, but fans and pundits call for them all the time and teams will sometime do that. Last week, on the same day the NHL had two absolute classics of the genre, and the key question is which one is the very worst trade in the league in the last 20 years.

As we discussed recently, one reason Peter Chiarelli is the general manager of the Oilers is that when he was running the Bruins he traded Tyler Seguin for a fraction of his value, with disastrous results. Amazingly, that deal is no longer the worst trade involving Peter Chiarelli and a top 2 pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Last week, Ciarelli traded one of the best players in the league for a passablish second-pairing defenseman. Straight-up — not even a draft pick or prospect with a chance to redeem the deal. And it doesn’t even save much money. It’s an astoundingly bad trade.

Why did they make it? Chiarelli would say two things. First, the Oilers had a surplus of talent up front but keep adding premium draft picks every year because their defense is awful, which is true. And, second, he would say he had to take the best offer available on a player signed long-term to a very team-friendly contract RIGHT NOW because a credible replacement in Milan Lucic was available and he needed the cap space. Neither makes much sense. The first point can justify some gap in the talents exchanged but not that much. And not only is Lucic, while a solid enough player, not a replacement for Hall, the 7-year contract (for just a little less than Hall is making!) the Oilers gave him is terrible. He’s already 28 and the kind of player (slow, bruising power forward) who generally ages very badly. You can live with some dead years at the end of a contract if you’re a contender filling a hole, but the Oilers are rebuilding. By the time they approach contention if they do, Lucic will most likely be a mediocre player who struggles to stay on the ice, while Hall will still be an elite talent. And the team still doesn’t have a genuine top-pairing defenseman on its roster and lost its best chip for potentially acquiring one.

But at least the Hall trade has the abstract form of a reasonable trade, using a surplus to fill a hole, although the price was far too high. The Canadiens — hard as it must be for young fans to imagine, the NHL equivalent of the Yankees or Belichick-era Patriots in the 20th century — made a straight-up challenge trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. Defenseman for defenseman. In summary, the Habs got the one who is 1)four years older, 2)worse (if you don’t believe the analytics, you saw Weber getting frequently overmatched in his own end by the Sharks in the playoffs if you’re interested in such things, didn’t you?) and 3)signed to a worse contract. Bergevin’s logic was nothing but standard-issue sports talk radio bullshit — Subban is a GLORY BOY while Weber is GOOD IN THE ROOM and fits the traditional mold of an NHL defenseman better. The gap between Weber and Subban is less than the gap between Hall or Larsson, but Montreal isn’t even addressing a need or opening up room for another acquisition, and even worse for Montreal Carey Price or no Carey Price their roster is neither young nor good and very unlikely to be good for the 2 or 3 more useful years Weber probably has to contribute. I’m not sure if it’s a worse trade than the one the Oilers made but in its way it’s even more irrational.

So, to answer the oft-asked question of why Canadian teams aren’t winning, the answer is that of 7 teams three (Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton) are being run by partial or complete numbnuts, 2 (Calgary and Toronto) are now under competent leadership but are rebuilding after years of mismanagement, and 2 (Winnipeg and Ottawa) are on a treadmill of mediocrity. It’s got nothing to do with the Canadian dollar or any other structural excuse.

…Elliotte Friedman addresses the question of why the Oilers and Habs didn’t just swap Hall for Subban, which would have been a far better deal for both parties.

…and, as rewnzo says in comments, after allegedly trading Subban for vague character-related reasons, they then signed a guy who was too hung over to dress for a playoff game. Every organization in the Eastern Conference should hope that Bergevin and Thierrien are in charge of the Canadiens forever, is what I’m saying.

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