How Much Does the Trade Deadline Alter Team Chemistry in the NHL?

The NHL trading deadline has passed, and this year was the busiest in history.  Prior to the 3PM deadline on March 3, 30 trades took place.  With these trades, the rights to 53 players and 25 draft picks changed hands.  Compared to Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA, the NHL typically has an extremely active trade deadline.

Some of the teams involved were considered sellers because they were getting rid of overpaid players or those that did not fit into the team system.  Other teams were considered buyers of “rental” players because they were looking to add a missing piece in the push for the Stanley Cup.  There will certainly be plenty of analysis of who “won” the trade deadline in the coming days.  However, regardless of how the player performs for his new club, one also has to wonder whether these trades will hurt locker room chemistry with so many players changing teams at the deadline.

Take for example, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It was widely accepted that GM Brian Burke would trade many of his players to continue rebuilding one of the most respected teams in the league.  However, as Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was traded the day before the deadline, stated: “I knew it was coming, but still, even if you’re ready you have to mentally step over that board and realize you are no longer a Maple Leaf.  You have to reset your mind and go to the next club and help them battle for the playoffs and Stanley Cup.”

While a player certainly appreciates going from a team unlikely to make the playoffs to the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, how much will a trade of this caliber change the chemistry of the locker room in the new team or old team?  A player in the final year of his contract will almost certainly try to finish strong to justify a higher salary at the end of the season.  This will certainly help his new team as they seek to earn a playoff spot.

However, it is arguable that a player traded from a contender to a non-playoff team will have little to no incentive to continue playing strong, especially if his contract does not expire at the end of the year.  Some players in this situation may see the writing on the wall that a team is out of the playoff hunt and lose focus in the final weeks of the season.  In some cases, an attitude like this may cost his team wins or even fans that want to see a winner on the ice.

More importantly, in some situations, such as with the Leafs, players will likely be able to take a deep breath and play the remainder of the season without the fear of being traded.  This may actually lead to a more relaxed team on the ice because there will be less competition for a job in the current season.  In other situations, such as with the Washington Capitals, one has to wonder if there is an increased amount of pressure to win in the playoffs now that the team has made several trades.  The Capitals already had a double-digit lead in points in the Eastern Conference, which raises the question of whether they really could get any better by trading away players that got them into that position.

On the other hand, one team that has surprisingly appeared as a competitor this season also made substantial changes to its roster – the Phoenix Coyotes.  The Coyotes were involved in 7 of the 30 trades that took place.  Bringing in so many new players will almost certainly change the locker room atmosphere and more than likely change the on ice competitiveness.  Players that were once playing on the third or fourth lines may be forced to sit out when the new players arrive.  Such a scenario might spell trouble for a team that was previously well positioned to make the playoffs.

Being labeled the “winner” of the trade deadline does not necessarily translate into post-season success.  However, many teams make changes to their rosters in hopes of finding the missing link to win the Stanley Cup.  What do you think about trade deadline day?  Does trading players change locker room chemistry enough to throw off a team’s winning ways or does the increased amount of talent override any change to team chemistry?

By Mitchell Bragg

Despite the struggles the teams from his hometown face on a yearly basis, Mitch still roots for all teams Buffalo. Outside of SAB Mitch is an attorney in Massachusetts & New York. You can follow him on Twitter via @mitch_bragg.

One reply on “How Much Does the Trade Deadline Alter Team Chemistry in the NHL?”

Trades made prior to the deadline may definitely affect both a team’s on and off ice chemistry, but I don’t think it would be significant enough to remove a team from playoff contention. Although it definitely happens occasionally, it is less likely that a team would make an addition to shake up their first or second lines. Chances are if a team is in playoff contention, they wouldn’t dare mess with their top two lines, the ones where they get the most production from. A goal from a team’s fourth line is always a treat, so although 3rd and 4th line chemistry may be interfered with, that’s what practice is for.

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