Christmas in March

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Wednesday marks the final day that NHL general managers have a chance to tinker through trade by finding a missing piece or offloading bloated contracts. Quite often, teams tend to do the “right” thing – sit idle and look to the offseason with a clearer vision to make a deal.

It’s been said that when you get to the NHL’s trade deadline: “It’s like a stampede. There’s lots of milling around, and lots of confusion, making it much more difficult to act with clarity and purpose.” – Brian Burke, then Toronto Maple Leafs GM, February 10th, 2011

For the National Hockey League, Wednesday is the trade deadline. For hockey fans… IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS IN MARCH.

And with good reason. NHL trade deadline day is truly one of the most anticipated, ridiculously overhyped, and just downright craziest days on the entire NHL calendar.

If you’re a hockey fan, you already knew that. If you’re not, and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, here are three important things you need to know about NHL trade deadline day.

CANADIANS GO NUTS FOR IT

Whether it’s Rogers Sportsnet or Bell’s TSN, Canadian sports networks cover the NHL trade deadline the way CNN cover presidential elections.

There are the panelists, breaking news updates, flashy graphics that make whooshing noises, more panelists sitting directly behind the first row of panelists, ringing cell phones, and hastily arranged live interviews.

The coverage lasts from early in the morning until hours after the deadline has passed. Then the recap shows start. Then the recap of the recap shows. The TV broadcasts are supported by blanket coverage on the radio, entire web platforms are built for one day, and newspapers devote pages to in-depth previews.

If you hear anything that sounds eerily similar to that of a fog horn bellowing over the Canadian landscape on Wednesday, you can assume that the Maple Leafs have added a new defenseman or another centerman to help rookie Auston Matthews “ease his pain”. Sorry, wrong sport. Great movie, though.

IT USED TO BE BETTER

There was a time when the trade deadline meant a steady stream of actual blockbusters, usually at ridiculously inflated prices. Teams would frantically try to outbid each other for the available stars, and the sense of tension as the clock ticked down was palpable.

But in recent years, there have been fewer blockbusters, or at least those of the flat-out panic variety. That’s partly because the salary cap has made trades involving big-name players more difficult, and partly because some teams have finally realized that desperately trying to pull together complex deals in the hours and minutes leading up to the deadline can be a recipe for disaster.

The bottom line is that many of the big deals — those of the true-blue blockbuster variety — tend to now happen in the offseason – Weber for Subban, anyone? That makes the day less fun for fans, and much less fun for TV hosts who have to fill hours of coverage speculating about depth players instead.

IT’S ALWAYS A SELLERS MARKET

The league’s current era of parity means that even teams that are currently far out of the playoff race have still convinced themselves they have a shot at the postseason.

Coming out of the weekend, only a handful of teams in the entire league were all but out of the playoff picture: the Avalanche, because their season has been a disaster, the Coyotes, because they have a kid running them (no, seriously, he’s the GM at 27-years-old), the Red Wings, tough to swallow given their 25-year run of postseason proficiency, and the Hurricanes, because a city that doesn’t draw fans shouldn’t be honoured with playoff hockey.

Is it probable to make up an 8-10 point deficit at this point in the season? No, not usually, especially when you have several teams to try and get past, and the magical NHL standings fairies keep sprinkling extra points over random games. But teams don’t want to say that, because it sounds like they’re throwing in the towel on their season.

And so there you have it. An easy three-step user’s guide to understanding the NHL’s trade deadline. Hopefully you’ve come away with some integral knowledge heading into Wednesday’s madness.

Enjoy deadline day everyone!

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