Weekly Question: Are Deadline Buyers Wasting their Resources?

To bat for average or swing for the fences?

So much of the meta-theater of professional sports occurs around the trade market and free agency that I find it hard to even imagine the time when neither of these concepts existed as we know them. Sports news outlets have entire calendar days devoted to these events and they expand these discussions into the everyday turning of the rumour mill and endless speculation.

As a fan, however, and as someone becoming progressively more invested in prospects and draft capital, I keep questioning the value of the big free agent signing and those swing-for-the-fences types of trades. In recent years, the discussion in sabermetric circles focused on years of control and the commodity value of pre-arbitration and arbitration years in relation to in-game projected player value.

Part of the argument in favour of bold win-now trades comes from the idea of windows of competitiveness and the need to strike while the theoretical iron is hot. Do these trades close those windows prematurely though? Is this simply a by-product of the salary cap? Will the urge to consolidate diminish after the next expansion draft?

Of course Ottawa has never really participated in free agency spending the way large market teams do with the last consequential signing occuring in 2013 with Clarke MacArthur. Coincidentally, on that same day, Ottawa made their last real swing-for-the-fences trade, for Bobby Ryan. Without re-litigating that trade specifically, I bring it up very intentionally because as soon as the rumour comes up of Ottawa hypothetically trading assets for a veteran goaltender, we start to think of this juncture in time in relation to the paradigm shift of 2012-13 when the Senators chose to “accelerate the rebuild.”

I’ll preface this by saying outright that I implore the organization not to make any aggressive trades or signings. They have so many picks and prospects and a pretty clean cap situation so why abandon that trajectory now in the hope of earlier returns? That being said, I’m presenting this weekly question because I believe some folks can make solid arguments in favour of aggressive trading. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that you simply cannot reject.

St. Louis’s acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly last season stands out to me as a perfect example of a team making the right decision living in the moment, as they got a first-line talent with a good contract while giving up very little. While correlation does not equal causation, O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe trophy and the Blues raised their first banner so there may be a case for ‘going all in.’

The Blues have regretted these moves before though as the 2014 deadline acquisition of Ryan Miller for a package including first round pick ended up amounting to nothing. The Blues also memorably shipped off Kevin Shattenkirk at the 2017 trade deadline despite qualifying for the playoffs themselves. Certainly the size of the field in the modern NHL post-season format should challenge the old assumption that poor teams sell while good teams buy because of this large ‘middle class’ of teams who qualify for the post-season while finishing third or lower in their divisions.

Most recently the Coyotes, a team with years of high picks and little to show for them immediately, added that missing high-end talent in the form of Taylor Hall at the deadline only to bow out to the much deeper Avalanche. Should the Coyotes have played it safe and continued to amass their draft and prospect capital or had the time arrived for them to justify such a luxurious acquisition?

I don’t know that such a team exists: one that consistently accumulates young talent without flipping those assets for big ticket names eventually. The cash-strapped Senators could be the closest thing (or maybe the Hurricanes?). Should teams only trade from a position of depth to fill another depleted role, or only to take advantage of another team’s cap crunch? Or is there a inherent and functional need for ‘buyer’ trades.

As I said in the outset, maybe I just question these concepts because I’m overly attached to Ottawa’s prospects or because I have a small market bias or maybe I just miss Jakob Silverberg. I do believe that somehow we could quantitatively determine if X years of star player outweighs Y draft pick value or Z prospect’s projected production. And I look forward to reading that article one day. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? When the time comes, should the Senators use some draft pick and/or prospect capital to cash in or should they continue accumulating to see how long a window can stay open?

When the time comes, do you think teams should ‘go all in?’

No, just keeping drafting and developing, and stay patient.74
Yes, you need pay up for that missing piece of the puzzle.41

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