- Craig Custance
TORONTO -- In 2011, when Peter Chiarelli bolstered the Bruins for a Stanley Cup run, he made his deadline deals with plenty of time to spare. He acquired Chris Kelly on Feb. 15 and both Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley on Feb. 18. By the time the Feb. 28 trade deadline came, the new Bruins were already getting acclimated with the team.
"As the playoffs started and into the playoffs, you could see them start to get comfortable," Chiarelli said on Wednesday.
By contrast, he's not sure last season's trade deadline additions -- Brian Rolston, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau -- ever got comfortable with the team. Those three were added at the buzzer on deadline day.
"I don't even know if they were acclimated when the playoffs started," Chiarelli said.
There's added value when the players you acquire for the stretch run have time to get settled before the postseason. This season it could be even more pronounced.
With the deadline so late in the season, there won't be nearly as much time for players to adapt to new teams and roles. Using the Bruins, for example, any player they trade for on April 3, this season's trade deadline, has just 13 games to get ready for the playoffs.
For the Penguins, another team looking to add before the deadline, it's even more condensed. They have only 10 games after the deadline.
Last season, Paul Gaustad was one of the big additions for Nashville before the deadline and he got 19 games to get acclimated for the Predators' stretch run. GM David Poile would have had to trade for a player on Monday for him to get 19 games in with the Predators this season.
"There's nothing like this season. Everything is different," Poile said when we chatted following the GMs meetings on Wednesday. "The travel is different. Lack of practices, trading deadline. Nothing is the same. We're all adapting. To some extent, we're flying by the seat of our pants. It's a different year."
Sabres GM Darcy Regier said trade talks went quiet a couple of days leading up to the GMs meetings after heating up the week prior. With the meetings and rule changes out of the way, managers can focus squarely on improving their teams for this season and beyond.
A group of GMs stayed behind to attend the Lightning's game against Toronto on Wednesday, where there was probably some chatter. Probably more if any caught the late games together over a beer.
It's only going to increase.
"It'll pick up now that these meetings are out of the way," Regier said. "The marketplace hasn't formulated. It's still very early."
It may be early in terms of time before the deadline, but it's not early in terms of getting a guy in your lineup and prepared for the playoffs. General managers will have to make some tough decisions -- pay the sky-high asking prices right now or risk trading key assets at the deadline for a very short rental that might not come with the same reward.
"I think you'd rather do them earlier," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. Except there's one hang-up.
"There's no teams that are out of it right now," he said.
It's going to make for an interesting couple of weeks.
Regier focused on future
The Sabres currently sit at No. 13 in the Eastern Conference with 26 points, which puts them six behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East. Last season, Regier had a strong trade deadline, getting a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad and adding impressive young center Cody Hodgson in a deal with the Canucks. It sounds like he'll have a similar approach to this season's deadline, in search of deals with a payoff that comes down the road.
"The only approach is to try and find a way to improve our team that extends beyond this season. That leaves a lot of things open," he said. "The focus for me is how to improve our team beyond this season. Whatever that involves, we'll see."
Kekalainen quiet in meeting debut
This was the first NHL GMs meetings for Jarmo Kekalainen as the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets and he emerged in one piece. If there was a hazing process it didn't leave any external scars.
He said he enjoyed the meeting but kept a low profile.
"That's the approach I took today," he said. "Just listen a lot and kind of be a first-year student among the elders. I was quiet and listened a lot. Kind of a learning experience for me. It was interesting altogether."
His Blue Jackets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, trailing No. 8 San Jose by just two points. He said as confidence has built with his club, those one-goal losses from earlier this season have now become wins.
"It's small margins. Now the small margins have gone our way," he said. "That's great to see."
Putting a value on retaining money
One of the interesting new wrinkles to the trading season this season is the new CBA rule that allows teams to retain salary in trades. The Maple Leafs and Coyotes were the first two teams to take advantage of that rule when Toronto retained a portion of Matthew Lombardi's salary in a January trade that sent the forward to the desert.
New York Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton said salary retention has come up in trade talks he's had with other teams, noting that ability is another tool to get a deal done.
"I think it's valuable," he said. "We're in the feeling out stages of that. Some teams are starting to do it. I think it's a valuable piece. If there's a money concern on one team and the other team has the ability to keep it, it's significant. As we move forward it's going to play a big role in player deals."
That's a nice tool in the arsenal for some of the big-market teams like the New York, Toronto, Philadelphia and others, although it's still a little early to get a sense of what it's worth. Is it worth the same as a draft pick?
"I guess the guys who have money will say that," Stan Bowman said. "Maybe."