Trade Deadline Madness

By Jeff Bromley
It happens every time at this point in the WHL season. Actually, it happens with all hockey leagues from the CHL up into the NHL. It’s a sickness. No, it’s not the onslaught of a violent strain of the flu or a cold. It’s a malady that develops from the annual ritual in hockey leagues everywhere called the trade deadline. This sickness isn’t physical, it’s mental. The main symptom of the affliction is simple. Targeted at the mouth and what comes out of it. More than at any other time of year, it is ripe for gossip, rumor and innuendo. It is trade rumor time.

The WHL’s trade deadline falls on the 15th of January and in the past weeks leading up to it there has been no shortage of rumor frenzy by fans and media alike. Similar to an urban legend whose basis is little in fact and long on speculation, the trade rumor manifests itself out of some small statement or tidbit that was mentioned by someone who works with a particular organization and was overheard by a fan or media type that turns around and mentions it to someone else and so on. As the stated innuendo passes from person to person it grows in size, stature and credibility by the sheer amount of people hearing and passing it on. Thus the rumor transforms itself into fact, without basis, for the simple reason that so many fans are talking about it.

The trade deadline madness I speak of is exclusive to hockey, pro or amateur. In the professional ranks there simply is no comparison. Of the big four, Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey, the amount of trades and, by association, the amount of trade rumors, doesn’t even come close to the sport of hockey. In Football, Baseball and Basketball, the various combinations of salary cap structures and more relaxed free agency rules make it difficult for any of the member clubs to complete major trades without taking into consideration these important factors. In hockey however there is no salary cap to speak of and the free agency rules are of the oxymoron type. In other words, there is not a whole lot free about the free agency in hockey until a player is a least thirty-one years of age.

Junior hockey is no different and probably worse than the pro level. Of the other big three major sports, their feeder systems stem from the NCAA and at the collegiate level there is no trading of players. Hockey, for the most part gets it’s players from the junior level which operates on a similar mentality as it’s professional counterpart. You can see why fans of hockey get so wrapped up in the possibility of their team, or any team for that matter making some moves to either improve their position going into the playoffs or, if the playoffs are out of reach, trading away established talent to try and brighten their future with younger players. The WHL is not immune to this quirk of the sport. With WHL clubs being from mostly smaller Canadian centers where it is hard to keep anything a secret for very long and those clubs being the talk of the town every winter (or summer, in some places), it’s not surprising that this madness usurps all other news when it comes to a team’s possible personal moves. The media is just as guilty of fueling the fire. In this space many times I have written a juicy one that has been making the rounds only to have end up in the same heap as the others that make the gossip list. Word of mouth and the media aren’t the only factor contributing to the gossip mill. In fact there aren’t even the main thrust behind trade rumors anymore. The Internet is now the source for most of the trade-mongering that goes on. With fans connected in cyberspace throughout the leagues communication has become instantaneous, but with that the accuracy still hasn’t improved a whole lot. What people hear is, however reliable the source, still conjecture until it becomes fact.

That being said the rumor mill will still be an integral part of the game of hockey. Who’s going where? Who’s coming this way? Who will benefit the most? It’s the game within the game of hockey and if anything, it probably augments even the most casual fans’ interest in the game. For the fanatics of the game, it is an integral part of hockey that will probably never go away.

By the way, did you hear the latest………