Hello, fans around the world, and welcome to our coverage of the 2014 Olympic hockey trade deadline. With all national rosters due today, this is the last chance for countries to trade players before locking in their lineups.
Rumors have been swirling for months and the tension is high, so let’s go live to our studios as we count down to the deadline …
OK, we’ll stop right there. Clearly, the entire premise of this column is ridiculous. The Olympic hockey trade deadline doesn’t exist, and never could. It wouldn’t even make any sense. After all, player eligibility is determined based on a detailed set of rules; that’s the whole point. If stars suddenly started suiting up for different countries at major international tournaments, hockey fans wouldn’t stand for it.1 So clearly, there can be no such thing as an Olympic trade deadline.
But what if there were? You’re telling me that a trade deadline wouldn’t make an already fun tournament even more entertaining? You wouldn’t spend weeks obsessing over possible moves as the deadline approached, then call in sick when the actual day arrived? At the very least, it would give the various general managers something to do besides picking an all-star roster, immediately apologizing for it,2 and then having a camera isolated on them during every game while they look like they’re undergoing cardiac arrest.
So yes, this whole thing is silly, will probably result in the majority of the world’s population hating me, and risks turning into the worst HFBoards thread ever. But that doesn’t mean we can’t waste a few thousand words on it. Who’s with me? That’s what I thought. We now return you to our trade desk …
And we’re back. There could be plenty of action today, as the top contenders are all looking to load up. Russia is under tremendous pressure to win gold on home ice. Team Canada, as always, will either win gold or be considered a national disgrace. Team USA will be looking to build on a surprising 2010 run that saw them fall just one goal shy of winning it all, while Sweden’s aging core wants to get back to the top of the medal stand one last time. And what about the quasi-contenders? Will they try to compete with the big boys, or look to rebuild for the future?
Anything can happen. Remember, everyone is eligible to be moved, including players who didn’t make their country’s final roster. And based on the flurry of cell-phone checking that’s currently going on behind me, we appear to have our first deal of the day. Cue the overly elaborate, swooshing “breaking trade” graphic.
Canada trades forward Logan Couture to Finland for goaltender Kari Lehtonen
On the surface, this one-for-one swap makes a lot of sense. Canada’s roster is stacked as always, but goaltending is still an area of concern. Carey Price has looked fine and Roberto Luongo won gold four years ago, but the country has been falling behind the rest of the world in goal for years, and the days when it could bank on an obvious choice like Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy are long gone. With Luongo’s health status suddenly in question,3 it’s not surprising that it wants to add some depth at the position.
Lehtonen will give Canada a safety net and could push for the starter’s job if Price falters. He’s far from a sure thing, but he’s arguably the best goalie who’d be available.4 And Finland can certainly afford to move him, with Tuukka Rask already firmly established as the starter and Antti Niemi backing up.
The move doesn’t come cheap for Canada, as Couture has already emerged as an excellent two-way player at the age of 24. But for whatever reason, Team Canada didn’t seem high on him, and he was a somewhat surprising omission from the roster announced today.5 So he goes to Finland, which is considered a long shot to win a medal this year, where he can step in and play on its top six right now as well as in 2018 and beyond.
Canada has made an early blockbuster move. Which will be the next teams to pull the trigger? Apparently we won’t have to wait long to find out, because we have another deal coming across the wire.
Sweden trades goalie Robin Lehner to the Czech Republic for forward Radim Vrbata
While not quite a blockbuster, this trade sees the only two non-Canadian teams to win Olympic gold during the NHL era hook up on a deal that allows both to address an area of need.
The Czechs are icing an aging but talented team, but goaltending could be an issue unless Dominik Hasek makes a surprise comeback.6 There are only four Czech goalies in the NHL this year, and of those only Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec would be considered a full-time starter. Would you want to trust your Olympics to a guy whose save percentage ranks outside the NHL’s top 40? Not if you could pull off a trade, you wouldn’t.
So the Czechs make the deal for Lehner, a very good young goalie who wasn’t a threat to win Sweden’s starter’s job from Henrik Lundqvist in 2014 and may have been hard-pressed to do it in 2018. And even if Lundqvist fades, Sweden still has Jhonas Enroth around as a possible goalie of the future. It can afford to make this move.
In Vrbata, the Swedes add another offensive weapon to an already loaded squad. At the very least, he’s a nice insurance policy in case injured guys like Alex Steen, Loui Eriksson, and Johan Franzen can’t make it back for the Games.
We’re two deals in, and we’ve shifted the landscape significantly. Buckle up, because I’m told there’s another deal. Can you feel the excitement? Let’s go to the announcement!
Switzerland trades defenseman Severin Blindenbacher to Latvia for forward Koba Jass
Well, I guess it wouldn’t be a hockey trade deadline without at least one deal composed exclusively of players you’ve never heard of. We will now cut to the traditional shot of all our panel experts furiously Googling to figure out who these guys are.
Actually, this feels like as good a time as any to mention that Switzerland is holding at least a little bit of “feisty underdog” status heading into the Games. Remember, these guys beat Canada and the Czechs in 2006, and won silver at the 2013 World Championships. And they’ve got a legitimate NHL star in goal in Jonas Hiller. Switzerland would be an enormous long shot to actually win a medal in Sochi, but in any given game, it could absolutely shock one of the favorites.
But mainly, I just wanted to point out that there’s a player named Severin Blindenbacher. How do you feel about our little trade deadline piece, Severin? All in good fun, right? No? Not amused. OK, moving on.
So we’re three deals in, and so far it’s still Canada that has made the biggest improvement. But when will we hear from the Russians? Let’s go to the trade desk …
Russia trades forwards Nail Yakupov and Evgeny Kuznetsov to Slovakia for defenseman Zdeno Chara
Well, there’s our answer. Russia doesn’t just match Canada’s move, it raises the stakes significantly.
In a sense, this is a classic deal between a team that needs to win right now and one that’s looking toward the future. The Slovaks have always been sneaky good, and they played for a medal at the 2010 Games.7 But they’re a major long shot in this year’s tournament, partly because of injuries to guys like Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky, and partly because they’re stuck in a brutal Group A with the Russians and the Americans. So they make the tough choice and move Chara, who at 36 years old is probably in his final Games as an elite player, to a team that’s pushing all its chips into the middle of the table.
And make no mistake, the Russians need to win gold in 2014. Their best players are in their prime, they’re playing on home ice, and they’re coming off a disastrous 2010 tournament that saw them humiliated, 7-3, by Canada in the quarterfinals en route to a sixth-place finish. They’re absolutely loaded up front, with names like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Ilya Kovalchuk, and they’ll have the reigning Vezina winner on the roster.8 But if there’s a potential weak spot it’s the blue line, so they go out and land arguably the best defenseman in the world.
Chara doesn’t come cheap, as the Russians give up two of the best young wingers in hockey. Yakupov hasn’t emerged as an elite player yet and didn’t make the team in ’14, but he’s a unique talent who could be dominant by 2018. And while Washington Capitals prospect Kuznetsov hasn’t found his way to D.C. yet, he’s often referred to as the best young player outside the NHL. This will be a tough deal for Slovak fans to swallow, but it should pay off down the line.
The Russians haven’t emptied their prospect cupboard, but they’ve used their two best trade chips. It’s worth it, though; by adding one of the best defensemen in the world, they officially become the tournament favorite.
So Russia has made its move. How will the Canadians respond?
Canada trades forwards Evander Kane and Jeff Skinner to Slovakia for Marian Hossa
It’s hard not to feel like this may be a panic move for Canada, which is already loaded up front.9 While there’s value in snapping up the veteran Hossa before one of the other contenders can get him, the price was steep, costing Canada a 22-year-old 30-goal scorer and a 21-year-old former rookie of the year.
Oh well. What’s done is done, and while the forward ranks are crowded, Hossa is certainly good enough for a spot on one of Canada’s top three lines. In fact, you could just play him on an all-Blackhawks line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. And Canada hasn’t stripped itself of all its young forward talent, since it still has Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene. And Tyler Seguin and Nathan MacKinnon. And Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau and Connor McDavid and … well, you get the point.
Meanwhile, the Slovaks continue to load up for next time. They’ve now added four good young players who could form the core of the team for the next several Games. It’s painful, but sometimes you have to take a step back before you can move forward.
We’re nearing the deadline, and we still haven’t heard from the United States. Canada and Russia have already made moves. What does the U.S. have up its sleeve? I’m told we’re about to find out …
The United States trades defenseman John Carlson to Sweden for defensemen Johnny Oduya and Douglas Murray
Now here’s a deal that will get people talking! Specifically, the 90 percent of hockey fans who already assumed Carlson was Swedish and Oduya and Murray were from North America.10 Other than that, it probably won’t affect much, besides adding a little bit more experience to Team USA’s blue line at the expense of some future potential. By the way, we’re told that this deal is contingent on Murray passing both his team-mandated physical and spelling test.11
Come on, Team USA — this is a lateral move at best. Where’s the blockbuster?
The United States trades forward Alexander Galchenyuk, defenseman Justin Faulk, and goalie Ben Bishop to Slovenia for forward Anze Kopitar
It’s another case of a team with no hope of winning gold in 2014 making a move for down the road, as Slovenia gets three very good young players. Galchenyuk is one of the best prospects in the world,12 Faulk is a solid defenseman who was a surprise addition to the U.S. team announced last week, and Bishop emerged this year as a legitimate Sochi possibility. For a country with as few NHL-caliber players as Slovenia, getting three in one deal makes sense.
But it costs them the best player the country has ever produced by far in Kopitar, the Kings star who’ll now slot in as one of America’s top six forwards. And as an added bonus, Team USA can pair him with one of his regular L.A. linemates in Dustin Brown.
The U.S. gives up a lot in this deal but gets an elite player. And unlike some of the other stars who’ve been dealt today, Kopitar is young enough to be a factor in 2018 and beyond. Team USA still holds on to its best young players, like Cam Fowler and Seth Jones, and by moving Faulk it frees up a spot for Keith Yandle, who should never have been left off the team in the first place.
At the very least, this deal signals that the U.S. is going for it. The days of hockey taking a backseat in the American sports psyche are now a distant memory. Suck it, Canada! USA! USA! USA!
The United States trades Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, and Jonathan Quick to Canada for the rights to Andrew Wiggins
Or maybe not.