ESPN’s Craig Custance recently conducted a poll of several top NHL player agents to determine which teams are on their clients’ no-trade lists. Unsurprisingly, four of the top five were Canadian teams.
The Edmonton Oilers topped the list, followed by the Winnipeg Jets. The Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs tied for fourth/fifth. The only American team on the list was the Buffalo Sabres.
Several reasons were cited for why those Canadian teams topped the list. Lousy climate (especially in winter), city amenities and media pressure were significant factors. Perhaps the most significant factor was the losing records of those teams.
One agent told Custance “winning helps,” suggesting the Pittsburgh Penguins would be on this list if it had been drawn up ten years ago.
A losing record trumps concerns over weather, amenities and media spotlight. Over ten years ago, the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be on this list. Between 1998 to 2004, the Leafs were among the NHL’s better teams and had little difficulty attracting talent via trades or free agency. Notables like Ron Francis, Brian Leetch, Phil Housley, Owen Nolan, Glen Wesley and Bryan McCabe were traded to the Leafs.
It should be noted free agents also found Toronto a desirable destination during that period, as Curtis Joseph, Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk and Ed Belfour signed with the Leafs.
Granted, most of those players dealt to Toronto back then lacked no-trade clauses, and the Leafs didn’t have a pesky salary cap to worry about. The climate was just as cold in the winter and the media pressure just as intense back then, but the Leafs were a good team and an enticing trade and free agent destination.
Most NHL players will accept bad weather, market concerns and media pressure if they can play for a potential Stanley Cup contender, as Custance noted when he cited the Detroit Red Wings’ winning legacy. The same is undoubtedly true for the Penguins, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
The problem for Canadian teams over the past decade is most of them haven’t even come close to championship contention for a sustained period. Most haven’t even been legitimate playoff contenders.
Since 2005-06, the Maple Leafs and Oilers each made the playoffs only once. The Jets look promising this season, but since relocating from Atlanta in 2011 they’ve yet to reach the postseaon. Prior to this season, the Flames missed the playoffs five straight years. The Senators used to be a small-market powerhouse, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Since then, they’ve reached the playoffs only four times and are poised to finish outside this year’s postseason picture. Only the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens have been playoff contenders for sustained periods.
The Canadiens face the same issues as most of the Canadian teams atop the “no-trade” list. They must also deal with issues of language and high taxes. Thanks largely to rebuilding from within, however, the Canadiens have emerged this season as a dominant club. That could have a positive effect upon their efforts to bolster their lineup via trades or free agency.
The Canucks have to deal with their share of media pressure, though their climate is far more appealing. While their championship window has closed, they remain a playoff contender. They can still attract quality free agents, having signed Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata last summer. Like the Canadiens, they are also focused on rebuilding with promising youth, which could get them back into championship contention in a few years.
If the Oilers were perennial Stanley Cup contenders as they were in their 1980s heyday they would have little difficulty landing talent via trades or free agency. Improved performances by the Leafs, Jets and Senators could go a long way toward making them favorable trade destinations. As long as those teams continue to stumble along with no improvement in sight, the longer they’ll remain on the “no-trade” list.