Vulgar Opinions: People Get Trades Wrong
The prevailing thought, so far as I can tell anyway, seems to be that trading is about winning and losing, and that to do the former, you need to get the best result. You need to either end up with better players, better draft picks, or the guy you dealt needs to break and/or become a disaster. (Hello Derek Roy.) This mentality prevents people from accurately assessing NHL trades. Sure a lot of times, it ends up that one GM gets fleeced, but that’s not why these GMs make these trades.
It’s all about asset management. Good GMs ask themselves, “what do I have in surplus, and what is scarce?” Then they go out and find a team that has a complementary situation. If you have eleventy million good wingers and no good centers, you’re not looking to rob another GM blind, you’re looking to even up those columns a little. That’s why there are a lot of trades that wind up looking pretty good for both teams (Hodgson – Kassian anyone?). When this happens, people generally get confused.
It makes trading a guy like Vanek seem a little stupid. After all, you’re trading something that is scarce (elite goal scoring) for things that you have significantly more of (good-not-great players, draft picks, and prospects. And because you’re funneling so much money into scouting and development, you hope that the latter two are going to be a surplus every year.) All you end up doing is trading the pieces you have for the pieces you’re missing and winding up in the same boat.
Has any team ever traded a key piece and won the cup in a short span because of it? That last bit is important because many will point to the Boston Bruins and their dealings of Joe Thornton (for three players that weren’t on Boston’s cup winning team) and Phil Kessel. Kessel did give the Bruins Tyler Seguin, but he was only a minor factor on the team that won the cup, logging 3 goals and 4 assists in 13 games during that playoff campaign. The other two picks Boston received (Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton) have yet to develop into dependable NHL players.
Trades like Kassian for Hodgson make more sense in developing a winner quickly given that you’ve got a pretty talented core (Miller, Pominville, Vanek) and that such trades fast-forward you through the prospect stage straight into having a productive NHL player. Getting rid of a guy like Vanek is at best a lateral move, and at worst almost a complete restart with the new pieces you acquire. That is not likely to be a 1-3 year Stanley Cup recipe. The best prospect of the last couple decades (at least) took three years to make the cup, and four years to win it, and that was with (arguably) the second best prospect in that span also on his team. (I am speaking of course of the Penguins and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.) Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos (who has played on a team with similar issues to the Sabres) have not come particularly close.
Trades can fill holes, but they don’t win you a cup by themselves. You do that with your scouting and development, and the Sabres are pushing hard to make those as strong as they can possibly be. With more prospects turning into quality NHL players, the Sabres will have surpluses, and those will be the trades to make.