If you don’t know who former NHL centre Butch Goring is, you probably should. After all, he’s the reason why, in large part, an article like this exists in the first place. In March 1980, the New York Islanders acquired him from the LA Kings for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis, hoping he would be the final piece to propel them into championship contention. After scoring 11 points in his 12 regular season games, he then scored 19 points in 21 playoff games, playing a crucial part in leading the Islanders to their first of four consecutive Stanley Cup victories. While late season trades had been a part of the game before then, Goring’s example led NHL teams to become more vigorous in their deadline trading, in the hopes that, like the Islanders, they could make a trade that would spark their team and lead them to a championship that year.
The phenomenon of the trade deadline thus began to seep into the sports consciousness as a last hope for fans to see their teams improve before the final push towards the end of the season or the playoffs. The trend, however, was not contained to hockey, and then spread to other sports as well. While North American media attention is often most attentive to the NHL trade deadline (in Canada, both TSN and Sportsnet, the two major sports networks, host day-long coverage of the proceedings), those of other sports have risen in prominence as well. To find out which of the major sports leagues sees the most spending on trade deadline day, we’re going to compare the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB and the EPL (English Premier League – soccer) to find out.
5. NFL – October 29, 2013: $529,411 Exchanged
The NFL may have the highest average team value of any league, and is among the leaders in total salaries, but NFL GMs simply haven’t caught the trade deadline fever that has spread to most other sports. In the NFL, teams make the vast majority of their deals during the off-season, especially around or during the NFL Draft (usually in late April, but May 8-10 this year). Last year, there was only one trade, with one player and two draft picks moved.
While there is no clear reason why the NFL has so few mid-season trades, there are two likely reasons: the first is that without guaranteed contracts, simply cutting one player and signing another is often easier than making a trade as there are rarely any salary cap ramifications to such an act. The second is that each team’s offensive and defensive plays can be so complex that to learn them mid-season without the benefit of training camp and pre-season is nearly impossible. As a result, there is no sign that the trend of quiet NFL trade deadlines will change anytime soon, leaving the league an anomaly among major sports leagues.
4. MLB – July 31, 2013: $10,302,000 Exchanged
While baseball has fully embraced the late-season trade, Major League Baseball has done everything they can to complicate the process. Unlike in football, basketball and hockey, MLB teams are not allowed to trade draft picks. Instead, GMs are forced to trade minor league players or find complicated loopholes to deal specialized types of draft picks. The MLB trade deadline also isn’t exactly a firm deadline. The July 31 date is a non-waiver deadline for regular trades. After that, until August 31, teams may still make trades, but must place the player about to be traded on waivers first, allowing any of the thirty teams to claim them for the full value of their contract. Last year, there were four trades with six players, two minor league players, two draft slots and an International Signing Bonus Slot moved.
The waiver trade period is a fruitful one: in August 2013, there were eleven trades made, involving thirteen players whose contracts totaled $61.26 million, as well as a selection of minor league players, cash considerations and players to be named later (which are usually low to mid-level minor league players). The Texas Rangers’ trade on August 9, 2013 to acquire Alex Rios and his $12.5 million dollar salary that year, eclipsed the size of the total annual salaries dealt on the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Since baseball has become a sport that has embraced the late trade, it should streamline the trade process to have just one deadline, in order to have fans more excited and less confused about the entire process. If the July 31 deals were combined with the August deals, the MLB would have finished first on the list, and been able to create a one day media-friendly trade extravaganza to capture nationwide attention.
3. NBA – February 21, 2013: $47,188,285 Exchanged
While the NBA trade deadline last year did not see any marquee players move, the sheer volume of player movement, combined with the mid-size contracts many of those players possessed, vaulted the NBA to third on this list. With more multi-player trades (including a six-player deal between the Magic and the Bucks) than most of its sporting competitors, the NBA still brings excitement and the potential for major roster shake-ups that could change the course of a team’s season. Last year, there were ten trades which saw twenty-one players, five draft picks, four cash considerations and two D-League or non-NBA roster players on the move.
While basketball remains a sport dominated by its superstars in ways that other sports cannot match, the difference between a great team and a championship team remains the supporting cast around them. To use the example of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, teams are not looking to acquire their versions of Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen, but their Steve Kerr or John Paxson; role players who can step up when needed and complement the team’s stars in the playoffs. As a result, the basketball trade deadline remains an important date for NBA fans, even if it lacks the appeal of the superstar names that create most of the league’s headlines.
2. NHL – April 3, 2013: $53,030,000 Exchanged
The NHL trade deadline has it all: lots of trades, lots of players and even a couple of marquee names, in last year’s case Marian Gaborik ($7.5M) being moved from the New York Rangers to Columbus, and Jason Pominville ($5.5M) getting shipped from Buffalo to Minnesota. The thing that separates the NHL trade deadline from others is that the focus is not only on good teams trying to improve themselves, but also on poor teams making trades to stock up draft picks in the hopes of improving for the future (as seen through the 14 draft picks exchanged on deadline day last year). Last year, there were seventeen trades and twenty-three players, six minor leaguers, fourteen draft picks and two future considerations moving teams.
As a result, the NHL trade deadline brings excitement to all fans, irrespective of their allegiances. Even as recently as 2012, the LA Kings’ acquisition of Jeff Carter (four days before the deadline) was instrumental in igniting their previously stalling offense and leading them to a Stanley Cup victory. As long as the hope of building to something better remains, either in the short or long term, NHL GMs will continue to buy into the idea that their team is only one or two moves away from that success and make trade deadline day a pivotal part of their roster construction.
1. EPL – January 31, 2014: $67,660,000
The English Premier League was number one on this list, dominating not only its North American sporting counterparts but also its fellow soccer leagues. Their next closest competitor in the sport, the French Ligue 1, totaled less than half of the Premier League’s January spending totals. Soccer’s system, however, is quite different from North American sports. Trades in soccer (or football to those outside of North America) are extremely rare, as the sport’s player transactions revolve around transfers, or the payment of a fee by one team to another in exchange for their player. This year, there were seventeen transfers (seven for undisclosed amounts), plus thirty-seven loan deals as well.
The EPL January transfer window is truly an event, with wall-to-wall coverage in British television and print media, including wave upon wave of infamous tabloid rumors about which players will be going to which team (very few of which are ever accurate). Some transfers are truly staggering in size (Manchester United paid Chelsea the equivalent of nearly $61 million dollars for midfielder Juan Mata on January 25, six days before the deadline, and on January 31, the transfers of Kurt Zouma from French club St. Etienne to Chelsea and of Kostas Mitroglou from Greek powerhouse Olympiakos to Fulham were around $20 million each) though most on deadline day ranged from $1.5-$5 million.
Without a draft system to provide draft picks to trade, soccer has established a loan system where clubs can pay a player’s full contract and acquire his services for part or all of a season for no transfer or trade cost. The loan system is typically used to give young players experience at a higher level than their current club can offer them. It also allows more experienced players to move on to another team and save their former club the cost of paying their salary, or act as an intermediary step before selling the player to the new team during the summer.
Though different from its North American equivalents, the English Premier League is second to none in providing 24 hours of drama, as fans eagerly await the latest news on player moves, in the hope that the newest player will be the one who leads their team to glory.
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