Ah, the No Trade Clause. An NHL GM’s worst nightmare and music to a player agent’s ears. It’s the biggest bargaining chip a player has above contract length, and serves as a way for a player to guarantee that he controls his own fate with the team he’s playing for. NTCs also handcuff GMs into having to retain (in most cases) bloated salaries and lengthy terms for either underachieving or disgruntled stars. It can get ugly. Anyone remember the Ottawa vs. Dany Heatly debacle? Heatly’s No Trade Clause nixed a deal to Edmonton. Because of his leverage with the NTC he found himself on the much more competitive San Jose Sharks, while Ottawa received far less return for his value (at the time at least).
Originally I was going to write about the ten players in the NHL I felt were legitimately worthy of having a NTC built into their contracts, but then something odd happened: many of those players I felt deserving of a NTC in fact don’t have one. As surprising as that was to discover, it also gave me reason to hope that perhaps GMs are wising up to the fact that a bad NTC can kill a club for many years. Still, there are ten players in the NHL who have given enough value to their teams to deserve a No Trade Clause. Here are the 5 that have one.
5 Alexander Ovechkin - Washington Capitals
This might be a controversial call to some. Since exploding into the league in 2005-06 by scoring 52 goals as a rookie and beating Sidney Crosby for the Calder Trophy, Ovechkin has dazzled hockey fans with some of the most famous goals of all time. He's scored over 60 goals in one season and over 50 three more times. He now has over 800 career NHL points. He’s also won THREE Hart Trophies as league MVP, the most recent being last year. But most importantly, he's put bodies back in the seats at the Verizon Center and made the Washington Capitals franchise relevant again. The hype he creates is massive. His enthusiasm for the game of hockey is infectious. The name Ovechkin is synonymous with the Capitals, but he's also failed to win when it mattered, both in the NHL and internationally. He even spent two years in a dramatic slump (at least for his standards). So much so that the TSN panel made mention that Ovie may not be a superstar anymore. But, like all great players, not long after being called out by TSN, he started scoring again; a lot, going on to win his third Hart Trophy in the process. There is no doubt Ovechkin has slightly less reason to be included on this list than the other four, but make no mistake…without the Great 8 there is no Washington Capitals.
4 Pavel Datsyuk - Detroit Red Wings
Like the other two forwards on this list, the Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk could arguably take the number one spot. Voted by his peers as the best and most skilled player in the NHL, Datsyuk is one half of the duo that has been the Wings' lifeline since Nicklas Lidström retired. Based on his three consecutive Selke Trophy wins, Datsyuk has proven that he is the best defensive forward in the league. In fact, Datsyuk is perhaps second only to Bob Gainey as the best defensive forward ever to play the game. Take into account how he absolutely dominates the entire length of the ice. He’s always two strides ahead of his opponents. His career points totals are at essentially a point per game, and he’s constantly winning and being nominated for the best defensive forward trophy. His defensive skill set is what allows him to be so offensively creative and dangerous. Never has there been a two-way forward in the league that plays to the consistently high standard that Datsyuk does. Furthermore, he's won two Stanley Cups and four Lady Byng trophies. The guy doesn’t even take penalties. 200 PIM in an entire career? And did I mention he was voted the best player in the NHL by his peers?
3 Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins
I know. I really do. Crosby should have been the obvious number one on this list, but my criteria is based as much on the individual as it is on the team. Crosby is by far the most skilled player currently on the ice, but he is also surrounded by a large cast of (some nearly equally) talented players. Evgeni Malkin could be the best player in the NHL if he wanted to be. Kris Letang is as good a puck-moving defenceman as any in the league. But still, the Pittsburgh Penguins ARE Sid the Kid’s team, and he’s lived up to all the hype that has surrounded him since his junior days. He’s won two Olympic Gold Medals, one as a captain. He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s won the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy. He’s well over a point per game player. So…why isn’t Crosby number one on this list? Two reasons: 1) If Crosby were traded tomorrow, the Penguins would still be a successful team, and 2) Crosby has had a serious injury history, specifically with concussions. He’s been healthy for well over a year now, but with head injuries it only takes one more shot to the head to end a career. Furthermore, while Crosby spent nearly a year recovering from injuries, the Penguins remained very much a cup contender in the East.
2 Duncan Keith - Chicago Blackhawks
Of the defencemen in the league with a NTC, is there anyone more deserving than Keith? If you had one guy to start a blue line with, I’d be willing to bet Keith would be your pick 95% of the time, and rightfully so. He skates like Scott Niedermayer, hits like Scott Stevens, and leads like Ray Bourque. He simply is the best all around defenceman in the NHL. His resume speaks for itself; two Olympic Gold Medals, two Stanley Cups and a Norris Trophy. He’s an alternate captain behind Toews. He’s also productive offensively with his point production over his career being slightly above 0.5 a game. Additionally, for as tough as he is, he takes very few penalties, so when he is needed to play against the opposing team's best players he’s available to do so.
Sure, the Blackhawks have a wealth of talent, but if you traded Toews and Keith you’re left with a good team, not a team that is a perennial cup contender. The fact is, Keith and Toews are largely responsible for the on-ice mini-dynasty Chicago has developed over the last four years.
1 Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks
Before I go any further, I just want to clarify. I’m not a Chicago Blackhawks fan. I respect the team, but I don’t cheer for them. So having Toews and now Keith as number one and two on this list is purely observational. But really, what more can be said about the Chicago Blackhawks captain? He’s the most integral piece to a very, very good puzzle in the Windy City. He became the third youngest captain in NHL history at age 20. A year later he captained Chicago to their first Stanley Cup in decades and won the Conn Smythe trophy in the process. In doing so he became the youngest player to become a member of the triple gold club. Oh, and then there was last season when he captained Chicago to their second Stanley Cup in four years. He’s won junior gold medals with Team Canada, and just captured his second Olympic Gold Medal as well. Some may argue, but he is the best two-way forward in the NHL. His career point totals are only slightly less than a point per game, 372pts in 408 games, but his +/- is a career +115. With all the talent surrounding Toews on the Blackhawks upfront, he IS the catalyst for the team’s success.
So, these are the five players that in my estimation have given back enough to their teams, whether it be with Cup wins, renewed attendance figures, or individual performances resulting in awards and points, to warrant having earned the privilege of having No Trade Clause.