Grand Theft Roto: The ethics of homerism

The Dustin Byfuglien debate rages on. Before we get into this week's Grand Theft Roto, I must address the "Buff-Lin" controversy. To quickly bring you up to speed, I bucked the trend in my column, Open Ice, last week when it came to recommending Byfuglien as anything more than a one-game wonder. I believe he is a mildly-talented offensive defenseman who will require a better role on his team to develop into a useful fantasy player. That was before the news broke over the weekend about his regular assignment as a forward on one of the Blackhawks' scoring lines. My colleague Tim Kavanagh takes a closer look at the situation in his Icing It Down column this week.

Now, naturally, I give two thumbs up to any defenseman who has converted over to forward. I won't support owning Byfuglien if he shifts back to defense, but so long as he has drawn a forward assignment, I am all in.

Shifting back to trade talk, I wanted to take this week as an opportunity to talk about ethics and fan affiliation. We have a situation in my 14-team head-to-head league involving an owner trying to acquire players from his favorite NHL team, and some other owners only too happy to oblige, for a price.

I want to talk about both sides of the debate, and about how you can use such knowledge to trade and to be a better commissioner in your own league.

Casing the Joint

The owner in question in my league has posted on the message board his desire to trade "just about any player on my team for Habs." This particular owner happens to be hovering near the bottom of the standings (just behind me … sigh), but still has plenty of desirable options on his squad. Shortly after posting the message, a trade was consummated with a team in the top-tier of the standings: Patrice Brisebois for Ron Hainsey. Several other owners in the league have expressed a desire for this trade to be nixed.

There are several issues involved in this situation:

  1. The Montreal fan's right to manage his team. Surely, as an owner in any fantasy league it's entirely up to you which players end up on your squad. Obviously, your intentions should be winning the league, but just how that can be done is your own opinion (as jaded as that might be). The Habs fan may very well believe the Canadiens are going to go on a huge roll and help propel him to the top of the standings.

  2. What are his intentions?: Does the owner really believe that a player like Brisebois is all of a sudden going to be a viable No. 2 defenseman (as Hainsey has been this season)? Or is this an issue of the owner, accepting his position as a league bottom-dweller, would just like to have his favorite players on his team? This is a very competitive league and there really is no place for anyone who doesn't want to compete to the very end. However, considering the owner is an out-of-the-closet Habs fan, he could very well believe that Brisebois gives him a better chance of winning than Hainsey does. Who am I to tell him different? I don't think he's right, but who knows? While his intentions are suspect, he has the right to his opinion.

  3. Was this an open market trade?: That is the main complaint I , as commissioner, have received about this deal. Other owners feel they would have been more than happy to make an offer on Hainsey to get him on their team, but feel that without a Montreal player, they didn't have the chance. It's a fair complaint as it certainly appears as though any offer on Hainsey that did not include a Canadien would not get much consideration. There are no rules in our league that require open-market bidding before a trade goes through. The onus is on individual owners to make their own offers and talk amongst themselves. It's not anyone's place to start saying "Well, I would have offered more. He should have traded Hainsey to me," after the trade has been accepted. No one knows for sure if another offer for Hainsey -- that did not include a Montreal Canadien -- would have been enough. We can suspect that it would not have been, but we don't know.

  4. The owners' place in the standings: This is the one point that really makes me lean towards preventing this trade. I have very serious doubts as to whether the Habs fan would be dealing away a No. 2 defenseman for a waiver-wire player if he were in second place -- as opposed to second-last. Maybe he would have, but I just can't imagine that happening. It certainly appears as though the owner has all but given up on making a run at the title and now wants to watch his favorite players toil for his fantasy team.

I think these type of deals should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. It sure looks like a dump trade for a player the Canadiens fan finds more amusing to own, but I can't pass judgment on his intentions. However, in fairness to the rest of the league, I can't just say any trade like this is fair and then have the same owner trade away Evgeni Malkin for Steve Begin. So, as commissioner, I ruled the trade acceptable because Hainsey is not secure in his role as Columbus' power-play quarterback, especially with the return of Duvie Westcott. Although I doubt Brisebois will match Hainsey's value, I cannot guarantee that he won't.

Pulling the Job

Yes, this is still a trade strategy article. Now that we've looked at some of the fantasy ethics involved in this kind of deal, here are some tips on how to pull off one of these trades. Let's face it, pulling on another owner's personal preferences to get an advantage in a trade is a legitimate tool of the trade.

  • Try to keep it subtle if you happen to know where the owner's affiliation lies. If you know you are dealing with an Ottawa Senators fan, don't make Wade Redden part of your original offer. Bring him in as a counter-offer in trade negotiations to try to make it appear as though you aren't using the favoritism angle.

  • Don't bother with the role players. A fantasy owner willing to trade for Patrice Brisebois is rare. Normally, a Montreal fan's interest would be piqued by Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu or Cristobal Huet. You won't likely find there is much advantage in trying to entice a Habs fan with Kyle Chipchura, so keep your offers to the fan-favorites from the squad that your trading partner favors.

  • Another angle to take would be to post that a certain player is available to the league as a whole and hope to lure your target that way. If you know there is a hardcore Leafs fan in your league, post that you are looking for a winger and that Mats Sundin is available. Let him come to you.

  • If you don't know the affiliation of the other owners in your league, look for hints in their team's name, or whether they took more than one player from the same club much earlier in the draft than they should have.

    Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.