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Wednesday, March 12
Updated: March 18, 11:02 AM ET
Trade deadline becoming a ridiculous charade

By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com

What a stupid system.

Of course, that can apply to any one of 312 standard operating procedures in the NHL.

It could be everything from having screaming disc jockey wannabes on wireless microphones in the stands during television timeouts, to more substantive issues involving the on-ice product and the financial structure of the game.

So we need to be more specific.

Bates Battaglia
Bates Battaglia, center, was traded from Carolina to Colorado, but he only has five goals in 70 games this season.
After a deadline day involving an unprecedented 24 trades, and an atmosphere reminiscent of a slimy car dealer with pinkie rings and wrist jewelry screaming that he'll give you the car if he can't beat anyone's deal, the NHL's balance of power might not have substantially shifted.

But this is starting to seem a little like English soccer -- where there is a first division of teams that really know what they're doing, and a third division of organizations that have neither ambition nor acumen and deserve red cards. (OK, we faked that, because too much knowledge about English soccer, is nothing to brag about. But you get the drift.)

What in the name of Bates Battaglia is going on, anyway?

It remains ridiculous that such significant and potentially impactful roster changes can be made so close to the beginning of the playoffs. And the disgrace is getting more pronounced every year, with certain bedraggled franchises -- we won't name names, Penguins -- operating as if they are discount department stores in danger of closing and have homeless vagrants standing on street corners wearing sandwichboard signs. ("EMERGENCY INVENTORY LIQUIDATION SALE! MUST RAISE CASH! MAKE OFFER!")

This time, the trading deadline deals -- and that includes not only the transactions near the deadline, but also earlier moves generated by the looming March 11 cutoff date -- generally transformed the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in this league into a Grand Canyon.

The Toronto Maple Leafs added Doug Gilmour, Phil Housley, Glen Wesley and Owen Nolan (who brings down the average age of the acquisitions to 51). It showed that Pat Quinn could get something done after several years of inertia.

The Detroit Red Wings landed Mathieu Schneider, who can be as significant an addition as Larry Murphy turned out to be. The Blues couldn't talk the Coyotes into forking over Sean Burke, and settled for the Islanders' Chris Osgood as their hope for quality playoff goaltending. It's fashionable to belittle Osgood for his inconsistency, but at least the guy is a big-time competitor and has hoisted the Cup overhead.

The only issue about the Dallas Stars' pickups of Stu Barnes and Lyle Odelein is whether it involves excessive tampering with team chemistry and also a concern that Bill Guerin indeed might not be back for the first round of the playoffs.

We also can say the same thing about the Maple Leafs' extensive moves. "Chemistry" is the fifth-most overused word in sports (behind "focus," "hopefully," "respect," and "athleticism"), but any time you significantly retool at the deadline, even with character veterans, there is risk.

The Philadelphia Flyers' acquisition of the big-ticket Tony Amonte represents both the desperate quest for someone who can actually put the puck in the net, and also a faith that Amonte can rediscover that touch if with a true playmaking center.

And how about those Ottawa Senators? Especially under the financial restraints John Muckler was facing, their toughening up -- with the addition of Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray -- and the addition of Bryan Smolinksi represented a remarkable stretch of maneuvering, even aided by Sens' willingness to restructure their contracts to free up cash. If another Battle of Ontario materializes in the postseason, it could be one wild, entertaining and certainly combative show.

Anson Carter could help the New York Rangers crack the playoff field -- gee, that's the least they could do for that payroll -- and so much for all this talk that the Edmonton Oilers were the model small-market organization. A model organization wouldn't just panic and all but surrender every time a raise is staring it in the face, as was the case with Carter, and find a hollow rationalization to trade a star.

Perhaps the Calgary Flames deserve credit for hanging on to Jarome Iginla, Chris Drury and even Craig Conroy, but it also might not have been for the wont of trying.

And speaking of questions, here's one about the Colorado Avalanche's moves. What does the dirtiest player in the league become when he walks into your dressing room? Cleansed. The Avalanche officially pronounced Bryan Marchment -- coach Tony Granato's recent teammate -- as being "gritty" after his acquisition from the San Jose Sharks, and Colorado now has little or no right to complain about the pounding Peter Forsberg takes.

The addition of Darius Kasparaitis at the deadline a year ago raised some of the same concerns, specifically whether the addition of that kind of player actually would encourage rather than discourage the runs at Forsberg and Joe Sakic, but Kasparaitis actually toned down his act and didn't make those ridiculous runs for the sake of a big hit.

Now, though, Marchment's track record involves a different sort of recklessness and irresponsibility. While it's not ridiculous to advance the theory that anyone other teams hate to play against is a good playoff addition, Marchment's addition is a huge risk for Colorado.

It's another black eye for the league when one team that came within one victory of making the Western Conference finals a year ago (San Jose), and another that reached the Stanley Cup finals (Carolina), now are reduced to holding garage sales.

And then the trade for Battaglia from Carolina on deadline day was downright mystifying. Battaglia's play this season for the Hurricanes has been more MIA than BBC. Yes, the Avalanche added that "grit," but Battaglia isn't the genuine power forward Colorado was seeking. Absolutely, that just scratches the surface of looking at the deadline (or near-deadline) deals.

The Vancouver Canucks, though, did nothing significant (nothing personal, Brad May), and now Brian Burke will try to portray it as a statement of faith in his current roster and a belief that change for the sake of change and adding veterans with high mileage and salaries isn't necessarily the only way to go. Know what? Amid this flurry, that might even be right.

Finally, it's another black eye for the league when one team that came within one victory of making the Western Conference finals a year ago (San Jose), and another that reached the Stanley Cup finals (Carolina), now are reduced to holding garage sales.

No, that wasn't only representative of financial retrenchment, but also of justified dissatisfaction with the showing this season, but the reasons aren't as significant as the pathetic "anybody-want-these-guys?" atmosphere -- an atmosphere made far more possible by the timing of the trading deadline.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and, in fact, former league official Burke are on record that the deadline needs to be earlier in the season, and that needs to be addressed in the next CBA ... along with everything else.

If this continues, and is stretched to its logical extension, the league might as well just codify this ridiculousness. On March 15, every team -- whether officially out of the playoff chase or not -- that wants to "opt in" can throw all its players into a dispersal draft. The remaining teams have the right to draft, with sliding payments (of cash and draft choices, depending on the round) going to the team that loses a player.

That's no more stupid than the way it works now.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, Simon and Schuster's "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," is available nationwide.

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