Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The NHL trade deadline is a month away but for Mathieu Schneider, Keith Tkachuk, and Doug Weight, Deadline Day may feel a lot like Groundhog Day (the Bill Murray film). All of these players have been traded at least once before on Deadline Day and all of them have been prominently mentioned on lists of potential "rental players" likely to be traded on March 4.

Since 2005 and the new CBA, rental players have swelled the ranks of players traded on Deadline Day: in the past three seasons, 65 players (37 forwards, 23 defensemen, 5 goalies) classified as rental players have been traded on or near the trade deadline. Compare with this with a total of 28 rental players changing hands in the three seasons prior to the new CBA. And the vast majority of these players have ended up being purely "rentals" since only 10 of the 65 have later signed with the acquiring team,

As Schneider, Weight, and Tkachuk and about fifteen to twenty others (usually well-traveled veteran players) contemplate a month or more of living out of suitcases in a strange city, fans of the acquiring teams will be asking whether their team's new acquisition will help solidify an established playoff position or spark a playoff push.

The answer, based on recent history, is a qualified yes: out of 33 team seasons in the last three years, teams acquiring rental players succeeded in making the playoffs 30 times. Of course, almost every contending team makes some sort of deal around Deadline Day, some rental players have little or no impact on the fortunes of the acquiring team,and there's even some evidence that rental players underperform statistically (see below). Still, it's striking that out of 68 teams (over the past three years) that were at least nominally in contention (within 6 points of a playoff spot) on Deadline Day, only 15 of the 35 that did not acquire rental players actually made the playoffs. It may be that teams acquiring rental players are simply better positioned in the playoff race and therefore optimistic enough to trade some part of their future for a short term gain.

18 of the 33 teams acquiring rental players actually improved their winning percentage after a Deadline Day acquisition, a number that is made more impressive by the fact that most of these teams were already winning consistently prior to the trade deadline.

13 of the 33 teams improved their playoff position after acquiring a rental player, 3 of these teams were not in the top 8 in their conference at the trade deadline. 9 teams slipped with 3 acquiring teams falling out of the playoff race.

Of course,there is an "on the other hand": 15 of the 30 teams that made the playoffs survived the first round, no more and no less than would be expected.

After any big purchase, buyer's remorse may set in and fans of acquiring teams may wonder if they gave up too much of the team's future for a short term rental. A total of 49 players changed hands in transactions for rental players: 29 of those players have played in the NHL this season.

draft choices changed hands: the jury is still out on most of them, of course, but Milan Lucic, David Perron, Colton Gillies, Wayne Simmonds, Patrick Berglund, and Mikael Backlund were among the players selected by teams involved in trading rental players.

Statistics on how well the rental players performed for their new teams are underwhelming. Keep in mind, though, its a small sample (less than 25% of a full season), there are likely to be issues of adjustment to a new team and system, and players often saw their roles change on their new team.

Forwards PPG 35% increased +/- 62% increased TOI 38% increased
Defensemen PPG 26% increased +/- 52% increased TOI 57% increased

Among the goaltenders traded as rental players, the two starting goalies (Roloson, Huet) made major contributions and saw their statistics improve dramatically. The other three goalies saw little action.

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