Taylor Hall would have been the main attraction to the 2020 NHL trade deadline, but his trade came two months early when news broke on Monday that he had been traded to Arizona for two picks and three prospects (with Blake Speers’ contract going with Hall to Arizona). It is still possible that Hall gets moved at the deadline, as it would be the best thing for Arizona to do if they fall out of a playoff spot, however the likelihood is that this team can build upon their strong first third of the season, and potentially finish as the leaders in the Pacific Division. On New Jersey’s side of things, the Devils took the early “sure thing”, and didn’t try to hold the best asset and create a bidding war. Hindsight is 20/20, but we won’t ever know if perhaps a better deal would have materialized. On the flip side, Hall could have gotten injured in January and have been done for the season. This is the kind of trade that has a lot of opinions on both sides, and a lot of teaching points can be pulled from it to be applied in our fantasy leagues. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Selling off an unrestricted free-agent is never fun, as the return never seems to be good enough, and it generally means your team isn’t in a good position to win this year. However, selling off UFAs is usually the best way to recoup assets, so it can become a necessity. The timing can be hugely important, and can be affected by a number of factors. Selling off any player for a good return is most commonly affected by selling while the player is producing well (possibly above normal and sustainable rates). Ideally you would always be selling high and buying low, but that’s not always an option. Other ways to maximize your return involve understanding your league. Are there more sellers, and only a few realistic teams looking to buy? In that case, selling early before the market realizes it’s saturated would be the best call – while the opposite would be true for a buyer heavy market. Being aware of what fluctuations in value your assets will likely see can make a big impact on getting the most out of trades.
New Jersey had the best piece in a seller’s market, and on one hand, probably could have waited out on the price to go up, especially if they were willing to retain half of Hall’s salary (essentially making him a $3 million player). However, with Hall’s injury history, it is at least understandable as to why New Jersey pulled the trigger earlier rather than later.
Immediate Return vs Future Return
Lots of fantasy GMs struggle to evaluate who is more valuable to their team, the prospect just starting out in the NHL with the 50-point upside, the prospect two years into his development in the CHL with the 60-point upside, or the 75-point upside, draft-eligible player (in the form of a draft pick). For one, it depends on the league, as every year you should try to go through the offseason with the players/pieces that give you the best overall value in the upcoming season. Now value doesn’t mean the best point producer, as the stud rookie could be more valuable than the established winger who will outpoint him. Understanding how many slots you keep (limited keeper vs. a shallow or deep dynasty format) really changes what pieces you should be going after. Ideally, any time you have to sell off a UFA, you would get back a piece that could immediately help your team win next year, and is a sure thing to produce at some level. In deeper leagues, there is some flexibility, as there is usually time to sit on a higher upside prospect, or the need for immediate depth. However, in shallower leagues (with fewer keepers), if there is a minors system then only the high upside guys have any value, while if there is no minors system, no one wants a dead roster spot for multiple years, so only the guys closest to making an impact have real value. Personally, I usually lean towards the guys that will make an impact sooner as there are hits with a percentage of these players that usually outweighs the production vs wait time you get with the longer wait prospects.
As a relevant aside, there is always the consideration that you don’t want to be receiving pieces in return that won’t ever have an impact on your league. If the league isn’t solid with a good commissioner, don’t trade for the draft picks three seasons from now, as you (or the league) won’t be around long enough to get to enjoy it.
New Jersey went the route of futures, with Kevin Bahl looking the closest to making his debut, and that would be a cup of coffee at the end of the season at the earliest. They missed an opportunity to get a young roster piece, and likely set themselves back, without anything proven to show for it.
When buying or selling upcoming free agents, it is important to have a sense of what the future contract of the RFA or UFA will look like. On one hand, you can find bargains by assuming ahead of time that players like Jason Spezza will go from overpaid to underpaid, while on the other you can save yourself a lot of trouble by looking ahead to know that you don’t want any part of an $11 million contract for a defenceman like Drew Doughty. There is no perfect science to predicting future contracts, but you can keep your eyes on the few of us in the hockey community that try to predict deals (me among them – @alexdmaclean on Twitter), as well as checking in with the masses on social media, or the Dobber Forums. The more you look ahead at contracts, the better you get at feeling out where different situations are going, and the more often you can act on things ahead of time.
Most players that get to the unrestricted free agency end up being overpaid, so expecting that players going into their UFA years will end up with a higher salary than you want to stomach is usually the safe bet. Hall is currently projected for an AAV about $8 million on his next contract by my model, but it also doesn’t like his missed time last season, so expect it to be higher, as NHL GMs will look right past it. If he hits free agency, as has been hinted, then if he follows the money, he could be looking at money similar to Artemi Panarin, which is extremely difficult to stomach in a lot of league setups.
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