What it's like to be a GM on NHL trade deadline day

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Penguins GM Jim Rutherford (left), Flames GM Brad Treliving (centre) and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell (right)... (AP/CP Photos)
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford (left), Flames GM Brad Treliving (centre) and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell (right)... (AP/CP Photos)

For fans, media and league executives alike, the NHL’s trade deadline is one of the most anticipated days on the calendar.

Leading up to this year’s trade deadline, which arrives at 3:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 1, Yahoo Sports picked the brains of three men well acquainted with the highs and lows of this important day.

Describing, in their own words, what it’s like to be a general manager on trade deadline day are Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, a 20-year executive with two Stanley Cup championships on his resume, Brad Treliving, who is in his third season as general manager of the Calgary Flames, and Don Waddell, team President of the Carolina Hurricanes and former GM of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Treliving: The trade deadline is like five lanes merging into one. It becomes busy and hectic, so if you’ve clearly identified what you’re trying to do, and get your work done ahead of time, that can eliminate you from all the congestion.

Rutherford: The urgency at the trade deadline is much greater than at any other time of the season, especially if you are trying to improve your team for a playoff run. As each hour passes, everything seems to happen much quicker; and then once the deadline comes to an end, it brings closure and you return to your normal day to day.

Waddell: I think it goes with a lot of walks in our life: when you’re faced with a deadline you’re forced to make a decision. Deadlines lend themselves to last-minute decisions and action, the urgency is there and it drives you. You can’t make that deal at 3:05. You had better have it done before 3:00.

Treliving: The trade deadline is unique. With each hour that goes by there’s an excitement level building, but you have to block all of that out and be methodical in your approach and then have a sense of when it’s the right time to strike.

Take My Advice

Flames GM Brad Treliving and president Brian Burke. (Larry MacDougal/CP)
Flames GM Brad Treliving and president Brian Burke. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

Rutherford: There’s different reasons why you makes trades, so you have to be completely comfortable with what you are doing. However, even when you make that decision, only time will tell whether it’s the right one or not.

Waddell: I told (Hurricanes GM) Ron Francis that you have to believe in what you are doing because you’re the one who’s going to have to live with it and answer the questions from the media and the owner.

Treliving: I’ve had the good fortune of working with Brian Burke and Don Maloney, two long-time managers who’ve gone through a lot of trade deadlines. Probably their No. 1 piece of advice is to make sure you have a sense of what the market is. Know what the other team’s needs are, as well as your own, and then be prepared to be the one to stand up and do what you believe is best for your team. You do that in concert with trusting your people within your organization, the scouts and staff.

Waddell: I can remember Jack Ferreira, my assistant GM in Atlanta, telling me 45 minutes before the deadline one year that we can give you all the information for you to make the best decision, but at 3:00 when the deadline passes and all the scouts leave town, you’re the one that is left holding the bag with what you just did, so you have to be comfortable with it.

It Does Get Emotional

The trade deadline is an emotional time for players and GMs. (John Bazemore/AP)
The trade deadline is an emotional time for players and GMs. (John Bazemore/AP)

Treliving: We’re not in the fantasy hockey business. We’re dealing with real people, real families, and you have to recognize that. I am very cognizant that there’s a human element to this. People’s lives are being turned upside down with the decisions you make.

Rutherford: I probably start a month out (before the deadline) with my emotions, especially knowing that you may make a deal that’s not a draft pick or an unknown player that you are trading out of the organization. It may be for a present player, someone you know, and know their family. You understand that person’s life is being changed. You’re always hoping that the trade works for the player, too.

Waddell: The trade deadline is a very, very emotional day. It’s a hard day. I always say that free agency on July 1 is a dangerous day, you can get yourself in big trouble, but it’s not the pressure of deadline day. That was always the toughest day for me as general manager.

The Intangibles

Being a GM in a Canadian market adds extra pressure on trade deadline day. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Being a GM in a Canadian market adds extra pressure on trade deadline day. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Treliving: The scrutiny and pressure of working in a Canadian market is higher, no question, especially at the trade deadline. It’s part of the juice of being in a market like (Calgary) where hockey matters, and you recognize and embrace that passion. What that passion means is that what you are doing is meaningful, and that’s what makes the following and passion that is alive in the Canadian markets so great.

Rutherford: The difference now compared to two decades ago when I started out as a GM is dealing with the salary cap. It makes it a lot more complex to make the kind of deals you really want to make.

The Bottom Line

Jim Rutherford’s Penguins pose with the Stanley Cup. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AP)
Jim Rutherford’s Penguins pose with the Stanley Cup. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AP)

Waddell: Everyone is doing what they think is best for their organization today and tomorrow. At the deadline, more people are watching and paying attention, but at the end of the day you can’t make a trade on what your fans want. You have to make a trade on what makes your organization better.

Treliving: Ultimately, you are trying to help your team. That’s all that matters in the end. You have to trust your instincts, and trust the people that work with you.

Rutherford: There’s always a deal to be made between teams. You just need to be creative enough to make the deal.

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