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Leadership Lessons from NHL Trade Deadline Day

March 1, 2017

jarome-iginla-avalancheToday is NHL Trade Deadline Day – the last day for NHL teams to make any player moves involving another franchise until the NHL playoffs are complete.

As General Manager’s weigh their options and consider potential moves, they are required to assess at least three areas. Each of these balcony perspectives are necessary in all kinds of organizations unrelated to sports. A General Manager must honestly assess…

Where the team is at…

Some teams already know they are not going to be in the playoffs when they begin in just over a month’s time. They may not mathematically be eliminated, but it is clear they are not in the race. So they are “sellers.” They may choose to trade current players for future assets. It may be trading a veteran player for a draft pick(s) or for a young prospect who they believe will help them in the future.

The situation is even more challenging for those general managers who believe their team is closing to making a good run for the Stanley Cup. They may have just one or two pieces to add to the puzzle of their team, but of course it has to be the right pieces.

Yet other general managers know their team could make the playoffs, although that is not guaranteed. Yet any success in the playoffs would be a surprise, and so they do not want to give up assets that are building blocks to a championship team in the future. So they do not make moves, and the fans (and maybe the team) are disappointed, even disgruntled.

The financial situation…

General Managers not only have to assess their team for its current chances, they also need to take into account other factors such as finances, especially in a salary cap era. They may want to acquire the veteran player, a missing piece of a potential championship puzzle, but in order to do so, they may need to trade away a parallel player, or even slightly stronger player, in order to make the financial situations work.

In addition to team financial matters, the GM also needs to work with individual player contract situations, specifically those who will be free agents after the playoffs. It may be easier if your team is clearly out of the playoffs to sent a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent to another team for a future asset, but if you are in the middle or top end group, do you risk losing a free agent after the playoffs and getting nothing in return, believing you are going to have success in the playoffs, or do you sell your rent-a-player for a longer-term asset, that could also help you in a playoff run.

The team culture…

Is your team ready to win? If not, what skills and personality are needed to push them over the edge? And what is the price to get that grit or leadership or finesse? Can the character player, the person that will fit with your team’s culture be a rental player and only cost you a future draft pick or will it cost you a current roster player? If the latter, what will that deletion mean to the team culture?

As a leader, you may not be faced with a specific day where you must complete your assessments before the playoffs. But do you regularly assess these factors on your team?

One more challenge: You may assess all of the following accurately and have an asset you are ready to move, but since the other GMs also know your selling position, they do not make you any good offers. They want you to give the asset away. Do you have the courage to hold on to the asset and the risk associated?

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