The NHL season has a number of checkpoints every. I would like to think that they are creations of the Fan Engagement Department (not an actual department) to help drum up publicity and headlines every year. Some of the events have a significant effect on the league, and more or less drive the league and each of its teams in various directions (the Entry Draft and Free Agency). While others seem to be creations to help along the hockey media (The Trade Deadline and the Holiday Roster Freeze). For those of us that follow hockey on a day to day basis, the “rumours” that begin shortly thereafter American Thanksgiving are as much a hallmark of the Christmas Season as Christmas Carols being played in department stores on November 1 (if you live in Canada). The Holiday Roster Freeze has always struck me as a fascinating anomaly in during the NHL season.
Holiday roster freeze in effect:
For all players on an NHL active roster, injured reserve, or with non-roster and injured non-roster status as of midnight (local time) Dec. 19, a roster freeze shall apply through midnight (local time) Dec. 27, with respect to waivers, trades and loans, subject to the exceptions provided for in CBA Article 16.5.
This is the legalese version of the Holiday Roster Freeze. From the perspective of worker’s rights, it is a reasonable and fair practice. The optics of it would have me believe that the NHL aren’t just a heartless corporation. They care about their employees as people and treat them as such. This way, the players don’t have to be concerned about being uprooted during the holiday season, and they can just go about their business without a care in the world. They can travel home, eat some turkey, open some presents, drink some egg nog and go back to their respective teams a day after Christmas. It is a nice gesture, but I do think there is more to it than just being a nice employer.
For anyone that has been following the tire fire that is the Edmonton Oiler’s this year (and last year, and the year before, etc.) know that the rumours are swirling around the organization. At first it was the usual Jordan Eberle rumours. Then David Perron. Then everyone but Taylor Hall. Now only Taylor Hall. I can only imagine how exciting it must be to go in to work every day for that organization right now. The fact that Dallas Eakins was fired recently as well only adds to my speculation that this is a broken team, with a lot of “fixes” likely happening this upcoming summer. I’m sure that the players are more than aware of who is doing what, and who is on the chopping block. When things go as sour as they have in Edmonton, you can’t help but think that most of the players aren’t too happy. After all, most of these guys have probably been on a lot of winning teams throughout their hockey careers. Regardless of the usual argument of, “they are millionaires, how miserable could they really be?”, you can’t help but feel for these guys a little bit. I also don’t think that a Roster Freeze of any capacity is going to help and mend either. Although, getting away from the situation likely helps clear a coaches and players head. I also don’t think it would be outside of a GMs capacity to put a few players names into the old rumour mill.
It really does make perfect sense to me. What is the actual purpose of Trade Rumours? I’m sure it doesn’t really help with a players confidence. On the other hand, I’m sure it does help in motivating some players, although it really does take the right kind of player for there to be a positive effect. So why not throw a players name like Taylor Hall into the rumours. If a GM is looking for a response, what a great way to see a player deal with adversity. As well, if you are trying to move a player that isn’t performing, and you want him to perform, this probably serves the same purpose. Why would a GM ever want to take on someone’s garbage? So in one capacity, I believe the Holiday Roster Freeze can serve as an effective tool for GMs.
I also feel that the Roster Freeze really is a bit of “good practice” by the league for the media outlets. First of all, it allows for the pundits and talking heads to fill up the airways with speculation. While there are plenty of compelling storylines at this time of year, there really is nothing quite like a little bit of human drama to make things more interesting. While Brian Burke was the GM of the Maple Leafs, it became a yearly headline that he likes to impose his own Holiday Trade Freeze. It was usually earlier by about 2 weeks. His reason was that he wanted his players to play “with as little stress as possible”. To me, by doing this in the first place, Burke was bringing attention to the fact that trades could very well happen at any time, and that they have an effect on the players, who are also in fact, humans. By engaging in this conversation though, is what would usually kick start trade discussions. Now, it is fairly commonplace to hear a lot about the Holiday Roster Freeze. The thing is, I can’t remember the last time a significant trade that happened in the lead up to the Christmas Holidays. Which leads me to believe that this roster freeze has as much to do with feeding the media machine as it does allowing the players to relax over the holidays. If a player is getting traded, he likely already knows it. Considering the nature of the profession, I’m sure discovering that you may have to live out of a hotel in another city for a little while isn’t that bitter of a pill to swallow. Which leads me to my conclusion in regards to the Holiday Trade Freeze. It is Much Ado About Nothing.