Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Attack His Character and Then Trade Him

Most teams have one or two players who are well respected by the fans and it would be a public relations nightmare to trade. Fortunately, there is a time honored method to make this trade. You plant stories in the media about the players shortcomings. This is easy to do because the media and the NHL are deeply linked.

A specific example of this is Ottawa's recent trade of Marian Hossa that occurred yesterday. Hossa is one of the NHL's best players. He is just coming into his prime and will likely have his best years of his career in the immediate future. He has not ever had an MVP calibre season or led his team to the Stanley Cup yet, but his numbers over the last few years are as good or better than some players who have accomplished those feats. Trading a player that good is hard to do.

Thus, Ottawa had to cut him down a peg in their fan's eyes. Naturally, it needs to be pointed out that Hossa is European, and therefore cannot be as good as any Canadian boy. Since he is European, he must be a soft player, even though he used to be one of the better Sens in terms of "hits" when the NHL used to keep that stat. He has not (yet) led a team to the Stanley Cup. Worse, he had the balls to ask his team to pay him his fair value. This salary increase would force the Sens to have to break up their core, an intended consequence of the new CBA. All this is used to turn the Sens fans against Hossa. Here is an example of an article that makes this point (unfortunately, the Sun media makes you pay for older stories, so its not so easy to read it anymore).

Ottawa had to send him and useful (though overpaid) defenceman Greg de Vries to Atlanta for Dany Heatley. Heatley is a very good young player who has some important questions to answer as to whether he will live up to his potential after his car accident. The Atlanta media is playing the same game making the trade of Heatley palatable to their fans.

Hossa is a far safer choice as a franchise player then Heatley. Heatley has some far more serious demons to overcome to become a franchise player in the NHL. Hossa has already been Ottawa's best player for a few years including (so far unsuccessful) playoff runs. Hossa has scored at point per game rate the last two years the NHL played and was not far below that level the two years before that. Heatley exceeded point per game scoring rates in 2002/03, but has not been able to approach those levels since the car accident where he was injured and Dan Snyder died.

This move weakens Ottawa, but it does not seriously weaken them. Heatley still has the potential that maybe Ottawa will come out ahead, but the better bet is that Atlanta does. Nevertheless, Sens fans are quite happy with the deal. As an example of that, there is a poll on the TSN webpage asking whether you would rather build your team around Heatley or Hossa. TSN is a Canadian TV station and thus will have far more Canadian voters in the poll (and far more exposure to the Ottawa media campaign against Hossa). As of the time of writing this, 80% voted for Heatley, despite Hossa being the better choice.

The campaigns to attack the character of star players before trades work. Many of the fans believe these campaigns. Thats why teams do them. They are very dishonest and often burn bridges with otherwise good players who in this CBA of high player movement might one day down the road be a candidate to return to the franchise. These campaigns make the player's return less likely. Most of all, however, I object because they lead fans to turn off their brains and argue that their team improved by making that bad trade that got rid of their superstar. These fans do not see that they are being manipulated into that position.

I live in Atlanta, and basically the media was split on the trade, well more were upset than happy. I thought the Thrashers made an awesome trade. Hossa's outstanding and De Vries is pretty good, although he is over paid.
Me, I am a Flyers fan, born and raised in Philly. Go Flyers.
I think the Atlanta media is not as sophisticated as the Ottawa media. They have seen Heatley and know he is a good player. They may not know Hossa as well as media is a more traditional hockey city would.
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