NHL Trade Rumors: Separating Love And Logic In Hockey

Bruce Bennett

Why you need to think with your brain ... sometimes.

"Sometimes sports is a business."

You hear this phrase all the time. Sometimes it's during contract negotiations. Sometimes it's when a player is traded. Sometimes it's when a player walks away from his lifelong team or asks for a trade. Maybe it's said when an owner moves a team. Maybe it's said when a general manager fires a coach. Or when a general manager himself is fired.

Regardless of the terms, the phrase always means the same thing if you boil it down: Something happened that your heart can't make sense of, so someone removing emotions from an equation is trying to help you understand it. And this is where the fork in the road when it comes to your brain and your heart takes a dramatic turn.

Most of the time we intertwine sports with our hearts. We have to. If you bring your brain into the conversation sports doesn't make sense. Do you know what hockey is? Men skating on ice with sticks trying to put a piece of vulcanized rubber into the back of a pre-determined space. Every time one team puts the rubber into the "net" that team gets a point. The team with the most points at the end of 60 minutes wins the game. In the event of a tie, the two teams play five more minutes, with the first team to "score" (when the rubber enters the "net) during this extra time wins automatically. If no team scores another extra session occurs in a "best of three, one-on-one" format to pick a winner.

That's how non-sports fans think about sports. It's dumb to them.

If you're a hockey fan? It's way different. Put it to you this way: picture being at a Game 7 in overtime during the Stanley Cup Finals. Then picture yourself sitting next to someone who doesn't care about hockey at all. Imagine the different reactions to all the different things that happen on the ice. That's the difference. One thinking with their brain, the other with their heart.

It's why wins feel so good and losses feel so bad.

So we, as fans, invest with our hearts. I'm a lot like all of you; my fandom of the New York Rangers was handed down to me by my father, and it was handed down to him by his uncle and it was handed down to him by, well, he was actually around from damn close to the beginning so that may have been where it started. I fully plan on handing my fandom down to my children and I hope they do the same. That's why this means so much to us.

I root for the Rangers because my Father did. Speaking for myself, it's one of the first of many bonds we had. Sports has just always been there. It's probably the same for a lot of you. And when you're dealing with a team that has the tradition and stability the Rangers have (the team has been around longer than most have been alive, which isn't possible for most fanbases) it's like that for everyone. Until the renovations me and Dad sat in the same seats for my entire life. Now we're sitting in new seats that presumably will last through for my children. Another layer gets added on, another bond forms and the love for the game grows and grows. Rinse, lather, repeat.

During this process we make connections with the team in ways that doesn't make sense in our brain (when you boil it down) but our heart tricks our brain into believing it. Want to know why so many fans love Ryan Callahan? Because they associate his on-ice work ethic with themselves. Do you know how badly fans wish they could play for the New York Rangers? I can't articulate it here properly, which is OK because you all understand. And if I ever got the chance to, I would give my all every second I was on the ice, do anything asked to help the team win, fill any role. That's Callahan, so fans their hearts tie to him, he becomes a fan favorite and suddenly people can't conceive of a world without him on Broadway.

Why do you think people hated Nik Zherdev so much? He had an opportunity to play for the Rangers and he took shifts off, didn't give his all and some nights didn't seem to care. For people who would kill to have an actual stake in the game they love so much, actions like that are unacceptable.

This is why the rumors of Callahan being shopped around to other teams seems so insane, and garners such an angry response from the general public. Same thing goes with Dan Girardi, although to a lesser extent. That's your heart talking, though, not your brain.

I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiations. All I will say is this: Players always aim high when they first start talking. You want a $5-million deal? Ask for $7-million so they can knock you down to what you really want. It's negotiating 101. Everyone does it. So I'm not appalled (or even surprised) that Callahan wants a seven-year, $6-million+ deal. The term is too long but the dollars are fair considering what he would get on the open market. The entire contract looked at in a vacuum? A bad deal for the Rangers. Well, maybe bad deal isn't the right description, "very risky" is much better.

Nothing bad can come from having Callahan on the New York Rangers. He makes the players, fanbase and organization proud every time he steps on the ice. But that term is simply too much. Callahan is dangerously close to (if not already in) the "injury prone" zone. It's not his fault, it's just his body breaking down with his style of play (ironically the thing everyone loves about him). Maybe that hasn't happened yet, but it's going to happen eventually. Every player watches their body break down at some point. Callahan is no different, but with his aggressive style of play it wouldn't be surprising if his body was breaking down at an accelerated rate. Sure, he might have four or five great years left in him, but what if in two years he's not the normal Ryan Callahan? What if he isn't the normal Ryan Callahan with four or five years remaining on that contract? What happens then? Same thing with Girardi. Same thing with a lot of free agents, actually. 

General managers are tasked with answering these questions when it comes to negotiations. No one gets off the hook. Certain factors do play something of a role (leadership, captaincy, role) but at the end of the day decisions like this have to be boiled down.

So answer this question: Are you comfortable giving Ryan Callahan a seven-year contract?

Now answer the question as though Callahan was an UFA this year who had no relationship to the team. Same player, same stats, same intangibles just no prior history to the Rangers' organization.

I bet the answer is different. 

That's how Sather needs to walk into these negotiations with both Callahan and Girardi. Are they worth the risk?

Your heart and your brain may say two different things.

Make sure you listen to the right one.

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