There’s a certain “hurry up and wait” aspect to the NHL’s trade deadline. Theoretically, a trade could happen at any moment leading up to the deadline, so fans and media alike are on high alert bright and early in the morning on deadline day.
In practice, however, trades tend to trickle in very slowly in the early morning, then fast and furious at and after the deadline. That means there’s a lot of airtime to fill for the likes of Sportsnet and TSN, who run multi-hour shows covering the deadline. As a result, that time is typically filled with speculation, analysis, and all sorts of stories from the former players and executives that form the various panels on set.
For Sportsnet, that included Kevin Bieksa, who has quickly become one of the best media personalities in hockey. He kept things lively even during the dullest hours of the trade deadline.
The most interesting story, however, was one he only alluded to.
As the deadline fell, it seemed like one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes, weren’t going to make any moves to improve their team. This was before a last-minute deal was announced — a trade for Max Domi from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Bieksa defended the idea of a good team standing pat at the deadline by relating it to his own personal experience.
“Do you want me to retell the story about when we brought a guy in, it ruined all our chemistry, and we lost in the first round, swept?” said Bieksa.
It was a rhetorical question. Bieksa did not go on to tell that particular story or, rather, “retell,” which means he’s told this story before, though I was unable to find where he first did so. Still, it seems unlikely that Bieksa would spill any more details or name names and this quote gives us enough to go on.
It would have to be a season where Bieksa was playing for a good team, bound for the playoffs, that added a player at or near the trade deadline, and subsequently got swept in four games in the first round.
That would apply to the 2012-13 Vancouver Canucks but it would also apply to the 2017-18 Anaheim Ducks. Which team added the player that ruined their chemistry?
The 2012-13 Canucks: Derek Roy
It could be argued that the 2012-13 Canucks season was the last gasp of a true powerhouse. Coming off back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and two years removed from coming a game away from the Stanley Cup, the Canucks were still a favourite in the West and won their fifth-straight Northwest Division title.
It was a season shortened to 48 games by a lockout and marred by multiple injuries. Most notably, Ryan Kesler was limited to just 17 games during the regular season because of offseason surgeries and a fractured foot.
With Kesler still out, the Canucks looked to the trade market to bolster their centre depth, acquiring Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars for Kevin Connauton and a second-round pick.
At the time of the trade, the 29-year-old Roy had 22 points in 30 games with the Stars and came with a reputation for playing a gritty, two-way game. It was thought that Roy could fill in as the team’s second-line centre until Kesler returned, then either bump down to the third line or play on the wing.
It didn’t work out very well. Roy managed just 6 points in 12 regular season games after the trade and the playoffs were a disaster. The Canucks were swept in four games by the San Jose Sharks, with Roy managing just one point, an assist, in the four games.
The 2017-18 Anaheim Ducks: Jason Chimera and Chris Kelly
After a couple more seasons in Vancouver, Bieksa was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. At the time, the Ducks were one of the top teams in the NHL — they won five-straight Pacific Division titles from 2013 to 2017.
In the 2017-18 season, the Ducks were still very good, finishing second behind only the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division with 101 points. It was also a season beset by injuries, including Ryan Kesler yet again. Kesler had been traded to the Ducks in 2014 and he was limited to 44 games in the 2017-18 season.
In November, the Ducks added Adam Henrique in a trade with the New Jersey Devils for Sami Vatanen. Henrique doesn’t really fit the description Bieksa gave, however, as he was added so early in the season and Henrique and the Ducks performed just fine after the trade.
At the trade deadline, the Ducks added two players, but they weren’t exactly all-in, going-for-it moves. Instead, they added two fourth-line forwards, signing Chris Kelly as a free agent and trading for Jason Chimera from the New York Islanders.
Neither player was particularly good in Anaheim. Kelly had two points, both assists, in 12 games and Chimera managed a goal and an assist in 16 games.
In the playoffs, the Ducks were swept by none other than the San Jose Sharks. Kelly did not play in the four-game series and Chimera played in just two games and barely saw any ice time when he did play.
Bieksa, incidentally, was a healthy scratch for three of the four games of the series against the Sharks and subsequently retired from the NHL.
Who was the chemistry ruiner?
Let’s first be clear that this is just speculation. Without Bieksa saying definitively who he meant, we can only follow the clues and take a guess.
But it’s probably not either of the players added to the Ducks. Chris Kelly and Jason Chimera were minor acquisitions and neither player was the type to upset the apple cart, as it were.
Both Kelly and Chimera had solid reputations for being a positive presence in the locker room. Kelly was fresh off a stint as captain of Team Canada at both the Spengler Cup and the Olympics, while Chimera was known for being an “ideal teammate.”
“It didn’t take long to realize why Chimmer has been around for a long time,” said his teammate, Josh Bailey. “He’s got a fun, infectious attitude that rubs off on everyone. You can see why he’s been liked everywhere he’s been and we’re definitely thankful to have him on our side now.”
The odds of two players with such great reputations and playing such fringe roles on a team causing some major chemistry issues seems unlikely.
Derek Roy, on the other hand, had a slightly less sterling reputation. He was called cocky and prickly as a rookie with the Buffalo Sabres, then labeled — fairly or unfairly — a “locker room cancer” by Sabres fans.
Or consider this comment from Nail Yakupov, who played with Roy on the Edmonton Oilers.
“The first five or six games with Derek I was scared of him,” said Yakupov. “He would be yelling or swearing at me, but it was worth it.”
As the tail end of that quote suggests, Yakupov eventually saw Roy as a positive influence, saying that he “gave me so much support.” But it’s easier to see how a prickly player like Roy might upset the chemistry of a team like the 2012-13 Canucks, particularly when you don’t have a full season to get to know him and warm up to him.
Two years after leaving the Canucks, Roy was out of the NHL entirely despite still being reasonably productive at the age of 31.
“I can’t believe nobody in the NHL will sign Derek,” lamented his agent.
It’s not just the player either, but the role. Roy was brought in to centre the second line in place of the injured Kesler, immediately playing a large role with the team. This wasn’t a fringe player jumping on the ice for ten minutes per game on the fourth line but a player stepping into a significant spot on a tight-knit team that was already very well established.
With that in mind, it might have had nothing to do with Roy as a person — any strong-willed person stepping into that locker room might have upset the team’s chemistry.
It’s not like Roy was solely to blame for the Canucks’ first-round exit. There was a lot going on that can’t be pinned on his lack of production or the team’s upset chemistry. The team took too many bad penalties, the uncertainty of who would start each game between Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider became a distraction, and the Canucks simply couldn’t contain the Sharks’ high-powered offence.
Would better chemistry have helped with those issues?
And maybe it wasn’t Roy at all. Maybe Bieksa was remembering a different playoff exit that wasn’t a sweep or a player that was brought in far earlier than the trade deadline. Maybe Roy's reputation for being prickly was undeserved and he was really a delightful guy.
But it was probably Roy.