The NHL trade deadline is a time for contenders to improve themselves, pretenders to delude themselves and those with lost seasons to prepare for the future.

But there's one problem facing all of those teams, according to Brian Burke, and that's a math problem.

"I just checked again with the NHL, and they're still only giving out one Stanley Cup," said Burke, the longtime NHL general manager who's now the president of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"That's the issue at the deadline. The math doesn't work. There's only one parade, but anywhere up to 18 teams will make themselves better in an effort to win a Cup or to win a round or whatever their goals are. So the math doesn't work and you overpay. More mistakes get made at the trade deadline than the rest of the year."

The key at the NHL trade deadline is to mitigate those errors. After speaking to Burke and others, here are 10 rules for front offices to follow at the deadline.


Stick to the plan

This is rule No. 1 according to the executives with whom we spoke. Burke, a Stanley Cup-winning GM, told me the three questions a team must ask itself before every deadline.

"What you want to accomplish at the deadline is a direct function of how close or how far away you are," he said. "So first question is how close are you? That'll determine how active you are."

Question No. 2: How specific are your needs? "If you need a third-line center, that's different than if you need a top-six forward," Burke said, which brings us to question No. 3: What do you have to offer to another club in order to fill those specific needs?

"What's the trade capital? What do you have to give? What picks have you already traded away?" he said. "Do you have good young players? Do you have other assets in the AHL?"

Mike Futa was an assistant general manager who helped build Stanley Cup champions with the Los Angeles Kings. He said one of the biggest mistakes teams make at the deadline is not knowing when to turn that trade capital into something tangible.

"These guys kill me: The rankings tell you that you have the best prospects in the world and then they just keep getting all these prospects," said Futa, now an analyst with Sportsnet. "At what point do you look at your nuggets and say, 'Hey, they are good. But we're not winning anything.'"

One NHL source pointed to the Carolina Hurricanes as a team like that. Now, the Hurricanes win plenty … but haven't won a championship round since 2006. They had the sixth best prospect pool for 2022-23 and the second-best pool for 2021-22, according to The Athletic. When do they aggressively deal some of those futures for the present?