So the 2014 Trade Deadline is less than twelve hours away with loads of rumors and action swirling around. Last year, NHL teams were petrified to make any moves because of how tight the standings were during the short 48-game season and how much worse the salary cap was going to be next season. Everything was about to end with a clunker until this happened. What I described the Erat trade at the time was something of high drama and I personally feel like I am not alone in this feeling. We as hockey fans follow the trade deadline obsessively, even though we should all expect it to be a dud. We spend the last week speculating and as the remaining hours and minutes unfold, we watch every transaction and speculate some more and then try to come up with some of the most ridiculous ideas imaginable. All this effort tires you out after a while, but you can’t help but love it. Even Mike Millbury was sounding like someone that needed his 8pm bedtime after Tuesday’s NHL Overtime broadcast. With all this in mind, I have decided to write a diary about the last week of midseason trading in the NHL as if it were a three act play.
Here is act one about all the moves over the weekend and the anticipation heading into the last two days.
Why did St. Louis have no choice but to trade for Ryan Miller?
For those that saw my Central Division preview, I picked St. Louis as my favorite to win the Stanley Cup. On paper, St. Louis had their roster set. Some would say that the Blues did not need a goaltender. Real Capitals fans will still be scarred for life during the 2010 playoffs and wonder why Jaroslav Halak would not be the answer to lead the Blues to the Stanley Cup. Ryan Miller, however, was about to be a free agent. The 15th best trade value had to leave Buffalo if the Sabres were to get anything in return before he became a free agent. Anyone within NHL circles saw this trade coming miles away. We all know that the Slovakian has been battling with Brian Elliot for the starting job since he got there and he has dealt with injuries such as an ankle injury that kept him out of the majority of the 2012 playoffs and a strained groin that prevented him from becoming the full fledged starter in 2013. That didn’t stop GM Doug Armstrong from realizing that at the end of the day, Halak has been nothing short of a mediocre goaltender since that 2010 playoff run. Armstrong just needed him to give up five goals to a crummy Czech Republic team in an Olympic elimination game to have the case rested.
Since the league has expanded to 30 teams for the 2000-2001 season, the average starting NHL goaltender (those that have played 41 games or more for any season) picks up roughly 0.18 point shares per game for every season. Point shares per game may not be the best indicator of finding out who is the best in the league or best of all time, but it is a great use of finding hidden gems and which goaltenders you should not count on in big game situations. For example, Halak’s 2010 season gave him 0.237 point shares per game, while Marc Andre Fleury has had the following point shares per game for every season since he won the Stanley Cup in 2009: 0.148, 0.185, 0.165, 0.191 and 0.179. The stat also shows that Tomas Vokoun and Roberto Luongo might go down as the most under-appreciated net minders of all-time.
This season, Halak has had a 0.163 point shares per game, while Miller has posted a league-leading 0.254 point shares per game. For their careers, Miller averages a fantastic 0.202 point shares per game in 541 career contests and has played in 41 or more games in eight of his 11 NHL seasons. Meanwhile, Halak averages a more respectable 0.182 point shares per game in 260 career contests and has played in 41 or more games in just four of his eight NHL seasons. While with the Blues, Halak was as mediocre as he is this season by averaging 0.160 point shares per game in 159 appearances.
When analyzing trades, people also have a habit of looking at past work and expecting more of the same. In an era when only players as young as their late twenties can be moved around, it is important to look at what they can bring to the table for the rest of their career. Considering that Halak was Montreal’s starting goaltender before Carey Price made a name for himself, it was fitting that hockey-reference.com considers Rick Wamsley (Montreal’s starter two years before Patrick Roy), Doug Favell (Philadelphia’s starter before Bernie Parent) and Sean Burke (New Jersey’s starter before Martin Brodeur) as some of his closest comparisons. All three goalies had to be moved more than once and unlike Burke, Favell and Wamsley flamed out four years after their age 28-season. Like Burke, Halak is now a potential starter on a crummy NHL franchise and could turn that into an additional decade to his current eight-year career. Either way, history tells us that it will be very hard to envision Halak recapturing what he had four years ago.
Since Miller costs $2.75 million more than Halak does, other pieces had to be moved. St. Louis once again thanks Colorado for their incompetance in the Erik Johnson trade as that has now given the Blues Kevin Shattenkirk, Ty Rattie (St. Louis’s best prospect playing in the AHL) and Chris Stewart; one of the chips used in the Ryan Miller trade. Stewart has always been a wildly inconsistent player throughout his NHL career, but his 4.5 point shares/82 this season is much lower than his 5.9 point shares/82 for his career. That still makes him close to a top six forward and his shooting percentage is close to his career average this season, but Stewart was only playing less than 15 minutes a game under head coach Ken Hitchcock. Add in the fact that he is a terrible puck possessor and can only be used in offensive situations and it is fitting that Stewart was shipped out. That being said, Buffalo needs any goalscorers it can get as they are the only team in the league to score less than two goals a game.
On the other side, Steve Ott is also not the best in corsi, but he is used in a more defensive role against much tougher competition. It’s facts like these that prove why his team worst -26 rating is weighing down his point share total this season (a shocking 0.8/82 this season versus 2.5/82 during his career). With Vladimir Sobotka recovering from a left knee injury, St. Louis is missing one of it’s best penalty killing forwards and it’s best faceoff artist. Ott may not bring that level of quality to those two areas, but he is certainly not a slouch in them either. In his first game as a blue, Hitchcock literally put him in the same spot Stewart was in; lined up with T.J. Oshie and Derek Roy on the third line right wing. Ott was given 11:44 of even strength ice time (just three seconds less than what Stewart was usually given all season), 1:22 on the penalty kill and 0:49 on the power play.
Finally, let’s talk about prospects. With the Miller trade complete, Buffalo has set themselves beautifully for at least the next two NHL drafts. In the last two drafts, Buffalo picked nine times within the first two rounds. They could already pick up nine more from the first two rounds of the next two drafts if Ryan Miller resigns with St. Louis or the Blues make it to the conference finals (Buffalo will actually send St. Louis the 2nd round pick they received from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade and their own 3rd round pick if this were to occur. Otherwise, Buffalo keeps that second round pick and picks up St. Louis’ 2016 3rd round pick). They achieved that under the previous regime under GM Darcy Regier when they picked up a 2014 and 2015 second rounder in the Robyn Reghyr trade and stole a 2015 1st round pick and a 2015 2nd round pick in the Thomas Vanek trade (it will be a 2014 1st round pick if the Islanders inconceivably get out of the bottom ten in the league (12 points back from doing that). Otherwise, Long Island gets to decide whether they will send their 2014 or 2015 1st round pick to Buffalo). Already Buffalo has the 2nd best farm system according to hockeysfuture.com and have a teenage core in place with Rasmus Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons and Nikita Zadorov. They also have a secondary group in Mikhail Grigorenko, Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Jake McCabe, Joel Armia, Johan Larsson and J.T. Compher that, if things break right, either have the potential to be top six forwards or top four defensemen, or can be used in the long term as trade chips whenever Buffalo is ready to finish its rebuild.
As for the Blues, some wonder if giving up two high end draft picks and William Carrier was too much for Ryan Miller and a fourth line forward. St. Louis will have to replenish their prospect pool considering that Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz have played enough games to be considered NHL veterans. But as mentioned, St. Louis gets one of Buffalo’s 2nd round picks and their 3rd round pick if they at least resign Miller. They also have Edmonton’s 2nd round pick in the David Perron trade, upgraded from their 5th round pick to Tampa Bay’s 4th round pick in the B.J. Crombeen trade and have Calgary’s 5th and Boston’s 6th round picks from the Kris Russell and Wade Redden trades, respectfully. They also lost their own 4th round pick to Nashville in a draft day swap of picks, but that totals ten draft picks and three 2nd round picks in the 2014 draft for St. Louis. If we were to use the methodology used by jibblescribbits.com for the value of each NHL draft pick, St. Louis totals to having a combined player value of 2.18. Since that is 0.69 higher than what they would get with their original set of picks, that means the Blues have all the assets to trade up on draft day. They could use any combination of their second or third round picks to get a mid to late 1st round pick if they wanted to.
Finally, as much as Will Carrier will be a loss, he has been beset by injuries since his draft eligible year and has struggled to score at a point-per-game rate in the QMJHL. Considering what scouts think about that league in general, that is a bad sign for Carrier as he goes from being only the 14th best prospect on the Blues to the 16th best on the Sabres. Really, until we see that he is fully healthy in vastly improving his game, it will be amazing if he is the one that decides who wins this trade in the long term.
What should we make of Dan Girardi’s new deal?
Among the nerdy things I have been trying to research for the blog is what is the age curve and the way teams pay for defensive defensemen. Since the dawn of time, we have wondered how we should value these types of hockey players. Back in the stone age (ok seven years ago, but you get my point), the only way we could analyze them is with time on ice, penalty kill usage and plus-minus. Now with the magic of corsi, zone starts and quality of competition, we as pretend general managers can really figure out how good they are. Even so, the object of the game is to score the most goals, so real general managers don’t see the point in players that just drop back and not shoot the puck all the time. For a player like Dan Girardi, his $5.5 million will now be the measuring stick for how some of the best defenders get paid.
Two major things stand out from this event. First, how pissed do you have to be if you are Marc-Eduard Vlasic? Did you know that amongst all defensemen that have recorded four times as much or more defensive point shares as offensive point shares since the beginning of the NHL’s Salary Cap (2005-2006 season), Vlasic comes out as the best in that group, while he is still only 26 years old? The next four on that list are Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr, Barret Jackman and Girardi himself. Add the fact that he represented Canada in this year’s Olympics (something Girardi has never done), you would think that Vlasic would be one of the most sought after defensemen in the league. Instead, he is starting a five year contract that only gives him $4.25 million per season that he signed in July of 2012; right before the most recent lockout occurred and the owners temporarily reeled in the Salary Cap. While Girardi and Vlasic have had the same level of zone starts and Girardi’s quality of competition is better, Vlasic is a much better player in terms of puck possession.
Lastly, despite Girardi’s drop back style, he is not one to draw many penalties. The one comp from hockey reference that makes the most sense for Dan Girardi is Brad Stuart. Stuart had a better offensive game than Girardi at that stage of his career, but after his 2008-2009 season, he was never the same and became more of a contributing second line defenseman. One thing to watch out for is whether or not Girardi’s time on ice decreases as the seasons move on. While Stuart has only hit the 24 minute mark or better once, Girardi has done it three times. Still, any sign of Girardi given second line minutes and he is immediately a grossly overpaid hockey player. The Rangers will hope that is not the case, as his contract lasts until he is 35 years old.
Should we rename the New York Islanders as the New York Penny Pinchers?
I don’t think it can be stated enough how disgraceful management has been for the New York Islanders this season. Sure, this franchise has gone through over 20 years worth of shear egotism and ignorance, but you would think it would all go away after their first playoff appearance during the John Tavares era. Instead, the poison always finds a way to return.
Coming into this trade deadline, the Islanders have the second most cap space in the entire league, only behind fellow cheap skates Florida. Unlike the Panthers, the Islanders have talented players that deserve top dollar and that usually is enough to swoon potential free agents. Instead, GM Garth Snow and owner Charles Wang spent the summer only bringing in Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck for a combined $4.75 million per year and lost Mark Streit to Philadelphia. They did not improve at goal where they were stuck with a past his prime Evgeny Nabokov and at defense where they were among the worst groups in the NHL last year.
And that’s not all that they had done. In order for a trade to work, the Islanders had to give up not just a 2015 1st round pick, but also a 2015 2nd round pick in order to ship Matt Moulson for Tomas Vanek. If the world made sense, both players would be paid the same or a little less for Moulson. Instead, Vanek almost doubles Moulson’s salary. They also traded away Bouchard, with Peter Regin to Chicago only for them to get a 4th round pick in return. Their best defensemen was worth only $500,000 and they demanded top draft picks for him. It was almost fitting that John Tavares suffered a season ending knee injury to put him out of this misery of a franchise.
Did you know that Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic make a combined $14.907143 million? That is the combined salary of four borderline second liners, not guys heading into their prime years and representing Long Island’s core group of players. You really do get what you deserve Charles Wang.
How sad is Nashville and Carolina right now?
When skimming through the Sportsnet team needs previews, both the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators are projected to be sellers. The lists of who they were hoping to sell, however, were absolutely tragic. Carolina may have some form of top tier talent, but they simply will never be good until they stockpile like crazy with second and third line scoring and quality defensemen for the long term. Now that Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin have been expensive disappointments and that Cam Ward is a walking long term injury waiting to happen, those problems have become worse. Tuomo Ruutu could give something in return, but Carolina would be very fortunate to receive any top 100 draft pick for Hainsey or Peters. You would like to say that all of this is all Jim Rutherford’s fault and he needs to go, but he is also a part of the Hurricanes ownership group.
Speaking of avoiding to make changes, Nashville has been stuck with Barry Trotz and Dave Poile throughout their entire franchise history. Unlike Carolina, the Predators had one of the better prospect pools in the league a couple of years ago. However, for what ever reason, that lack of development from the likes of Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque, Jonathon Blum, Blake Geoffrion and many others have flat out stunt any growth this franchise could have had after they had their last two playoff runs. They have also only had six picks in the first two rounds from the last four NHL drafts. Predators fans also have to hope and prey that Pekka Rinne not only comes back from injury, but also plays like one of the best goalies in the world again because hindsight is showing that all the attention should have been locking up Ryan Suter instead. Matt Cullen has now been seen as an overpay and was probably given at least two years two many. David Legwand could bring back something interesting as he has still been a consistent scorer for the last four seasons. But Nashville needs to improve their goal scoring, not worsen it. That is unless the Predators face the music and rebuild.