Mike Brophy, senior writer
Mike Brophy, senior writer
Patrick Eaves. Image by: Getty Images
Looking at the players available at the trade deadline, there are some who will be worth the asking price, and others who would actually make teams worse.
The craziest hockey day of the year is nearly upon us: deadline day. Rather than give into the wildness, let’s instead get logical and look at the numbers.
There are some eyes rolling in the back of the class, but with so many games and so many teams it’s hard to know every player in the league as intimately as the guys on your own squad. That’s where stats help a lot, especially advanced stats that dig a bit deeper than traditional box scores. When you watch the game, what you notice most is which team is creating chances and dominating the run of play, and over time the best players will generally have the best differentials. It’s not the be-all, end-all, they gotta score on those chances too, but they’re helpful in determining who’s helping and hurting. None of it replaces watching the game, but it sure helps illuminate strengths and weaknesses of players, especially those you haven’t seen much of.
With that in mind, we have you covered. We’ve already got our very own Matt Larkin’s top 30 trade candidates here, and now I’ve added some useful numbers to his list to help suss out the good from the bad.
Age and contract are obvious (and guys with term are in bold) and then I’ve added their per-game production right beside their relative shot rates (5-on-5, score/zone/adjusted) to put a focus on who’s scoring and who’s driving play. Then at the very right is their Game Score for the season (coloured by where they fit on a typical depth chart based on performance) as well as how many wins my model suspects they’re worth based on their last three seasons of Game Score. There are other metrics to be mindful of, but that should give a rough estimate of value.
Here’s the list (with goalies omitted because, well, voodoo) along with some additions from the TSN trade bait list to get to 30 after taking out already traded players and those pesky goalies.
That’s the list, now here’s the fun part. Based on these numbers, here’s which guys teams should target and avoid.
The Big Three: Yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are pretty good. If you’re a contending team that can afford the cost they might be enough to get the team over the edge. Shattenkirk is an incredible D-man and he would be a home run. Very few D-men provide more value than he does from the back-end, but he obviously comes with rental risk. The Colorado boys at least come with term, but that makes their asking price higher. My model has soured on them a bit this year and they appear as “second liners” on the chart above, but I think that’s the Colorado stench clouding things. They’re legit top line talents and can change the mix of any team’s top nine.
Patrick Eaves: I’ve had a soft spot for Eaves ever since I did projections for the 2015-16 season using war-on-ice’s WAR metric. Dallas was coming off a playoff miss and the projections had them winning the division that year, which they did. Part of that was really solid forward depth, and Eaves was a big catalyst. He was a guy on the fringe who had legitimate top six upside, and we’re seeing that play out this year. Put him with some stars and watch him go. He’s the second highest goal-scorer this season from the list above. A great complementary piece for a scoring line and you absolutely can’t go wrong at $1 million. He pushes play, too, which is a nice bonus to his scoring touch.
Martin Hanzal: Not many players get respect in the desert, but Hanzal deserves it. He could very well be the missing piece to a contender puzzle as he’s a legit second line center that thrives in a shutdown role and plays a complete 200 foot game. The Coyotes are nearly three shot attempts better at both ends of the ice when he’s on compared to when he’s off. Imagine adding that to a team’s third line? They’d be one of the best third lines in the playoffs and a matchup nightmare. He might cost a lot to acquire and a bidding war might put him on the other list quickly, but he’s a guy who is still worth targeting and should be on everyone’s wish list.
PA Parenteau: Are analytics folk the only people who actually like Parenteau? He gets bounced around the league, he can’t sign a deal longer than one season, he doesn’t get much money, and sometimes he gets waived right after signing. I don’t get it. And now he’s back on the trade block because of these one year commitments. Great secondary scoring, drives possession, very cheap, what’s not to like here?
Undervalued D-men: There’s a few here, and that’s because evaluating defense is very tough. The highest defenseman from Buffalo on this list costs more and is much worse. Cody Franson should be the guy to grab there and he’ll likely cost much less to acquire. He’s fallen off since his days in Toronto, but he’s still a dependable player who suppresses shots at a terrific rate. They may be in pillow soft minutes, but all that means is he’ll crush a sheltered role and a team wouldn’t have to worry about sending him over the boards at 5-on-5 like they do with other bottom-pairing D-men. He’s right handed, too. A very easy pick-up. I think Brendan Smith and Michael Del Zotto also fall in to this camp as they’ve been solid shot rate drivers in the past (though Del Zotto has taken a step back this year). All three are having a down season and it won’t take much to pry them out as a result. They’ll help teams win more than some of the other D-men on the market. Speaking of which…
Overvalued D-men: Let’s just list them all: Johnny Oduya, Roman Polak (who has since been taken off Matt’s list, but I’ll leave here), Kyle Quincey and one more who I referenced above who gets his own blurb below. These three are relics from a bygone era: the shutdown D-man. The only thing they really shut down is any semblance of offense as they fail to get the puck out of their own zone. The market is starting to reflect that as guys like Polak and Quincey come in at the bottom of the list, but then there’s Johnny Oduya at the top and I don’t understand it. Well, I do, he’s got Cup rings and a sparkling defensive reputation, but hockey isn’t a 100 foot game (to his credit his numbers have been a little better this season than usual). Offensive guys get slagged for being one dimensional, but you never see the same comments hurled toward these type of defensemen. There are legit shutdown D-men out there, like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Chris Tanev, but the guys available aren’t that. Not even close. They’re likely going to hurt whichever team acquires them. Mobility on the back-end is vital in today’s NHL and these guys don’t have that skillset.
Especially Dmitry Kulikov: If there’s one player to completely avoid at the deadline, it’s Kulikov. To say he’s been among the league’s worst defensemen this year may sound unfair, but it would probably be accurate, too. He’s been bad. It’s not just this year either, he hasn’t been all that good for the past couple seasons. He’s one of the league’s biggest drags on shots at both ends of the ice and this year his scoring has dried up, too. His Game Score this year is better than just one regular defenseman: Josh Gorges. That’s. It. Over the last three years he’s averaging a 16 point pace and is a net negative six shot attempts relative to his team. At $4 million, any team that acquires him is paying way too much for someone who really only makes them worse, not to mention the cost to acquire him. The Panthers knew that much when they moved him in exchange for the very underrated Mark Pysyk who’s been doing just fine this year. There aren’t too many landmines this year, but he’s the biggest one.
Over-performers: Two names stick out: Thomas Vanek and Brian Boyle. Fine players, sure, but not as good as they’ve been this season. Vanek was just bought out last summer and after years of decline, but he’s had a nice bounce back season with a 65 point pace. Here’s the thing, his personal shooting percentage of 15 percent is his highest since 2013-14 and the same goes for his on-ice shooting percentage. At 33, I have my doubts he’s back to scoring the way he was in his prime and I’d expect some regression. There’s also the red flag on defense where he’s declined from -5.1 relative shot attempts against in 2015 to -6.4 in 2016 and -7.4 this year. Those are brutal numbers, near the bottom of the league. In Brian Boyle’s case, he’s always been a fine third line guy who’s looked much better this year after a shooting percentage increase of his own. The price to acquire him is really high and while he’s obviously useful, don’t expect this year’s numbers to continue.
Expensive Veteran Wingers: Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Patrick Sharp – these would’ve topped the trade bait list in years past, but at ages 39, 40 and 35, respectively, that’s not the case anymore. Each of them are still mostly effective, okay players, but with their contracts in mind there’s simply no value paying much for what is now bottom six talent (though, there’s an argument to be made for Sharp as a second liner in the right situation). Is the veteran experience worth the lack of on-ice value? I personally have my doubts. Iginla and Doan are the elders here and while their shot rates may look nice, keep in mind those relative numbers are on basement dwellers; they likely won’t push play much on better teams. Sharp is a better option, but he’s also the most expensive one.
Young Reclamation Projects: There are three kids rumoured to be on the move on TSN’s trade bait list, and I’m happy Matt didn’t have them on his list because they’re just not very good. Anthony Duclair is 21 and was the prize of the Keith Yandle trade and after a big 2015-16, he’s fallen off quickly. Turns out you won’t score on 19 percent of your shots forever. The guy barely takes more than one shot per game and is a ghost on defense. He’s the best one of the three though and may actually be worth the risk for a bounce back. The other two though… not so much. Mikhail Grigorenko was the prize of the Ryan O’Reilly trade and he hasn’t worked out either. Imagine being 6.5 shot attempts worse on a team as bad as the Avs because that’s what Grigorenko is working with. But even he isn’t as bad as Curtis Lazar, who somehow has hype behind him. Somehow. He’s got one point in 32 games this season and is one of the league’s worst possession players at minus-24 net shots per 60. Blame his linemates if you want, because Chris Kelly and Chris Neil are terrible, but even they’re doing better than him. Young reclamation projects are nice gambles on most deadlines, but this time around it’s hard to see as much upside given how these three have played.
Welcome to NHL trade deadline central 2017. Stay tuned to THN.com for up-to-minute analysis of every trade, as it happens.
Our team of experts will break down every trade, as they happen. As has become the case the last few years, several NHL teams got an early start on the trade front. So we decided to get the tracker going a little early. All the notable trades from the last few days are here. You can also check out a list of every trade made over the last year and beyond season in the Trade Log on our transactions page.
TO WASHINGTON: D Kevin Shattenkirk
TO ST. LOUIS: 2017 first-round pick; 2018 conditional second-round pick; LW Zach Sanford
THN's Take: The Capitals are going all in for a Stanley Cup with this move, as we wrote here.
TO OTTAWA: LW Alexandre Burrows
To VANCOUVER: C Jonathan Dahlen
THN's Take: Well, we can at least give the Senators points for guts. The Burrows trade likely won't go over too well with the diehard, educated fan base – and it shouldn't. It's not like Burrows was a rental, acquired for a pick, as was the case with Brian Boyle and the Leafs. The Senators doubled down by extending Burrows for two more seasons at a $2.5-million cap hit. He turns 36 April 11. He'll be 38 when the deal ends. I get that the Senators have major injury woes to overcome on their wings, and that the Atlantic Division playoff race is wide open, but…yikes. Worse yet, the Sens surrendered left winger Jonathan Dahlen to Vancouver as the return. Dahlen, 19, rates as Ottawa's fifth-best prospect in our soon-to-be-releaseed Future Watch 2017. Dahlen was highly regarded enough to go 42nd overall in what was, keep in mind, a stellar 2016 draft class. It seems odd now that owner Eugene Melnyk balked at the Colorado Avalanche's asking price for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog – only to mortgage an A-minus prospect for an agitator in Burrows. – MATT LARKIN
TO MONTREAL: D Jordie Benn
TO DALLAS: D Greg Pateryn; 2017 fourth-round pick
THN's Take: We knew a defenseman acquisition for the Montreal Canadiens was likely, but Jordie Benn seems underwhelming. He has decent size and grades out as average defensively in the possession game. He's a legit NHL defenseman. But that's about it. He's just a tiny bit better than Greg Pateryn, not to mention smaller and older than Pateryn. Benn is also a left shot, and the Habs already have Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu as left shots, but Benn had played on the right side in Dallas with Dan Hamhuis on the left lately. Benn can do it and will likely play on Beaulieu's right, but it's not like the right side is Benn's natural fit, so it's a bit of a curious add. From the Stars' perspective, fans should hope Pateryn doesn't take a regular shift with the sinking squad – and that top prospect Julius Honka finds his away into the lineup instead. He showed some amazing possession numbers earlier this season when given 10 games at the NHL level. – MATT LARKIN
TO TORONTO: C Brian Boyle
TO TAMPA BAY: C Byron Froese; 2017 second-round pick
THN's Take: We wrote about the Leafs going for it here.
TO MINNESOTA: C Martin Hanzal; RW Ryan White; 2017 fourth-round pick
TO ARIZONA: 2017 first-round pick; 2018 second-round pick; 2019 conditional pick; C Grayson Downing
THN's Take: We wrote about Hanzal makes the Wild that much deeper here.
TO LOS ANGELES: G Ben Bishop; 2017 fifth-round pick
TO TAMPA BAY: G Peter Budaj; D Erik Cernak; 2017 seventh-round pick; 2017 conditional pick
Kevin Shattenkirk. Image by: Getty Images
The Capitals are tired of playoff disappointments. Already the best team in the league, they decided overkill was the smart strategy. That's why they went out and got the best player on the trade market.
The Washington Capitals haven’t just fooled us once, not even twice, into thinking they’re legitimate alpha-dog Stanley Cup contenders. Since the Alex Ovechkin era started in 2005-06, this team has tantalized us with multiple Presidents’ Trophies, one of the two best players of this generation, some of the most exciting offensive teams of all-time and Vezina Trophy-winning goaltending. And no matter how much buzz the Caps could generate, no matter how much THIS year was the year, it never was. They still haven’t advanced past the second round of the Stanley cup playoffs since 1998, when they reached the final with an underdog group coached by Ron Wilson.
Kudos to GM Brian MacLellan, then, for taking a stand Monday night. He took a team already looking like the NHL’s best on paper, already loaded with talent, already on track for another Presidents’ Trophy, and augmented it with arguably the best player available on the 2016-17 trade market. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is now a Capital, acquired from the St. Louis Blues for the very reasonable price of a first-round pick in 2017, a conditional 2018 second-rounder and Zach Sanford, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. The Blues will also retain some salary in the deal, LeBrun reports. At a price that reasonable, renting Shattenkirk, a pending unrestricted free agent, is just fine. Re-signing him in the summer would be gravy (and likely not financially feasible for Washington).
The Caps have a top-three offense in the league. They allow easily the fewest goals per game. They rank second in save percentage. They boast the league’s No. 5 power play and No. 7 penalty kill. They still have Ovechkin playing high-end hockey even if his prime is over. They have arguably the best goaltender in the game right now in Braden Holtby. They call Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller their top three centers. Their top five defensemen are John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov
[Trade tracker 2017: Analysis on all the deals so far]
They are S-T-A-C-K-E-D. But MacLellan realized (a) they’ve never been stacked enough over the past decade and (b) that, despite such a talent-rich roster, they did lack mobility and true offensive creativity after Carlson on the back end. Shattenkirk is an absolute luxury, but that’s what the Caps evidently need to get over the playoff choke hump. Doing so, conquering the Pittsburgh Penguins, requires overkill.
Shattenkirk obviously enhances an already deadly power play, can play 20-plus minutes a game and increases the fleet-footedness on Washington’s blueline. But he’s also an underrated defensive player, a driver of possession with a career 5-on-5 Corsi mark of 53.3 percent and an average rating 2.2 percent higher than his teammates. He fits the modern definition of what it means to be effective in your own end. He is the anti Brooks Orpik, really. As a bonus, Shattenkirk blocks the New York Rangers, the Caps’ Metro Division competition, from landing him. The Blueshirts were one of the teams most commonly linked to him.
So will the Caps ultimately make every prognosticator look silly yet again and flop with an early playoff exit? Hey, it’s entirely possible. But they deserve credit for recognizing they’re in an elite contention window and for refusing to stand pat. They’re making the boldest mid-season move they’ve made during the Ovechkin era. The Capitals can also finally say they have good possession numbers, something that correlates directly with the past seven Stanley Cup champions. They rank third in the NHL in 5-on-5 score- zone- and venue-adjusted Corsi. The last five champions have ranked top-five in that category.
The Shattenkirk acquisition solidifies Washington as the NHL’s team to beat right now. No matter how skeptical we may feel about them, no matter how many times this team has fallen short of expectations, they’ve decided to do something different this time. We have to view them through a new lens.
Brian Boyle. Image by: Getty Images
In the middle of a close playoff race, the Maple Leafs managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate of building for the future.
The day Mike Babcock was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, team president Brendan Shanahan was asked whether he’d abandon the franchise rebuild if Babcock came to him saying they needed a veteran to help them make the playoffs, but it would cost a prospect and a second-round pick.
“I can tell you that was one of Mike’s questions for us and it was the opposite,” Shanahan said at the time. “It was, ‘If we’re four points out, are we still willing to stick to the plan?’ That was an important answer for him to get, especially from our board.”
Things were a little different Tuesday when the Leafs made a deal that netted them veteran center Brian Boyle. First of all, the Leafs aren’t four points out of the playoffs. They’re clinging to the last spot, one point behind the Boston Bruins with a game in hand for third place in the Atlantic Division. It’s a race that will likely go to the dying days of the season. And even though they did give up a second-rounder, it’s pretty safe to say Byron Froese isn’t really considered a prospect. (Although Babcock did seem to have a strange fascination with him last season when the Leafs were tanking the season.)
This is a deal that looks as though it has Babcock’s fingerprints all over it, but the best part of it is that they managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate. And they can thank their work at last year’s trade deadline for that, when they dealt Roman Polak and Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in 2017 and picked up another from the Ottawa Senators in the Dion Phaneuf trade. One of those picks is now going to Tampa Bay and another is going to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Fredrik Andersen trade, which still leaves the Leafs with one second-rounder.
And in return, the Leafs get a player who can play down the middle for them, complementing a center ice corps that now looks formidable with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Boyle. The 6-foot-6 center has played exactly 100 playoff games, 95 of them over the past five seasons. In fact, no NHL player has seen more post-season action than Boyle has since 2012.
The Leafs are flush with prospects and young players and had a plethora of second-rounders, which seems to be the going rate for big-name rentals these days. In addition to the three they had in 2017, they also have two in 2018. With the success rate for second-round picks varying wildly, it was a small price to pay for a team that needed an upgrade on the Frederik Gauthier/Ben Smith tandem on the fourth line.
More importantly, it gives the Leafs an experienced player who knows what it’s like to play in meaningful games. Whether the Leafs ultimately make the playoffs or not, their young players will be exposed to crucial, tension-filled and important games down the stretch. And when was the last time anyone could say that? And if they make the post-season and expose their young stars to that level of competition, all the better. And not only will Boyle be instrumental in leading the way, he’ll also be able to offer some sage counsel to those players if the Leafs do find themselves in the chaos known as the playoffs.
The Atlantic Division is really weak. Spectacularly weak, actually. And if the Leafs can somehow find themselves in the No. 3 spot, they might be able to position themselves for a bit of a run. If not, they’ll find themselves playing the Washington Capitals in the first round and will almost certainly get trounced, but be all the better for having experienced the post-season.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the Leafs have been known to be woeful in two areas of the game – defensive zone coverage and holding onto leads late in games. Boyle will help immeasurably in both of those areas. To be sure, you just know Babcock will feel a lot better being able to put Boyle out for a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of the game in which his team is clinging to a one-goal lead.
And don’t be surprised if the Leafs and Boyle make this a more long-term affair. Boyle is 32, but he actually doesn’t have a ton of NHL miles on him because he didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was almost 25 years old. And it’s not as though the Leafs are going to be asking him to do more than an over-30 player is capable of doing. If he can provide them with two or three more years of quality defensive play and leadership, they’ll be happy to take that.
Largely because of Auston Matthews and Babcock, the Leafs have become a destination. Don’t be surprised if Boyle sees it that way, too.