After what’s already been months of speculation in the rumor mills of various publications, the number of relevant roster moves made by NHL teams has been minimal to say the least: Minnesota’s trade for LW Guillaume Latendresse (6.0 GVT with Wild after -1.2 GVT with Canadiens), Washington’s acquisition of LW Jason Chimera (3.8 GVT) in exchange for RW Chris Clark (0.9 GVT) and D Milan Jurcina (0.1 GVT), Philadelphia’s waiver wire pickup of G Michael Leighton (4.6 GVT with Flyers after -6.0 GVT with Hurricanes) and Boston’s free agent signing of RW Miroslav Satan (-0.1 GVT in 6 GP). While many teams––Tampa Bay, Florida, Toronto and Carolina in the East, and Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, Anaheim, Columbus and Edmonton in the West––should already be writing the season off, other teams are in a life-and-death struggle just to make the playoffs, especially in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Aside from the well-rounded and elite squads of Chicago, San Jose and New Jersey, the rest of the NHL should be looking to maximize their chances of making the postseason and then advancing in the tournament by improving their squads and fixing key weaknesses. Today, we’re not here to tell you what trades will happen, but to mention some of the moves that should happen. Here are five name players who, by all rights, should be packing their bags for a new destination in the near future.
LW Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers – 26 years old
VUKOTA projection: 16.6 GVT
2009-10: 10.2 GVT in 38 GP
2009-10 salary: $7.5 million; 2010-11: UFA
Would make sense for: Los Angeles Kings
In exchange for: LW Alexander Frolov and prospects
You’ve heard the rumors. The $64 million question in the NHL right now is where Ilya Kovalchuk will land – both for the rest of the season as well as long term. Clearly, Kovalchuk’s elite firepower could help a team like Detroit or Boston make the playoffs, but even half a season’s salary wouldn’t fit under the Red Wings’ or Bruins’ caps without significant dollars going back the other way…making those destinations highly unlikely. Conversely, the contending teams with the most cap space remaining––the Avalanche, Predators, Coyotes and Islanders––aren’t spending as much as the Maple Leafs or Rangers by design…making them unlikely destinations as well.
With the Western Conference so competitive that 95 points might be required for a playoff berth––and 99 points required to avoid a first round date with Chicago or San Jose––it’s imperative for the second tier of teams to bolster their ranks to avoid an early postseason exit. This makes Hollywood the ideal landing spot for Kovalchuk. The foil? Alexander Frolov has long been a pariah in L.A. where his poor defense and lackluster effort have earned the enmity of management and fans alike. Once the Thrashers deem themselves out of the playoff race, they can send Kovalchuk to the Kings as a rent-a-player, with Frolov ($4.0 million in 2009-10, expiring contract) exiled to Atlanta’s half-empty Philips Arena to help even out the salaries.
RW Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks – 39 years old
VUKOTA projection: 7.4 GVT
2009-10 to date: 5.1 GVT in 28 GP
2009-10 salary: $2 million; 2010-11: Unrestricted free agent
Would make sense for: Pittsburgh Penguins
In exchange for: Prospects
Though surging of late, the Anaheim Ducks are soon going to realize that they began their run too late (They may need 44 points in 33 games to get the eighth seed again). To help start their rebuilding, Anaheim needs to sell off their aging stars, leaving a still impressive young core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Jonas Hiller. While Selanne has spent his entire career in the Western Conference, what better way to entice the Finnish Flash to go East than an opportunity to vie for the Stanley Cup with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? What better marriage of consummate playmakers and an all-time finisher? While Selanne has declined as an even strength player, he would bring Pittsburgh the elite power play skills that they are sorely lacking, even with all of their star power. Adding Selanne (73 Power Play Goals and 70 Even Strength Goals since the lockout) to the squad would instantly boost the league’s second worst power play (14.8%) to respectability.
LW Alex Tanguay, Tampa Bay Lightning – 29 years old
VUKOTA projection: 7.7 GVT
2009-10 to date: 1.5 GVT
2009-10 salary: $2.5 million; 2010-11: Unrestricted free agent
Would make sense for: Buffalo Sabres
In exchange for: D Chris Butler
Keeping in mind that Alex Tanguay was a first line forward in Montreal, it was puzzling that he had to wait so long into the offseason before he was picked up by lowly Tampa Bay on a one year deal. By conventional stats and GVT, it certainly looks like all those other GM’s made a reasonable decision, but Even Strength Total Rating (ESTR) tells a different story: Tanguay has been excellent over the last season and a half, posting a top 20 mark of +1.46 in 2008-09 and a well above average mark of +0.29 in 2009-10. There’s no question that Tanguay could be a valuable second line player for a contending team, at the cost of only a million or so dollars for the remainder of the season.
The surprising Sabres certainly could use an improvement at forward – importantly, one that wouldn’t ruin their excellent team chemistry defensively. Enter: Chris Butler, who was a quality contributor for Buffalo last season, but who has been their biggest defensive liability by far this season. A change in scenery is long overdue for the 23 year old prospect––either by trade or demotion to the minors––to give him a chance at a new start or at least to get his head together. 26 year old Nathan Paetsch (0.3 GVT in 10 GP, +0.83 ESTR) is playing well for the Sabres this season and is––for the time being––a better sixth defenseman than Butler (0.8 GVT in 34 GP, -1.54 ESTR) anyway.
D Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs – 31 years old
VUKOTA projection: 7.0 GVT
2009-10 to date: 8.7 GVT
2009-10 salary: $4.25 million; 2010-11 salary: $4.25 million
Would make sense for: Calgary Flames
In exchange for: Dion Phaneuf
Kaberle has long been rumored to be on the trading block, apparently not fitting the rough-and-tumble archetype of a defenseman that Brian Burke prefers (See: Komisarek, Mike. See also: Roster, Team USA). So doesn’t it make perfect sense for Burke to covet a big, bruising, offensively gifted player like Dion Phaneuf (3.7 GVT) of the Flames? In an ideal world, Big Dion would improve his puzzlingly poor defensive skills and turn into the next Chris Pronger, but for now, he’s a vastly overpaid one-way offensive defenseman worth -6.8 Goals Versus Salary; his GVT would call for a salary in the range of $2.5-$3.0 million. While Toronto would gain in age and upside for the future, Calgary could pick up a defenseman who’s playing better right now, at a lower price tag and with a significantly smaller salary commitment. To even out this season’s dollars, Calgary could request LW Alex Ponikarovsky (5.6 GVT, $2.5 million through 2009-10) or LW Nicklas Hagman (5.4 GVT, $3 million annually through 2011-12) in the deal as well, further improving their squad for the playoffs.
RW Petr Sykora, Minnesota Wild – 32 years old
VUKOTA projection: 6.2 GVT
2009-10: -0.3 GVT in 13 GP
2009-10 salary: $1.6 million; 2010-11: UFA
Would make sense for: New York Rangers
In exchange for: Not much
The Rangers are in desperate need of scoring help. This was particularly evident after recently being shut out in back-to-back games by future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur of the Devils and relative unknown Mike Brodeur of the Senators. For getting his name etched into the Stanley Cup last season, Petr Sykora has had a rough go of it over the past 6-8 months, being benched for most of the Penguins’ championship run and being sidelined for most of his first season with the Wild with a groin injury and concussion. Though Minnesota has been playing well of recent, it’s unlikely that they will make the postseason in the tough Western Conference. You would think that Sykora––a healthy scratch of recent––could be had for a song by Glen Sather after staking out yet another coach’s doghouse. What do the Rangers have to lose? New York certainly can’t go far as they’re currently constructed; maybe the Blue Shirts could catch lightning in a bottle in the short run with Sykora. Look at the relative success the Bruins have had with ex-Pen Miroslav Satan since picking him up as an unsigned free agent.
What about the players on the conference-worst Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, you might ask? Heck yeah, those teams should be sold for parts. Stay tuned for next time to see where Ray Whitney, Sheldon Souray and others should go.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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