If I were general manager of the Ducks, Wild, Stars, Blues, Panthers, Lightning or Blue Jackets, I would already be listening to offers for my veteran assets, with thoughts of improving my team for the future. Though only a handful of points out of the eighth seed in their respective conferences, these squads have little chance of advancing past the likes of Washington, New Jersey, Chicago or San Jose in the event that their summer vacation plans change by mid-April. Regardless of what the history of frequent first round upsets might seem to tell you, this season’s top teams are showing few vulnerabilities while these weak sisters of the NHL––with the exception of the Ducks––have very little pedigree of any kind of success. At best, these teams find themselves “on the outside, looking in”.
The teams that absolutely shouldn’t have any illusion about still making the postseason are Toronto (17-26-10 44 points)––discussed briefly last week––and conference doormats Carolina (16-28-7, 39 points) and Edmonton (16-28-6 38 points). Without a doubt, the elderly Hurricanes and poorly constructed Oilers should be dismantled for parts, to get prospects and picks to build for a brighter future – and the sooner, the better. So what destinations make sense for some of the more notable players on Carolina and Edmonton? Read on.
LW Ray Whitney, Carolina Hurricanes – 37 years old
VUKOTA projection: 9.6 GVT
2009-10: 5.2 GVT in 48 GP
2009-10 salary: $3.55 million; 2010-11: Unrestricted free agent
Would make sense for: New Jersey Devils
In exchange for: RW Vladimir Zharkov
At the ripe old age of 37, Ray Whitney is still one of the Hurricanes’ top forwards. That might not sound like much nowadays, but Whitney was a key contributor during Carolina’s late season surge and Conference Finals run in 2008-09. A solid all-around forward, a veteran leader and (essentially) a point-per-game man over the past three seasons, Whitney would be well worth the sticker price of roughly $1.5 million for the remainder of the season for a variety of teams, such as the Devils, Coyotes and Flames – all of whom have significant cap space remaining and who could use a boost on offense. While the Hurricanes shouldn’t get their hopes up for a great return for Whitney, the fact that he’d be a useful addition to most playoff contenders means that Carolina stands to receive many bids for his services. While you can pretty much guarantee that Lou Lamoriello won’t add a superstar––that’s not his modus operandi––it’s clear that the injury-depleted Devils could use the addition of a quality veteran forward to right their ship, which is currently being manned in good part by a contingent of the Lowell Devils; Patrik Elias’ uncertain timetable for return from concussion might be the final straw in prompting such a move. Rookie winger Vladimir Zharkov (0 G, 7 A, 7 P, +5 plus-minus, +0.8 GVT in 25 GP)––a fine skater and promising two-way forward––might be the best that Carolina could hope for. The 22 year old Russian is considered a lower tier prospect, a solid future third line player for New Jersey…or Carolina.
D Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes – 32 years old
VUKOTA projection: 10.0 GVT
2009-10: 2.0 GVT in 27 GP
2009-10 salary: $2.75 million; 2010-11: Unrestricted free agent
Would make sense for: Ottawa Senators
In exchange for: G Brian Elliott
While Corvo has been out of the lineup since November 30––sidelined with a serious laceration to the leg––his return to play is imminent. The veteran blueliner would make a fine addition to many contenders, primarily as a second-tier offensive defenseman. Enter: the Ottawa Senators, a revitalized playoff contender (thank you, Daniel Alfredsson) with an NHL worst 15.3% power play. Since the departures of Wade Redden, Andrej Meszaros and yes, Joe Corvo after the 2007-08 season, Filip Kuba––whose 0.56 P/GP in 2008-9 was a personal high water mark––has been the Senator’s best option for a puck mover from the blue line; many of last season’s woes for Ottawa can be directly attributed to this strategic weakness. As with Whitney, Carolina can’t expect too much return for a few months’ rental of Corvo, but something is better than nothing, as they say. Now that Ottawa has a surplus at goaltender––with the emergence of Mike Brodeur (3-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .966 save percentage) in addition to starter Pascal Leclaire––Brian Elliott (signed through 2010-11) might be the kind of reasonable return the Hurricanes could expect for the veteran defenseman. Elliott could serve as a solid and inexpensive number two to back up Cam Ward through next season.
LW Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes – 26 years old
VUKOTA projection: 4.5 GVT
2009-10: 7.8 GVT in 49 GP
2009-10 salary: $1.5 million; 2010-11: $1.9 million
Would make sense for: Buffalo Sabres
In exchange for: LW Clarke MacArthur
Jussi Jokinen deserves the title of the NHL’s first shootout specialist, as he set the record for goals scored (10) in the shootout’s inaugural season of 2005-06 (since tied by Wojtek Wolski last season), Jokinen’s age-22 rookie season with Dallas. He is currently first in career attempts (49), second in goals scored (26) and third in shooting percentage (54.2%) among players with at least 20 career shootout attempts. What’s not well known about the 26 year old Finn is that for a player of modest all-around skills, he has always scored at a good clip on the man advantage. When given the opportunity, that is. Case in point: Jokinen’s 2.35 goals per 60 minutes of PPTOI (power play time on ice) this season is equal to that of uber-trade-prospect Ilya Kovalchuk. So which teams could use help both in the shootout and on the power play? Certainly the Bruins and Rangers, as both teams are near the bottom of the NHL at a 25% conversion rate in the shootout, and the extra points earned could be critical for these fringe playoff teams. But the Sabres (27% conversion rate in the shootout and a middling 18% power play) should also consider acquiring Jokinen for LW Clarke MacArthur (-0.2 DGVT, Buffalo’s worst defensive GVT), a lousy defensive forward and garbage goal scorer with an expiring contract. Generally solid up and down their lineup, MacArthur is a weak link for the Sabres that can be improved toward steeling their squad for a deep postseason run. While you wouldn’t figure that additional shootout points would be as important to the Sabres as to fringe contenders, seeding could play a big role in how the postseason plays out; avoiding the Penguins or Flyers in exchange for the Canadiens, Bruins or Rangers could make or break Buffalo’s Stanley Cup aspirations.
LW Dustin Penner, Edmonton Oilers – 26 years old
VUKOTA projection: 4.5 GVT
2009-10: 9.2 GVT in 50 GP
2009-10 salary: $4.25 million; 2010-11: $4.25 million; 2011-12: $4.25 million
Would make sense for: Montreal Canadiens
In exchange for: G Carey Price and LW Andrei Kostitsyn
Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn rate as disappointments for the Canadiens, at least when measured versus expectations. After a sensational rookie season (24-12-3, 2.56 GAA, .920 save percentage), Price experienced a sophomore slump (.905 save percentage) in 2008-09 that brought his potential into question. Now, in a representative third season (.913 save percentage, 6.7 GVT in 31.5 GP), the 22 year old finds himself outplayed by 24 year old Jaroslav Halak (.927 save percentage, 12.3 GVT in 22.1 GP), who will also be Team Slovakia's number one goaltender next month. On the other hand, Andrei Kostitsyn––tenth overall draft choice in 2003––has never seemed to live up to his potential. Though the Belarus native showed flashes of proficiency (4.0 GVT in 40 GP) this season before a knee injury sidelined him for an expected 6 weeks in late December, it seems doubtful that he’ll ever be a star player. Price, a restricted free agent in 2010-11, might intrigue Edmonton as the goalie of their future, in exchange for the greater contractual commitment to Dustin Penner, who’s had a breakout season (Though he had already shown signs last season with an elite +0.93 ESTR). The 26 year old Penner started the season on fire for the Oilers (36 points in 32 games), playing so well that he had a legitimate gripe for being left off the Team Canada roster over the likes of the mediocre Patrice Bergeron and the slumping Eric Staal. Penner would give the Habs a much needed boost at even strength––Montreal is 28th in the NHL at 0.82 GF/GA in 5 on 5 play––both for the remainder of this season and beyond. The addition of Kostitsyn to the deal would be more to even out salaries through 2010-11 than to even out talent, though he would fill a top six slot for Edmonton.
C Robert Nilsson, Edmonton Oilers – 24 years old
VUKOTA projection: 4.3 GVT
2009-10: 1.0 GVT in 35 GP
2009-10 salary: $2.0 million; 2010-11: $2.5 million
Would make sense for: Detroit Red Wings
In exchange for: LW Justin Abdelkader, or a ham sandwich
Robert Nilsson has been persona non grata amongst Oilers’ fans and management for quite a while now; it’s not a good sign when they already don’t like you when you’re actually playing pretty well. Along with Nilsson’s admittedly uneven play, the fact that Edmonton acquired him by trading away popular veteran winger Ryan Smyth may explain the antipathy towards him. Looking on the bright side, Nilsson put up a respectable +0.48 Even Strength Total Rating (ESTR) on a non-playoff team last season, an indication of good two-way skills. Yet poor play this season seems to underscore that a change of scenery is long overdue for the 24 year old. So what better landing spot for a young Swede with solid all-around potential than the Detroit Red Wings, aka Team Sweden? The Red Wings have been ravaged by injuries this season, opening the door for the addition of a promising, young forward – even with the return of Tomas Holmstrom imminent. Somewhat overrated, postseason darling and high effort winger Justin Abdelkader would certainly net Nilsson in return, but frankly, the underachieving son of “Magic Man” Kent Nilsson could likely be had for the proverbial ham sandwich; Detroit could expect to deal just about any player of their choice for some cap relief in return. If providence leads Nilsson to the Wings, we’ll see what the enigmatic youngster can produce in an ideal environment: it’ll be time for him to put up or shut up.
D Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers – 32 years old
VUKOTA projection: 11.2 GVT
2009-10: 1.3 GVT in 34 GP
2009-10 salary: $5.5 million; 2010-11: $4.5 million; 2011-12: $4.5 million
Would make sense for: New York Islanders
In exchange for: D Brendan Witt
Is Souray over the hill or has he been dragged down by a poor Oilers’ squad? That’s the question that teams like the Rangers and Capitals––rumored to be interested in his services––are analyzing in trying to decide whether to trade for the veteran, because he’s not looking like he’s worth a commitment of over $10 million for the next two and a half seasons at this point. Remember: VUKOTA certainly considered him a valuable defenseman, projecting him as worth 11.2 GVT for 2009-10, lending credence to the team-hurting-his-production hypothesis. That said, the Rangers could only pick up Souray and/or Edmonton albatross Shawn Horcoff if they are able to get rid of their own “untradeable” contracts in return: Wade Redden and/or surprise Team USA Olympian Chris Drury. So how about the Capitals? Keeping in mind that a team had better be picking up Souray to be an offensive defenseman, including heavily utilizing him on the power play––that he had 19 power play goals but was minus-28 for the Canadiens in 2006-07 gives you a good idea of his profile––you wonder why Washington would need his skill set. The Capitals already have Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin playing the point on a power play that’s converting a ridiculous 26% of the time. Nothing’s going to improve on that. So we go “off the board” for the surprise best destination: Long Island. The Islanders have plenty of cap space, could use a boost to a poor 16.4% power play (25th in NHL) and could rid themselves of the blue line blight of Brendan Witt (5 points, minus-18, -1.9 GVT in 42 GP), whose salary dump ($3 million in 2009-10 and 2010-11) would make the addition of Souray’s contract much more palatable. In return, Witt will help ensure that Edmonton gets the top draft pick this season.
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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