We last left off with the Edmonton Oilers finding themselves in the midst of a three team deal that included the likes of Patrick O’Sullivan, Ales Kotalik, Erik Cole and Justin Williams. In this third trade deadline installment, we look back at a move that made Bill Guerin the center of attention. The Islanders, struggling for a future, dealt one of the most talented players on their roster for a 2009 conditional draft pick that could hopefully become a productive Islander one day. For the Penguins, Guerin added depth to the right wing position. He was an addition that Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero believed could propel the Penguins into the Stanley Cup finals.
New York Islanders
Acquired a conditional 2009 draft pick in exchange for RW Bill Guerin. [3/4]
"You’re either rebuilding for something special, or you’re on the verge of something special. To be in between is foolish.” – Billy Beane
With the worst record in the NHL, it was apparent that the Islanders weren’t thinking of retaining the services of Bill Guerin. For a team in such dire straits, the sensible move was to begin to stockpile draft picks. A more radical move, and arguably just as necessary, would be to move all of their non-prospect or early twenties players for a combination of prospects and draft picks. This includes moving one of the Islanders greatest signings of the past decade: defenseman (and forward) Mark Streit. While Mark put up good numbers in the Swiss-A league and continues to do so in the NHL, at age 31, his value will never be as high as it is now. Of course, New York should not think about moving him if the price is not right. There are other players that could bring in good value as well, such as Doug Weight. Weight has posted a + 2.7 GVT along with a + 3.4 Corsi rating, which isn’t bad for a team with a -42 Even Strength, ES, differential. Unfortunately, Weight becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season. It's hard to imagine a rebuilding team signing Weight for next year and beyond. Along with Weight, UFA's Dean McAmmond and Mike Sillinger will most likely depart. The Islanders have some restricted free agents (RFA's) that they should consider bringing back in Blake Corneau, Jeremy Colliton, Trevor Smith and possibly Jack Hillen.
Unfortunately, hockey teams cannot operate precisely as baseball teams can. Post-peak, valuable players can be dealt for draft picks, as long as the selling team does not fall below the salary floor. Unlike baseball, hockey has a salary floor and a salary cap. Teams cannot spend above $56.7 million nor dip below $40.3 million, with bonuses for players over the age of 35 counting towards the cap as according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. By signing veterans such as Weight to deals that included bonuses, the Islanders were able to remain above the salary floor for the 2008-2009 season. What might be even more disturbing is that if Doug Weight fails to reach bonus incentives, the Islanders keep the bonus money and it doesn’t even count towards the cap. Another oddity is that long-term injuries do not count against the floor nor cap in hockey. There exists the possibility that a team could manipulate injury information in order to either stay below the salary cap or above the salary floor. Let’s just hope Bill Belichick doesn’t get his hands on a hockey team in the near future. The Islanders this year could potentially fall below the salary floor, while complying with the rules of the CBA. New York can at least take away a 25 % chance, the lottery odds for the 30th ranked team, of receiving the number one selection in the NHL Entry Draft this June. For New York, a talented first overall pick might not be enough to end the rumors of a move to Kansas City. That would be a sad day for the NHL team of the 1980s.
On a positive note, there is some hope for the Islanders aside from a potential first overall draft pick. Center Joshua Bailey has superstar potential. The 19 year old put up 96 Points in 67 Games for an astonishing 1.43 Points Per Game in his first draft eligible year in the Ontario Hockey League. He is the type of player New York could rebuild around. There are also decent UFA's that could help shore up the Islander's defense for next year, such as Ossi Vaananen and Mike Komisarek. For the offense, Alexandre Giroux would certainly be a cheap gamble.
Acquired RW Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders in exchange for a conditional 2009 draft pick. [3/4]
Bill Guerin has seemingly been in hockey for eternity. The three-time U.S. Olympian has played in over 1,000 games, which lands him among a group of 214 of the most durable players ever to play the sport. The 6’2’’, 220 lb. right winger, who was awarded a 2 year, $9 million contract by the Islanders, will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Pittsburgh only is required to pay a prorated portion of his salary, meaning he will be getting paid proportionately to his time spent with the Penguins during the regular season.
This is a deal that that will have little impact on the Penguins’ long term salary cap situation. Some NHL executives are expecting the salary cap to be lowered from $56.7 million this year to $48 million next year as a result of the struggling economy. Regardless, the Penguins will not have to worry about Guerin’s salary for next year, unless they resign him. The former Islander will most likely consider re-signing with the Penguins in the off-season if he is offered a contract as he waived his no-trade clause in order to come play hockey in the Steel City.
The Penguins number one priority has been adding an offensive wingman that could help out Crosby and Malkin, though whether this should be their top priority is for another discussion. Chris Kunitz of the Anaheim Ducks was the first attempt to solve Pittsburgh’s problem. While Kunitz scored in his first game, the Penguins were still searching for one more piece to the puzzle. Guerin has been that missing piece and has made his presence felt so far with 9 points in 7 games since the trade. The Massachusetts native has been fairly productive for a forward this year by contributing 3 goals above the contributions of a marginal player for a GVT of +3.0. The only forward he trailed in terms of GVT production on the Islanders was Andy Hilbert, who has been flying under the radar on Long Island. Hilbert has become one of the better defending forwards in the game over his handful of years in the NHL.
The Penguins have had two glaring weaknesses this year:
1) They receive poor defending in the net with Marc-Andre Fleury, who has posted a measly + 2.3 GVT that ranks among NHL’s worst goalies. Guerin and Fleury have their GVT's treated differently because of time spent on the ice. While defensemen generally play 25 minutes and forwards play around 20 minutes, goaltenders often play an entire 60 minutes. This is why goaltenders are usually among the most valauble players in the NHL.
2) Their special teams play has been mediocre. The 16th ranked Power Play unit has been effective in scoring only 18.5 % of the time, while the 14th ranked penalty killing group has only prevented goals 85 % of the time.
3) Wing Depth: This became an apparent need when Marian Hossa went off to Detroit, leaving Pittsburgh with Miroslav Satan to sign. The Penguins have managed to improve their wing depth over the last few weeks with the addition of Chris Kunitz to help at the left wing position, and claimed right winger Craig Adams off of waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, the Penguins still lacked depth after Petr Sykora on the right wing. Other than Sykora, no right wingers have contributed a positive GVT on the season for Pittsburgh.
Guerin is not tremendously effective at addressing either of the first two team needs. However, where he does help is with the third flaw the Penguins have.
Even with the addition of Guerin, this final flaw could still be exacerbated depending on how head coach Dan Bylsma delegates time between Petr Sykora, Bill Guerin and Eric Godard. Peter Sykora, the first line right winger, has posted a + 7.2 GVT on the year, which makes him more than twice as effective on the ice as Bill Guerin. However, the next Right Wingman on the Penguins depth chart before the Guerin deal was Eric Godard. Godard has posted a horrifying -2.5 GVT, which makes him the least productive player on the entire roster. The key to maximizing Guerin’s value in the Igloo is to maintain Sykora’s average ice time, while significantly reducing Godard’s ice time in favor of Guerin. If the Penguins do that, which has happened so far, they’ve become better by about 5 or 6 goals over the course of a season. For the final quarter of the season and the playoffs, they’ve improved by approximately 2 goals. However, despite their newest addition, their first two weaknesses are likely to keep them from going far into the postseason.
Should the Penguins think about signing Bill Guerin after this season? Given that forwards hit their peak between the ages of 23 and 26, the answer would normally be no. Occasionally, there are exceptions. This is what the Similarity Score Index gives us for Bill Guerin’s top comparables going into this season:
Year Player GP G A PTS PIM GP G A PTS PIM
1999-00 John MacLean 30 4 2 6 17 50 7 5 12 34
1997-98 Adam Graves 82 38 15 53 47 404 97 71 168 221
1997-98 John MacLean 82 28 27 55 46 209 53 56 109 132
1998-99 Geoff Courtnall 6 2 2 4 6 6 2 2 4 6
2002-03 Jason Arnott 73 21 36 57 66 301 108 151 259 270
2002-03 Bobby Holik 82 25 31 56 96 310 66 86 152 351
1977-78 Garry Unger 80 30 26 56 44 276 64 65 129 198
1999-00 Claude Lemieux 46 10 16 26 58 196 34 53 87 172
1978-79 Garry Unger 79 17 16 33 39 196 34 39 73 154
1933-34 Bun Cook 48 13 21 34 26 114 21 31 52 46
In 70 games this season, the fifth overall selection in 1989 has 19 Goals, 27 Assists, 46 Points and 65 Penalties in Minutes. The two closest comparables on Guerin’s list for this season are Bobby Holik and Jason Arnott. Both of these players managed to play an average of 3.6 seasons more, though both are still playing. While the 38 year old New Jersey Devils center has been in a general decline since 1997-1998, it is interesting to note that he had one peak-like season following the 2002-2003 campaign and lockout. Following his surprising season, his production slowly fell off and stabilized over the course of 3 seasons to 11-15 Goals, 18-19 Assists, 30 Points and 85 Penalties in Minutes. Unfortunately for Holik, despite the hand injury, his career as a productive hockey player appears to be on the brink of ending after posting very poor numbers with the New Jersey Devils this year.
Jason Arnott, on the other hand, has seen his numbers go up since his 2002-2003 comparable year with the Dallas Stars. The 34 year old center has managed to score 28.2 Goals, along with 31.8 Assists, 60 Points and 58.8 Penalties in Minutes in five seasons. The 2003-2004 lockout season has been excluded because no games were played that year.
Given the lack of right wing depth behind Sykora for Pittsburgh, the Penguins should pursue a short term deal with Bill Guerin. A one year $2.5 million dollar deal would sound optimal, Bobby Holik money, but even a two year deal with a base salary around $3 million would still be tolerable. Anything higher than a total deal worth $6 million over 2 years is excessive. Guerin waived his no-trade clause because he wanted to play for a winner that had a chance of winning the Stanley Cup. If he refuses to settle for a one or two year contract with a $2.5-$3 million base salary, the Penguins should look elsewhere.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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