Yesterday, Corey Pronman provided a great analysis of the Kris Versteeg deal here on Hockey Prospectus.
However, I have a different view. It's not that Corey and I would use different statistics to compare the value of the deal, it's in how we interpret what those numbers mean to each team at this point in the season, and to the future of the two franchises. Corey has a much better knowledge of prospects and farm systems than I do, but I thought it might be interesting reading to present opposing analysis of the trade.
The Impact on the Leafs
Give Brian Burke some credit. He never stops trying to improve his team. Unfortunately, by trading winger Kris Versteeg for picks, he seems to have made a mistake.
While the Leafs moving defenseman Francois Beauchemin made a fair bit of sense to me, I really don't understand the Versteeg deal. By moving Beauchemin, the Leafs were able to get both an NHL player (Anaheim forward Joffrey Lupul) and a decent prospect in defenseman Jake Gardiner. Lupul has definitely underperformed versus his $4.2 million cap hit, but has scored 20 goals in three different seasons during his NHL career. At 27 years old, he still should have three or four decent seasons in him. Taking his cap hit was the price to pay for getting a prospect like Gardiner, but the salary is almost a straight swap with Beauchemin's. I can live with this type of deal.
The problem is, many are speculating that the acquisition of Lupul made Kris Versteeg expendable. This is just speculation, but I sure hope it wasn't the reason Burke decided to move the young winger.
I can understand Burke's desire to stockpile prospects and draft picks. The Leafs have been outside of the playoff picture for a while now and need to gather as much talent as they possibly can. Given the fact that they're 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the East, they need to start thinking about next season and beyond. The problem I see, however, is that Burke just gave up on a talented 24-year-old winger with a $3.1 million cap hit, who is a restricted free agent at the end of next season. Not only is he young, but he's proven himself against NHL competition.
Teams that want to build through youth still need established NHLers on the team. Prospects can't be thrown into the deep end against the National Hockey League's best. It's usually better to give them a year or so in a developmental league and to introduce them into the NHL with softer ice time to begin with. In order to do this, the regular NHLers on the team have to be more than just filler. Established players who are young and are on good value contracts fit the bill better than most. Versteeg satisfies both of those requirements.
Kris Versteeg is on pace for his third straight 20-goal season in the NHL. In his third season, he is a known quantity. Draft picks are unknown quantities. They could turn into the next Pavel Datsyuk, or they could turn into the next Chris Dingman. There is risk involved. Versteeg represents very little risk after 223 regular season games and 51 playoff games at the NHL level. We have a good idea what kind of player he is.
Corey did a great job of outlining Versteeg's value versus his contract. He is worth somewhere between his 9.6 GVT three season average and the 11.5 GVT worth he averaged in Chicago. His contract dollars only require a GVT of 7.8 to break even. On top of that, the first round pick the Leafs got in return has an average peak value of approximately 5.0 GVT. Unless the Leafs can hit big on a late first round pick, they're getting less value than they're giving up.
One reason that teams need draft picks in the salary cap era is the value they potentially represent. The combination of entry-level contracts (ELCs) and restricted free agent (RFA) contracts give the squad several years of service at a reasonable salary and any performance gleaned above this contract value is gravy for the team. The tradeoff is the risk that the player won't ever develop into a regular NHL player. Versteeg is already a regular NHL player and is a RFA after another year and half on his current contract. That represents several more years of value.
To summarize, the Leafs have given up an established NHL player who produces 9-12 GVT per season at the age of 24 and they're getting back a gamble that produces on average 5 GVT. That doesn't sound like a win to me.
The Impact on the Flyers
Corey's viewpoint was that by dealing another first round pick, the Flyers have further depleted an already barren farm system. He's right. I just don't think it's as important for this team as others in the league.
Here's why I'm not as concerned. Take a look at the core players for the Flyers, their age, current GVT (through 54 games) and the year their contract runs out. The stars denote RFAs at the end of the deal.
Philadelphia's solid core of forwards
Player Age Current GVT Last year of contract
Jeff Carter 26 13.5 2022
Claude Giroux 23 12.8 2015*
Mike Richards 26 11.3 2020
Daniel Briere 33 10.6 2015
Ville Leino 27 8.1 2011
Scott Hartnell 28 6.8 2013
James Van Riemsdyk 21 4.6 2012*
Kris Versteeg 24 3.8 2012*
There probably isn't another team in the league who can boast a lineup of forwards with this quality down to the third line. And the only one of them who likely won't be back next year is Ville Leino. That said, Versteeg is three years younger and has a similar talent level as Leino. The other fact to note about this collection of forwards is that Briere is the only player over 28 years old. This group is unlikely to suffer a sharp decline any time soon, with players like JVR, Giroux and Versteeg still likely to improve.
The team may need some defensive prospects in the near future given the age of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, but one of them could possibly be dealt in the summer for prospects if the Flyers wanted. Moving one of the defensemen could also provide cap relief, as could sending Briere or Hartnell elsewhere.
The Flyers definitely gave up some of their future for a push now, but they didn't get a pure rental in Versteeg. He is on contract through next year and his RFA status at the end of the deal means the Flyers still have a lot of control over his geographical fate.
There are some deals that work out as a win-win for both teams. Unfortunately for Brian Burke, this isn't one of those deals. In my mind, the Leafs gave up on a proven young NHL player for what essentially works out to be a draft pick that at best might work out as well as the player they just gave up.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.