The Buffalo Sabres, sitting on the edge of the playoff bubble but still very much in the conversation, made a big move to upgrade their scoring with the acquisition of Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a second round draft pick. Boyes is a solid addition and at that price I think the Sabres win this deal hands-down.
I expect to see a lot of commentators referring to Boyes as a second-line player, but only because any player who doesn't consistently score at the point per game level seems to get that tag. Going by straight offense, Boyes is easily a top-line forward in the post-Lockout NHL.
Category Total Rank Among Active NHL Forwards
Goals 145 36th
Points 335 t-43rd
EV Goals 102 23rd
PP Goals 42 t-53rd
Goals Created 129 t-39th
Points/game 0.71 t-69th
GC/game 0.27 t-66th
To be sure, by the per-game numbers Boyes is a bottom-third top-liner, but he is a top-liner all the same going by offense. The first interesting thing about those offensive numbers is that Boyes is primarily a goal-scorer, which is something easy to miss by looking only at pointsbecause goals are rarer than assists at the NHL level, they are more valuable. The second interesting thing is where Boyes puts his points upalthough he scored 27 power play goals between 2007-09, he is primarily an even-strength scorer.
Season 5v5 PTS/60 5v4 PTS/60
2007-08 2.35 3.64
2008-09 1.77 4.81
2009-10 1.68 2.44
2010-11 2.22 2.74
Average 2.01 3.41
Averaging more than two points for every sixty minutes of even-strength ice time is an impressive feat, something only four forwards (Roy, Stafford, Pominville and Vanek) have managed for the Sabres this season. The power play number is less impressive; Boyes is an unspectacular performer on the man advantage, especially over the last two seasons.
While Boyes' offensive contribution is obvious, it is less obvious that he is a complete talent. St. Louis has been using him as a specialist to some degree, managing his opponents and where he starts on the ice. Only once in the last four seasons has Boyes started more in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone, despite playing for a St. Louis team that has often found itself starting in their own end more often than not. Over the last four seasons, Boyes has never been employed in a power vs. power role for the Blues.
Fortunately, for the Sabres, that is a relatively minor consideration. They are already a very strong even-strength team; Buffalo's 1.12 goals for/goals against ratio in those situations ties them for sixth in the league, just narrowly back of the Detroit Red Wings (1.13 GF/GA). They have also controlled the territorial game, as just three of their 13 most commonly used forwards have started more in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. For a team already this strong, Boyes is a sensible pickup: he can add some scoring punch and the Sabres can afford to place him in a role where he can enjoy success.
This is also a sensible deal from a cap perspective for the Sabres. Boyes is not a rental, but he has an affordable cap hit of $4.0 million for the rest of this season and next season. With Tim Connolly's $4.5 million deal ending this summer, the Sabres do have some wiggle room (although Drew Stafford will also need a new contract).
Additionally, if Boyes turns out to be the difference between a playoff spot and ninth in the East, it could make a very significant difference to the Sabres' bottom line. They would be guaranteed the revenue from two home playoff games, and some modest success would stretch that number to three or beyond.
Weighed against the benefit of an offensive player like Boyes is the cost of acquisition: in this case a second-round draft pick. The likelihood of a second round pick developing into a 100+ game NHL player is somewhere between one-in-three and one-in-four. If that player develops, the drafting team also has some advantages, as entry level players have a lower cap over their first contract, and waiver exemptions during their early years which provide the team with some flexibility. Even so, I do not think there is any kind of logical argument that kind of value is a fair return on a player of Boyes' caliber, particularly given that this is not a situation where Boyes was set to walk off into free agency leaving the Blues' holding an empty bag.
Darcy Regier and the Sabres deserve full credit for getting a useful and productive NHL player out of St. Louis for a minimal return. For the Blues, the combination of this trade and the Erik Johnson trade last week should be raising serious questions about what exactly is going on in the office of the general manager.
The reaction from fans in the two cities seems to reflect my analysis. There is optimism in Buffalo while the reaction from Blues' blog St. Louis Game Time was more muted:
The trade puts the Blues even closer to the CBA-mandated salary floor and likely signals an increase in ice time for a player like Philip McRae, who is supposed to be a scorer but has had a hard time cracking into the Blues' top lines since his latest recall from Peoria.
It will be interesting to see how this deal impacts the going rate for other forwards on deadline day.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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