At the age of 34, Lubomir Visnovsky matched or exceeded his career highs in goals (18), even strength goals (13), assists (50), points (68), plus-minus (plus-18), and shooting percentage (11.8%) in his first full season as an Anaheim Duck. Amazingly, master prognosticator Timo Seppa saw it coming, and while many factors contributed to his conclusions, the most convincing was Visnovsky's amazing performance in late 2009-10 when he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers. Despite 32 points in 57 games for the Oilers, Visnovsky bagged 13 in his final 16 points with the Ducks, logging an extra five minutes per game alongside the star-studded likes of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, and Bobby Ryan.
If a hot finish is the key to predicting breakout seasons, then Coyote fans might wonder what happened to players like Lee Stempniak, who closed out the season with 14 goals and 18 points in 18 games, or new teammate Wojtek Wolski, who matched Stempniak's 18 points in 18 games? Neither of them scored even 40 points in 2010-11, and in fact set new career lows (with the exception of Stempniak's rookie season).
If post-trade performance is the key to predicting breakout performances, then we can unlock the vault through a closer examination of performances after the trading deadline. Is there a link? If not, is there a way to tell which ones signal a Visnovskian breakout, and which ones don't? We'll start by looking at the Slovakian's fellow blueliners.
In 2009-10, there were 24 defensemen who changed teams near the deadline, and 15 of them met scoring expectations within a couple of points11 of them were essentially bang on. Lubomir Visnovsky ranks third of those whose post-trade scoring levels varied most from the expectations set earlier in the season.
Biggest Post-Trade Deadline Increases in Scoring, 2009-10 Defensemen
2009-10 Trade Deadline --> 2010-11 Season
ExpPTS: Expected Points, based on 2009-10 scoring
Defenseman GP ExpPTS PTS Diff --> GP ExpPTS PTS Diff
Johnny Oduya 27 2.7 9 +6.3 82 15.9 17 +1.1
Aaron Johnson 19 2.6 7 +4.4 AHL
Lubomir Visnovsky 16 9.0 13 +4.0 81 49.9 68 +18.1
Dennis Seidenberg 17 6.3 9 +2.7 81 32.8 32 -0.8
Ryan Whitney 19 8.6 11 +2.4 35 16.9 27 +10.1
Jordan Leopold 20 5.9 8 +2.1 71 22.8 35 +12.2
Cam Barker 19 5.2 7 +1.8 52 15.6 5 -10.6
Andy Sutton 18 4.0 1 -3.0 39 7.0 4 -3.0
Alexandre Picard 9 3.0 0 -3.0 43 11.9 8 -3.9
Derek Morris 18 7.8 4 -3.8 77 29.4 16 -13.4
It's not just Visnovsky. Strong finishes signaled higher scoring levels for Ryan Whitney and Jordan Leopold too, so there could be something to this. If so, what's the difference between these three compared to players like Johnny Oduya and Dennis Seidenberg, whose scoring returned to previously-established levels? Or how about Cam Barker, who plunged to new career lows and Aaron Johnson, who couldn't even manage a job on the young and injury-stricken Nashville Predator blue line? Does a player have to be over a certain scoring threshold before we can take their post-trade success as a legitimate harbinger?
On the flip side, the three defensemen that stumbled towards the season's end all had disappointing 2010-11 seasons, but that's an awfully small sample size on which to base a recommendation to avoid. So let's see if we can increase the sample size by looking at forwards.
34 forwards switched teams at or near 2009-10's trading deadline, and of them 14 continued to score at roughly the same levels. Ignoring Peter Mueller, who lost the 2010-11 season to a concussion, and the huge Evgeny Artyukhin, who went back to the KHL, here are the forwards whose scoring increased the most in their new homes, along with what happened to them the following season.
Biggest Post-Trade Deadline Increases in Scoring, 2009-10 Forwards
Forward GP ExpPTS PTS Diff --> GP ExpPTS PTS Diff
Lee Stempniak 18 8.7 18 +9.3 82 49.2 38 -11.2
Brandon Segal 19 1.5 10 +8.5 46 12.5 10 -2.5
Teddy Purcell 19 2.8 9 +6.2 81 20.3 51 +30.8
Brandon Prust 26 3.0 9 +6.0 82 16.6 29 +12.4
Wojtek Wolski 18 13.6 18 +4.4 73 59.3 35 -24.3
Jody Shelley 21 1.8 6 +4.3 58 9.2 4 -5.2
Dominic Moore 21 7.4 11 +3.6 77 31.2 32 +0.8
Niclas Bergfors 27 13.5 17 +3.5 72 39.1 36 -3.1
Jason Blake 26 12.1 15 +2.9 76 38.0 32 -6.0
Fredrik Sjostrom 19 2.5 5 +2.5 66 11.2 5 -6.2
If there's a trend among defensemen, it doesn't seem to exist among the forwards. Only Teddy Purcell and Brandon Prust enjoyed substantial increases in their scoring the following season, or any increase at all, actually. Only Dominic Moore met expectations, and by less than a full point.
Even our earlier theory about players needing to produce above a certain threshold in order to break out the next season falls apart when looking at forwards, because the two that broke out were among the lowest producers, and the highest producers (the aforementioned Coyotes, Stempniak, and Wolski) were the biggest tumblers.
Of the other forwards that were dealt at the trading deadline and subsequently enjoyed breakout seasons, like Ville Leino, Christopher Higgins, Clarke MacArthur, and Matt D'Agostini, none of them finished the season in particularly spectacular fashion.
Perhaps the reverse trend can still be salvaged, and post-trade slumps still signal potential collapses, so let's examine the five players who struggled the most in the season's final month.
Biggest Post-Trade Deadline Decreases in Scoring, 2009-10 Forwards
Forward GP ExpPTS PTS Diff --> GP ExpPTS PTS Diff
Ales Kotalik 26 12.7 5 -7.7 26 9.9 6 -3.9
Matt Cullen 21 14.0 8 -6.0 78 46.2 39 -7.2
Niklas Hagman 27 16.2 11 -5.2 71 38.1 27 -11.1
Ilya Kovalchuk 27 32.0 27 -5.0 81 90.6 60 -30.6
Matt Stajan 27 20.1 16 -4.1 76 52.8 31 -21.8
Either the reverse trend holds, or the more powerful trend "Don't get traded to the Calgary Flames" is messing with our results. Just like the defensemen, all the players who couldn't score after being traded went on to have disappointing seasons the next year, including substantial collapses from Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Even Alexei Ponikarovsky's measly 1.8 point disappointment may have signaled his tremendous 2010-11 crash.
Looking at a single season, there doesn't seem to be an obvious way to tell whether a post-trade surge will signal a breakout season or not; such determinations will still require deeper investigations. On the other hand, it seems clear that a post-trade reduction in scoring tends to signal at least somewhat of a collapse the following year. If so, stay tuned for an upcoming piece where we'll look at who concluded the 2010-11 season in lackluster fashion.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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