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February 23, 2012
Zamboni Tracks
The First Dominos

by Ryan Wagman

Philadelphia Flyers

Acquired D Niklas Grossman from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a 2012 second round pick, and a 2013 third round pick (February 16, 2012)

Acquired D Pavel Kubina from the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Jonathon Kalinski, a conditional second round pick, and a 2013 fourth round pick (February 18, 2012)

For two second round picks, a third, a fourth, and organizational fodder, the Flyers have drastically upped their defensive depth, finally replacing quality (Chris Pronger) with quantity (10 fringe-to-plus NHLers on the blueline). Shut down for the season in mid-December with post-concussion syndrome, Pronger's absence has left a large hole in the Flyers' backline depth chart and in the locker room. On the day of the announcement of the shutdown, the Flyers were tied with the Boston Bruins for the most points in the Eastern Conference. In close to 30 games since the announcement, they have dropped to a tie for fifth with their cross-state rivals from Pittsburgh.

Not that Pronger was the only injury they have had to deal with, but GM Paul Holmgren wisely recognized that a playoff run of any significant length would require better blueline options than Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Walker, Oskars Bartulis, and Andreas Lilja. Bearing in mind that Bartulis has yet to receive the call up from Adirondack in the AHL, the remaining four defensemen have combined for a whopping 1.3 GVT across 104 games. Prorating that over a full slate of 82 games, that comes out to scarcely over one goal above replacement. Before the two trades of last week, those men were all the Flyers had to play on the third pairing and through any need for additional depth.

Before being shut down, Pronger had contributed 3.4 GVT to the Flyers' cause in only 13 games. Prorated to 82 games, that comes to 21.4 GVT, a figure which would have topped all NHL blueliners last season. Even had Pronger only reached his VUKOTA projections of 7.6 GVT in 57 games, the Flyers would have had 7-8 additional goals this season, which would have put them that much closer to home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

With Matt Walker long since banished to the AHL, the two trades allowed the Flyers to return Gustafsson and Bourdon to Adirondack for more seasoning and relegate Lilja to the status of seventh defender. Interestingly, going back to VUKOTA for a moment, Kubina and Grossman were projected to combine for scarcely more GVT than Pronger, in more than double the time. In that sense alone, their inclusion into the team picture at the expense of Pronger and a (more-or-less) replacement level player may even things out. Both Grossman and Kubina will be UFAs following this season, so their salaries need only count against the cap as a replacement for the Pronger long-term injury relief. Both new Flyers help restore the team's big-man quota, as both stand 6'4", and both outweigh Pronger's (listed) 220 pounds. Kubina can replace some of Pronger's leadership/experience and offensive utility, as he packs a big shot and owns a Stanley Cup ring. Grossman is more of a defenseman's defenseman, a player who had the highest own-zone start ratio among Dallas blueliners and generally played against above-average competition. With only five points (all assists) this season, the former second round pick has scored only three career goals in 334 NHL games.

Chris Pronger is irreplaceable. His replacements are easily replaceable. Taken together, they can be masked over with 475 pounds of defensemen with nearly 1300 games of NHL experience. Costing only a handful of picks and a fringe organizational type in Kalinski, the Flyers have vastly improved their blueline depth which should stand them in good stead for the grueling postseason.

San Jose Sharks

Acquired C Dominic Moore and a 2012 seventh round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a 2012 second round pick (February 16, 2012)

In a recent article looking at team problems and potential solutions, I suggested that the Sharks could use help on the penalty kill.

A critical factor separating them from true dominance is a below-average penalty kill. San Jose is currently 27th in the NHL at a putrid 78.3 percent, and improving that by even 5 percent the rest of the way could reasonably save the team four or five goals against by the end of the season. In other words, that would equal an additional two points in the ledger and a better chance to succeed in the demanding postseason.

In the article in question, I suggested that the Sharks address the issue by acquiring a defensive blueliner, in particular suggesting Mike Komisarek of the Toronto Maple Leafs, although there were others such as Jordan Leopold of Buffalo would have equally fit the bill. In acquiring bottom-six center Dominic Moore from Tampa for a second round pick* the Sharks have acknowledged the problem, but have chosen an alternate route to correcting it.

*We'll be seeing a lot of movement involving second round picks before the deadline. This is also the third time in the past four seasons in which Moore was dealt around the trade deadline and a second rounder went the other way. Two other times that he was traded, a third rounder made up the return.

With little cap room to spare, any solution the Sharks would attempt would be limited to a small contract, or giving up a piece of the current roster as part of the exchange. Preferring to keep the band together, the Harvard grad fit the bill as an expiring contract with a cap hit of $1.1 million. Moore is a good defensive center who can be trusted in all situations and excels in the faceoff circle. According to Timo Seppa's proprietary adjusted faceoff metric, UFO%, Moore ranked 26th in the NHL last season. This skill allowed his old bench boss to use him heavily in defensive zone faceoffs, as the native of my new hometown (Thornhill, Ontario literally across the street from Toronto) received only 42.7% offensive zone starts this season.

Moore typically receives extensive work on the penalty kill, usually in the neighborhood of two minutes per game, a figure that would allow the Sharks to move some of their weaker penalty killing forwards (Logan Couture and his team-trailing shorthanded adjusted possession rates being a prime example) to more protected roles.

Another factor attracting the pending UFA to Sharks GM Doug Wilson is his significant playoff experience. In each of the past two seasons, Moore took a different Eastern Conference underdog to the Conference finals, turning the trick with both Tampa last year and Montreal the year before. His 11 points in last year's playoffs also illustrated an ability to turn on the charm in the playoffs, a trait that San Jose will need if it hopes to shed their long-standing tag as playoff underachievers.

Nashville Predators

Acquired D Hal Gill and a conditional 2013 fifth round draft pick in exchange for LW Blake Geoffrion, LW Robert Slaney, and a 2012 second round pick (February 17, 2012)

In another article from the same, pre-deadline series, Robert Vollman saw the Predators as lacking in quality blueline depth past the big two of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. To amend the problem, our in-house soothsayer recommended a trade for big Hall Gill.

At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, 14-year veteran Hal Gill would provide Nashville not only with needed defensive help on the blue line, but also the size and grit. Gill's playoff experience could also prove invaluable; he has gone on deep runs three straight seasons from 2007-08 to 2009-10, winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2008-09. Given the 36-year-old's age and unrestricted free-agent status, Montreal's top penalty killer could likely be had for far less than the two picks (second round and fifth) it required Pittsburgh this time back in 2008.

The Providence College alum surpassed the 1,000 games played mark earlier this season, his third with Montreal. Unlike Moore above, Gill has more often than not finished out the contracts he has signed with his previous employers, as this marks only the second time in his career that he was traded.

Gill is nothing if not a defensive defenseman, having only three times in his long career eclipsed the 20-point barrier in a season, most recently in his last traded season, 2007-08 when he scored a career high 24 points between Toronto and Pittsburgh. One of the top shot blockers in the game, (a man this big does not always need to try that hard to get some part of his body in the way), Gill joins a blueline squad already known for their selflessness when it comes to eating rubber, with two of the top three shorthanded shot blockers in the game in Kevin Klein and Jonathon Blum (now in the AHL).

While large, the 36-year-old plays a remarkably clean game, having not exceeded one penalty minute per game since 2006-07. Some may argue that his low PIM total has as much to do with his declining ability to reach opposing skaters, it could be just as easily counter-argued that he would then be more likely to incur stick infractions with his colossal reach. The former Cup winner with Pittsburgh has somewhat revitalized a career that had seen him declining in utility in recent years as his current GVT of 3.6 is better than his last two seasons combined and if he can only avoid playing below replacement level with Nashville, this will represent his best season since 2007-08.

As it stands, Gill will likely be paired with the much shorter Francis Bouillon or the nearly-as-diminutive Ryan Ellis, providing the opposition with an interesting big/small choice when approaching the Nashville net on the rush.

As to whether the package surrendered to acquire the big man is bigger or smaller than in his last trade, well, even Nostradamus made a few small mistakes.

Montreal Canadiens

Acquired LW Blake Geoffrion, LW Robert Slaney and a 2012 second round pick from the Nashville Predators in exchange for D Hal Gill and a conditional 2013 fifth round draft pick (February 17, 2012)

And now a word from Hockey Prospectus prospect maven, Corey Pronman:

Geoffrion, the former Hobey Baker winner for best NCAA player in 2010 had a rough transition to the pro game. By around mid-year last season he looked like he was starting to adjust. Around this time last year I had talked to an NHL exec who thought Geoffrion had what it took to be a top-two line player in the NHL, but as of now I would say that's highly doubtful.

Geoffrion is a very defensively sound player with a good grit/work ethic level and okay puck skills, but he's not much of an offensive weapon due to his poor skating. Geoffrion's best offensive tool is his shot but I don't think his offensive skill set is good enough to give him enough opportunities to finish. He's likely a fourth liner with a chance to be a fringe third with decent defensive value.

Slaney, sent to Nashville as part of their offseason salary dump moving Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Toronto, is not an NHL prospect.

-Corey Pronman

It should also be noted that Geoffrion may have more value to the Canadiens than to any other team in the NHL, coming as he does from hockey royalty. And not just any hockey royalty, but from the loins of some of the finest to have ever worn a Canadiens sweater as his grandfather was Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion and his great-grandfather was the almost-mythic Howie Morenz, also enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. While his lineage might lead to expectations that cannot be met, it does make one of the few NHL players ever to have emerged from the American South a very intriguing get by Montreal.

Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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