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February 29, 2012
Zamboni Tracks
D-Day, Part 1

by Ryan Wagman


According to Sportsnet in Ontario, trade deadline day is a day from which dreams are made. Hyperbole aside, there is more truth to it being the day in which rosters are shaken, but not stirred. Hockey Prospectus prospect expert Corey Pronman has provided analysis on some of the trades that were more youth-oriented, while this column will cover the veterans in multiple shifts.

Nashville Predators

Traded a 2013 second round draft pick and a 2013 fifth round pick (the conditional one they had received days prior in the Hal Gill trade) to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for RW Andrei Kostitsyn (February 27, 2012)

Traded a 2012 first round draft pick to the Buffalo Sabres for C Paul Gaustad and a 2012 fourth round pick (February 27, 2012)

As any analysis of trades involving the Phoenix Coyotes requires a look at their ownership situation, any discussion of trades made by the Nashville Predators requires a reminder that they have additional motivation to go all-in on this season due to the unsettled contract situations of defensive lynchpins Shea Weber (RFA) and Ryan Suter (UFA). The pair have not been shy about expressing to the media their willingness to re-sign with Nashville only if they are convinced that management will do what it takes to win.

Entering deadline day holding the fifth seed in the Western Conference, the Predators were in need of some extra strength for their forward lines to complement the added bulk of Hal Gill on the blueline, acquired last week. Although their actual goal scoring has been above average this year (10th in the NHL with 2.79 goals scored per game), their Fenwick number, taking into account only shots fired when the score is tied (so that the ice would not be inherently slanted in favor of the pressing trailer), is dead last in the NHL, suggesting that at least some of their ability to win is luck. Some of that last number may be explained away by their below average faceoff rate, currently winning only 49% of all draws.

There were rumors floating that the Predators were hunting for big game in the person of Rick Nash, but they instead reunited the Kostitsyn brothers by acquiring the older Andrei from Montreal for picks. Shortly afterwards, David Poile ensured his charges would be much better on the draw—following a recent trend also employed this week by other contending teams—picking up one of the game's premier faceoff men in Paul Gaustad (along with a fourth round pick) for the relatively steep price of Nashville's 2012 first rounder, projected to be in the 20s. As much as the former will help Nashville generate offense (especially if he can click sharing the ice with his brother), the latter will help prevent the opposition from doing the same.

It should be noted that the Kostitsyn brothers did not often share shifts, especially at even strength, in their time together in Montreal, as neither was among the other's three most frequent linemates at even strength in either 2008-09 or 2009-10. Unlike the Sedins, they seem to fare better in competition with one another, rather than in cahoots.

These trades, without costing a single player off of the Nashville roster, will serve to provide much more breadth to the Nashville forward corps, making it much less likely that a more limited player such as Matt Halischuk, Patrick Hornqvist, or Jordin Tootoo see time in the top six. Gaustad, who should slot into the fourth center role (replacing and providing a massive upgrade over the recently departed Jerrod Smithson) as soon as he reports to his new team should be a much stronger option at center than Chris Mueller (better in the AHL) or Craig Smith (better on the wing).

Bringing this back to the main point—how much closer do these trades bring Nashville to inking Weber or Suter to new deals? While both players expressed satisfaction with the trades, predictably, neither would commit to the deals affecting their decision-making process.

As for the cost of the deals, the Predators—more than most other teams—could afford to give away something of their future, as they have one of the strongest systems in the league, coming in at number three in Corey Pronman's preseason organizational rankings. It is never fun to watch your team sit out of the first round of the draft, but if it helps get them out of the first round of the playoffs, and sways either of their two franchise defensemen to stick around, it will be well worth it. And if they don't pan out? Well, both incoming players are on expiring contracts, too.

Edmonton Oilers

Traded D Tom Gilbert to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for D Nick Schultz (February 27, 2012)

Minnesota Wild

Traded D Nick Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for D Tom Gilbert (February 27, 2012)

This here is a good, old-fashioned hockey trade. Neither team is likely to make the playoffs this season, with the Oilers as good as buried and Minnesota well past their early season run of dominance. Neither has much to gain in the here and now. Both Schultz and Gilbert have two years remaining in their present contracts, with the only $700,000 in combined salary differentiating the two. While Schultz will take home a larger paycheck, Gilbert counts more against the cap, as his contract was front-loaded. The two are also close enough in age for that not to be a factor.

Schultz, currently suffering through what looks to be the worst season of his career (-1.3 GVT on the morning of the trade), is an extremely defensive-minded player with over 110% of his career value coming in his own zone.* Interestingly, the Oilers already had a very similar player on its roster in Ladislav Smid, a younger, more physical version of his new teammate.

*Yes, he has been below replacement level in the offensive end throughout his career, with career highs of 20 points and 0.6 offensive GVT.

In exchanging the two-way D-man Gilbert for a more stay-at-home type, the Oilers also indicate that more (and more important) minutes going forward will be available to Ryan Whitney, finally healthy again, and Cam Barker, likewise, who may be on his last opportunity to prove that he belongs in the NHL. Beyond those two, the deal is a further affirmation that the Oilers' brain trust believes in Corey Potter, a former AHL journeyman who has recently earned to two year extension with Edmonton. While not as strong in his own zone as if Gilbert, Potter can play a good possession game if moderately sheltered from the strongest of the opposition.

While this trade had many factors that suggest an even swap, there were quite a few others that suggest that the Oilers gave away the better player. Schultz, if his poor season is more a product of not meshing well with the system of new Wild coach, Mike Yeo, might help his new team improve defensively and whittle away their bottom-10 goals against. On the other hand, Gilbert, going the other way, has been a much more valuable player throughout his shorter career, peaking at 9.3 GVT in 2008-09 and on pace for close to 6.0 GVT this year in spite of missing around 15 games already to injury.

Gilbert is a player who has shown remarkable durability prior to this season, missing only three games total in the previous four seasons. Like the man he was traded for, the former Wisconsin Badger knows how to put himself between the puck and his own net, as both are currently in the top 50 in even strength blocked shots among blueliners. Again like Schultz, Gilbert has often been used against the top half of opposition forwards, although unlike the new Oiler, Gilbert also can make himself useful on the man advantage.

In that sense, the native Minnesotan should find a ready home with the Wild, eating up many of the minutes that used to go to Marek Zidlicky before the latter was dealt to New Jersey over the weekend. Another question that could be asked is how this trade effects the anticipated playing time of the blueliner brought on board in the Zidlicky exchange, Kurtis Foster. More a power play specialist than Gilbert, who is an all-rounder, Foster should only have been slated to play on the third defensive pairing at even strength. Foster should still garner the most minutes on the point. The man losing his place will most likely be Nate Prosser, a 25-year-old rookie who has received minutes in all situations this year in Minnesota. As the Wild also moved another defensive defenseman at the deadline in Greg Zanon, shipped to Boston, Prosser should still have a place on the roster, but with duties more commensurate to his skills. Already receiving the bulk of his zone starts in his own end, he should be moderately comfortable in the role.

Although the trade should have little to no impact on either team through the remainder of this season, the Wild will win this trade in the long run, as Gilbert's package of all-around skills should better stave off the erosion of aging.

Chicago Blackhawks

Traded second and third round drafts picks in 2013 to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for D Johnny Oduya (February 27, 2012)

With relatively little cap room to play with, the Blackhawks turned two decent 2013 draft picks into a new friend for Steve Montador on the Blackhawks' third defensive unit. That comment should not be seen as denigrating to the abilities of Oduya, a six-year veteran from Stockholm. The former seventh round pick has proven to be a very durable rearguard, only once appearing in fewer than 75 games in his previous five seasons.

Oduya's current 2.1 GVT would make him worthy of the second pairing on some playoff bound teams. That said, he is on the downside of a career that got a late start. Oduya did not come over to North America until after the lockout, debuting with the New Jersey Devils as a 25-year-old. He was genuinely excellent in his second and third seasons with the Devils, combining for 20 GVT, with over 70% of his value coming on the defensive end.

After contributing 8.7 GVT to the Devils in 2008-09, his play dropped off the following year and Oduya saw himself moved to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the bounty the Devils surrendered for Ilya Kovalchuk. There has not been an easy answer as to the cause of his devolving play. In the past two years, Oduya's possession rates have dropped (by 15 total Corsi points), yet he has been playing a tougher breed of opposition and (this year, at least) has seen a large rise in the rate of his defensive zone faceoffs compared to years past.

A pending UFA, Oduya ultimately represents a solid pickup by the Blackhawks, as his mobility and experience will allow them to provide young Nick Leddy with some added shelter. Leddy has been very impressive relative to his age this season, but if the addition of Oduya to the lineup allows Joel Quenneville to leave the aging Sean O'Donnell in the press box more often, the defensive minutes in Chicago might be spread out more equitably, leaving the big four of Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, and former Norris winner Duncan Keith more time to catch their breath. After all, it might not be a coincidence that with Leddy, Seabrook, and Keith on the ice, the Hawks have suffered their worst save percentages among regular defenders this year. The Blackhawks are only three points in front of the ninth-ranked team in the Conference. This trade should better enable them to avoid sinking any further in the standings.

Vancouver Canucks

Traded D Taylor Ellington, a 2012 fourth round draft pick and a 2013 fourth round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for C Samuel Pahlsson (February 27, 2012)

While the not the biggest move of the day for the Canucks, this acquisition can be directly tied to the trade previously covered by Corey, sending former first round pick Cody Hodgson to Buffalo. More than any other team, Alain Vigneault's charges play the percentages in terms of zone starts. First liners Daniel and Henrik Sedin along with Alexandre Burrows all begin at least 75% of their even strength faceoffs in the offensive zone. The fourth line, generally featuring Manny Malhotra between Dale Weise and Maxim Lapierre, range between a remarkable 11.2-15.7% in the offensive zone. The middle lines are likewise split in the neighborhood of 60% offensive (second line) and 40% (third line).

Cody Hodgson, playing third line minutes, represented a break in this chain, as his relative inexperience and offensive strengths coerced Vigneault to play give him offensive zone starts more than half the time. Hodgson responded well, showing some of the offensive flair that caused him to be drafted with the 10th overall selection in 2008. Nonetheless, that is not the Canuck way. Furthermore, as a center, Hodgson struggled on the draw, winning only 42.8% of his faceoffs before the trade.

In contrast, newcomer Samuel Pahlsson won an above average 51.1% of his draws while playing hockey that GVT would only describe as "replacement level (0.1 GVT, as good defensively as he is negligible offensively, in 60 games this year with Columbus). While not in the league of other deadline week movers like Gaustad, former teammate Antoine Vermette or Dominic Moore, skill in the faceoff circle has been popular among buying teams. A man who can shovel the puck is very useful in tight defensive situations, particularly on the penalty kill, an area in which Pahlsson is a noted specialist. The 34-year-old native of Ange, Sweden led all Blue Jackets in average shorthanded ice team, playing 2:30 per game. His addition to the PK will allow Vigneault to save two-way star Ryan Kesler for more offensive minutes.

One could argue—one should argue, really—that a good coach molds his system to fit his players. If Cody Hodgson was not yet advanced enough to play in the top six, the coach should have adjusted his philosophy at least slightly to protect his young charge and maximize his talents, which are still in abundance. Instead, GM Mike Gillis traded away a highly talented offensive dynamo who is still years from his prime. Yes, he received good pieces in return, but the Canucks lineup lost a great deal of firepower with these trades. Of course, any team with the Sedins in full bloom probably has firepower to spare. The cost for Pahlsson was fairly negligible considering the high attrition rate among fourth rounders and the fact that the prospect, Ellingham, while originally drafted in the second round in 2007, has yet to earn his way out of the ECHL.

There will be no excuses available now for Vigneault. The roster was built to his tastes. Now they just need to win one more playoff game than they managed last season.

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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From Daigle To Datsyuk (02/28)
<< Previous Column
Zamboni Tracks (02/27)
Next Column >>
Zamboni Tracks (03/12)
Next Article >>
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