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Should the Oilers Swap Mediocre, Speedy Forwards?

Earlier this week, well-known hockey site The Fourth Period speculated that the Montreal Canadiens are interested in moving the Kostitsyn brothers.

Well, that's hardly news. Elder brother Andrei Kostitsyn, 24, was signed to a three-year extension beginning last season with a cap hit of $3.25 million per year. Kostitsyn scored 23 goals and 41 points last year, but even that was a drop from his previous year's performance. He's never been known for his defensive play or his productive, team-first attitude. He and Sergei were linked last year to the a gang bust which, even though it was completely unproven and later shot down by the courts, was called "the darkest day in Canadiens history" by people prone to overreacting without evidence.

Better yet, young Sergei Kostitsyn has been angsting over whether he wants to play in the American Hockey League at all this season. Sergei played fifty-six NHL games last year and recorded twenty-three points: in short, he was Robert Nilsson. But Sergei is younger than Robert and has a much better contract, although Kostitsyn isn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball in the AHL.

No, there's no surprise that the Canadiens are looking at trading the Kostitsyns. The only surprise is when the Fourth Period says the Oilers are interested. And even more than that, the name being thrown around is alleged wunderkind Andrew Cogliano.

Nobody wants the Oilers to add more soft forwards. But giving a soft winger back in the process?

The Copper & Blue is not known for its rousing defense of Andrew Cogliano. Frequent phrases include "treading water" and "has he actually developed as a hockey player, like, at all since he was nineteen?". But he's two years younger than Andrei Kostitsyn and both have a reputation as smooth floaters. Cogliano makes less money, and though he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the year it's hard to believe he'll end up drawing Andrei's salary without a sudden and entirely unpredicted offensive outpour. Andrei Kostitsyn had that common form of luck where his career year matched the last year of his contract.

Among Oiler forwards to play at least forty games last year, Cogliano was eighth in QUALCOMP and ninth in QUALTEAM: in short, he was a third liner. With a plus-minus per 60 even strength minutes of -0.06, he didn't quite manage to saw off those mediocre opponents. That number has markedly improved to 0.65 so far this year while treading water in QUALCOMP and QUALTEAM, though it's early. So Cogliano isn't really good and can't handle tough matchups, but if he's not progressing he's at least taking care of himself.

When you look at Andrei Kostitsyn's numbers last season, they're unimpressive in a lot of ways. His plus-minus per sixty was -0.41, fourth-worst among qualifying Canadiens forwards. He scored 1.03 goals per sixty, well ahead of Cogliano and third on the Canadiens, but 0.48 assists per sixty was worse than, among many others, his brother Sergei.

There are two interesting points in Kostitsyn's favour. First off, his QUALTEAM was second worst among Habs forwards who played at least forty games last year, better than only the great Glen Metropolit. But his QUALCOMP was first. By the numbers, he was playing the toughest possible opponents with the worst possible linemates. He was found wanting but who wouldn't be? QUALCOMP and QUALTEAM numbers aren't perfect, but that is a remarkable statistic.

Second, Kostitsyn had a PDO number of 989 in 2008-09, tied for third worst on the Canadiens with Metropolit. For those who aren't familiar with the PDO number, it is the sum of a team's 5v5 shooting percentage and save percentage when the player in question is on the ice. By definition, 1000 is the league average. Bearing in mind that Kostitsyn shot 13.6% last year, it indicates that he was being let down by his linemates' shooting percentages and his goaltender's save percentage; that his plus-minus was so poor because his puck luck stank. Andrew Cogliano had a PDO of 1011 (actually pretty poor on the Oilers) while shooting 15.5%. So, with only a 1.9% swing in individual shooting percentage between Cogliano and Kostitsyn, Cogliano's PDO was 22 points above Kostitsyn's. Cogliano's linemates were helping his numbers and Kostitsyn's were hurting his.

That's just a long way of saying that, comparing Andrei's numbers to Andrew, Kostitsyn looks worse than he actually is.

Andrei Kostitsyn may well be a better NHL player than Andrew Cogliano. In his 22-year-old season, Kostitsyn scored twenty-six goals and fifty-three points. With eight points so far this year, Cogliano is clearly not going to do that. But Sergei Kostitsyn looks like a pretty marginal prospect and the brutal cap difference between Cogliano and Andrei Kostitsyn swings me.

The Oilers already have too much tied up in soft forwards who can't outscore. Unless the Canadiens have a driving need for Ethan Moreau, the Oilers would be adding nearly two million bucks in salary while making a slightly-better-than-lateral move for the third line wing.

I'm not an Andrew Cogliano fan, but is that anyone's idea of a smart move?