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Deadline Day in the Northwest

The trade deadline is upon us!  And when the deadline is upon us, we all know that crazy things can happen.  Anaheim, for instance, just moved Nick Boynton and his 1.5M salary (it expires at the end of the year) to Chicago for absolutely nothing.  Chicago immediately sent him to the AHL but will likely call him up to the big club for the playoffs just like Miroslav Satan with the Penguins last year. Boynton went unclaimed on waivers not even a month ago despite his performance this year which hasn't been terrible (Steve Staios, get ready to stay in Edmonton).  It's a wonder that the Ducks wanted to get rid of him so badly and equally a wonder that they couldn't convert Boynton into anything of value.

To press this point further, it's hard to believe Boynton's value is zero when similar defenders like Andy Sutton and Denis Grebeshkov will net a 2nd round pick.  Sutton was moved from the Islanders to Ottawa for a 2nd round pick, making this the second consecutive year that Garth Snow and Bryan Murray have gotten together to make a deal.  Now, Sutton really is a better player than Boynton but he darn well should be with a cap hit of 3.0M for the rest of this season.  Is Sutton really twice as valuable as Boynton in addition to being worth the pick you needed to give up?

Like the Islanders the Toronto Maple Leafs are not making the playoffs.  Unlike the Islanders they're having trouble getting good value for their players.  Last night they moved Alexei Ponikarovsky (a very good player) for the right to give money to Martin Skoula and an Italian prospect named Luca Caputi.  Do you remember seeing Italy in the Olympics?  Okay, he's not Italian, but he's also not all that good.  Last season he scored 18-27-45 in 66 AHL games at 20 and this season those numbers have increased to 23-24-47 in 54 games at 21.  He's pretty big and may (may!) one day become a fourth or, at best, third line option for Toronto.  Now, picks are a bit of a crapshoot so I can understand the Leafs wanting something more tangible but I'm very surprised the best they could do was a middling prospect - and even then they needed to eat some salary.  Crazy beans.

After the jump, we'll take a look at each of the teams in the Northwest division, talk about their recent moves and look forward to what they should be doing on this great and glorious day.  I'll also take a brief look at their salary commitments in 2010-11 to see if that might help in determining what these NW teams might do today.  The chart I usually use in these situations will once again make an appearance (or five) and I'll again use the assumption that 56M is a nice figure to have on the books at the start of the season for 2010-11.  For those that don't know, here's the chart:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0%

 Vancouver Canucks

Salary structure for 2010-11

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Burrows - 14.2M - 25.4%
Middle 6 Forwards - Samuelsson, Bernier, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 4.5M - 8.0%
Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Edler, Ehrhoff - 13.6M - 24.3%
Goaltending - Luongo, ??? - 5.333 - 9.5%
Bottom 8 Players - Hordichuk, Rypien, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 1.325 - 2.4%

I haven't looked at the Canucks closely in a very long time, mostly because they haven't done anything newsworthy in the last several weeks. They're actually in a very good situation going forward.  The only area where they may overspend my expected budget is in goal, and even then only very slightly.  Since Luongo is the best goalie in the league, this makes perfect sense.  The only really good (i.e. Shane O'Brien need not apply) restricted free agents they need to sign are Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond which should be very doable.  There aren't any really terrible contracts that need dumping immediately so the Canucks can afford to be selective. 

I think the Canucks are a very good team this year and are in the situation that's typical of most buyers.  However, Mike Gillis has come out and said that he doesn't like giving up draft picks or (presumably valuable) prospects for rental players so I don't expect the Canucks to be too involved today unless they can make a trade that helps them beyond this season or involves a player currently on the roster that might not (should not?) be in their future plans.  If the Canucks could, for instance, move Shane O'Brien for a "right now" upgrade on defence or Steve Bernier for the same at forward it's probably worth it since those two can likely be replaced below their current cost on the UFA market this summer where the Canucks will have some money to spend.  They can afford to take on some salary in a deal like that with about 2M in acquisition space.

Colorado Avalanche

Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, Duchene, Hejduk - 12.8M - 22.9%
Middle 6 Forwards - O'Reilly, Galiardi, Jones, ???, ???, ??? - 2.6125M - 4.7%
Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, ???, ??? - 8.7M - 15.5%
Goaltending - Anderson, ??? - 1.8125M - 3.3%
Bottom 8 Players - McLeod, Cumiskey, Wilson, Preissing, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 4.685M - 8.4%

Now the Avalanche look to be in great position financially.  There are quite a few players who have been great value for the Avalanche this season who are due raises though, and it will be interesting to see what the Avs decide to do.  Last night Bob McKenzie mentioned the possibility of moving Wojtek Wolski, which strikes me as one of the dumber possible moves the Avs could make.  Of course, if the right deal comes along, it's not stupid at all but if I were an Avs fan I'd be scared the team had just undervalued Wolski.  Wolski is a guy that drives possession on that team at least in the work I've done on scoring chances to this point (the first thirty or so games) and according to his Corsi numbers which are some of the best on the team despite taking on the other team's best players.  I don't know what Wolski is asking for but if they can get him locked in around 4M that's a great number for the Avs that Wolski will likely be able to outperform going forward.

One of the other significant RFA's  on the Avs is Chris Stewart who, to my eye, does not drive possession at all.  He can shoot the puck and he's a big palooka who likes to hit and jumps in for teammates whenever there's the smallest sign of trouble.  His PDO of 105.5 this year explains his +/- and scoring rates as much as his talent level does.  And that's a problem for the team when said player is in a contract year.  Sometimes you end up with Cam Neely, sometimes you don't (right Boston!).  Now he did score well as an 18 and 19 year-old in junior so it's not like he doesn't have offensive skills and they obviously shouldn't move him for nothing but there's a real danger of a big overpay here.  If they can get an over-the-moon offer for him (which doesn't strike me as impossible) they might be wise to take it.

The two contracts the Avs should want to move at the deadline are Tom Preissing (already waived, no takers) and Two-Names Liles.  Liles is basically a 4.2M version of Two-Names Bergeron... so... yeah.  That's not good.  There have been rumblings that he's available and if they can clear him off the books it would probably do them some long-term good.  And that's what this deadline is about for the Avalanche.  They're still rebuilding and shouldn't be moving any future assets for the immediate present.  If there's a trade out there that helps beyond this year, maybe they pull the trigger but a rental likely isn't in the cards.

Calgary Flames

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, Bourque - 14.833M - 26.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - Stajan, Hagman, Kotalik, Dawes, Moss, Glencross - 12.85M - 22.9%
Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Giordano - 15.19M - 27.1%
Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney - 6.368M - 11.4%
Bottom 8 Players - Backlund, Pardy, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - 1.9708M - 3.5%

The Flames are a really interesting club because their roster for 2010-11 is pretty much already set.  Even in 2011-12 most of these same guys are still under contract.  Before this season I complained about the Flames not having balance on the roster with too much money going to defenders and not enough being spent on forwards.  With the signings of Bourque and Stajan, Sutter has confirmed that he's moved away from that strategy to a more balanced roster.  I think it's a good move.  However, by giving out and acquiring all of these longer term contracts, he's also decided that the roster they have now is the roster they're going with for the rest of this season and the next two seasons as well.  Trades are of course still possible, but this is a lot of players signed mid-to-long term on one roster.  Which could be worrying if this roster is in ninth place or worse at the end of this season.

As for the signings themselves, the Bourque signing is solid.  He's been a real EV difference-maker on that club for the last two seasons and he's been very good on the PK this year.  The six-year term is lengthy but not ridiculous.  The last season they're paying him for is his 34 year-old season and I'm confident that if his play deteriorates to Moreau-esque levels that he'll be buried in the minors (the Flames have done it before).  The Stajan deal is a little harder to get behind since Stajan has only ever put up two seasons over 40 points and both of them were spent in the East where points are more plentiful.  Now, those seasons are his last two seasons and the Flames get four prime years (27-30) from Stajan.  He was also playing the tougher comp out East so he might be able to outscore second minutes in the West.  Nonetheless, given the number of long-term commitments to other players, a four-year deal for Stajan leaves the Flames with a lot less flexibility going forward.

As for today, I think the Flames are either done, or preparing for a big move.  They have a couple of expiring contracts as well as nine million dollars in acquisition space to go along with an unwavering goal to make the playoffs.  I haven't heard any rumours but a deal like Chris Higgins + David Moss for Kris Versteeg + Brent Sopel might make some sense if the Hawks think it makes their club better.  The Hawks made a similar trade when they moved Cam Barker to the Wild earlier this month.  It would also make sense for the Flames to try to dump a couple of the lower-performing salaries on the above chart like Ales Kotalik or Cory Sarich.  Unfortunately for Flame fans, I doubt that happens.

Minnesota Wild

Top 3 Forwards - Koivu, Havlat, Bouchard = 12.58 or 22.9%
Middle 6 Forwards - Kobasew, Miettinen, Brunnette, Brodziak, Clutterbuck, ??? = 9.55 or 17.1%
Top 4 Defenders - Burns, Schultz, Zidlicky, Zanon = 12.06 or 23.2%
Goaltending - Backstrom, ??? = 6.00 or 10.9%
Bottom 8 Players - Barker, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 3.083 or 5.5%

The Wild have made two deals since I last looked in.  One of them looks good to me and the other is... odd.  The good one sees the Wild sign Cal Clutterbuck for three years at 1.4M per year.  Clutterbuck is great buy at that price.  He draws a tonne of penalties, starts a lot in the defensive zone and manages to come very close to breaking even against middling competition.  He also hits people.  A lot.  It's a great move and and fits very nicely into the Wild's salary structure.

The other contract belongs to Marek Zidlicky who was signed for three years at 4M per year.  Zidlicky has actually been outstanding this season, taking on the toughs for Wild and generating pretty good outscoring results.  He's also been able to produce offence in the role at EV.  So Marek Zidlicky has had a great year.  But he's old.  The contract starts with him at 33 and it's likely that he is going to be in decline.  His results from this year are also an isolated case.  Last season, against much easier competition, Zidlicky was outscored at EV.  The year before that in Nashville saw him barely outscoring easier competition.  So it's not as though his performance this year is a sure thing going forward.  Furthermore, prior to this season Nick Schultz had been used, somewhat effectively as a shut-down defender.  That's what they're paying him 3.5M over the next four years to do.  Schultz doesn't have a lot of offensive skills so paying Zidlicky to take his job playing the toughs seems a bit silly.  Maybe Zidlicky moves back to the second pairing as he ages and his performance declines but on its face this deal doesn't look like it makes a whole lot of sense.

Going forward, the Wild have lots of cap space.  They're very unlikely to make the playoffs this year and have a few non-essential parts to sell.  I fully expect to see one or all of Shane Hnidy, Owen Nolan or Eric Belanger to be moved along for mediocre futures (2nd or 3rd round picks) which is really what they should be doing given their current situation.

Your Edmonton Oilers

Top 3 Forwards - (Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner) - 13.85M or 24.7%
Middle 6 Forwards - (O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, ???, ???, ???) - 6.925 or 12.4%
Top 4 Defenders - (Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, Staios) - 17.7M or 31.6%
Goaltending - (Khabibulin, ???) - 3.75M or 6.7%
Bottom 8 Players - (Smid, Stortini, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???) - 2.0M or 3.6%

That looks bad.  Very, very bad.  Too much money going to defenders (still!), too much money going to middle forwards that are actually awful and too much money going to the Maginot Line.  Looking at this chart there are maybe four contracts that I feel pretty good about (Hemsky, Penner, Gilbert, Smid), four that are marginal (Horcoff, Visnovsky, Souray, Stortini) and five that are outright everyone-can-see-it bad (Khabibulin, Staios, O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau).  What the Oilers need to do today if they want to compete next season is move some from the last pile, which might be impossible.  What they need to do if they're going to rebuild is bite the bullet on those five for one more year and move guys from the second pile for futures.  In either case they should try to move the unlisted UFAs (Pisani, Comrie but that almost goes without saying) and potentially one or more of the RFA smurfs.  If I could move Brule for Mueller, for example, I make that trade. 

What I expect them to do is - if they do anything - move guys that aren't listed (Pisani, Comrie, RFA smurfs) and guys from the first pile.  Now, that might be acceptable.  If they move, say, Penner and Gilbert for the Leafs pick I'm not going to complain too hard.  There's evidence of a clear plan in that.  It will be sad but understandable.  But after the Grebeshkov trade, I'm not convinced that Steve Tambellini is about to get good value.  I'll conclude with this: if trading Hemsky for a 2nd round pick results in the immediate firing of Steve Tambellini, it was a good trade.

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