This past weekend, new Flames GM Jay Feaster made his first significant move in dealing long-time shutdown defender Robyn Regehr plus Ales Kotalik and second round pick for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. It was revealed that the second round pick was included in order to convince the Sabres to accept Kotalik's bloated contract, so the real guts of the exchange was Regehr for Butler and Byron.
The common wisdom surrounding trades is that the team who gets the best player wins. If that's the case, there's little question who won this swapRobyn Regehr has been a premier top-two, shutdown defenseman in the league since the Flames made their famous Cup run in 2004. Although he brings very little offense and isn't the fastest skater around, Regehr persisted as Calgary's number one defensive option, even in the low-obstruction, post-Lockout NHL. For the last seven years, Regehr has faced the opposition's best offensive players night-in and night-out, often starting more often in his own end in the process. He is also an accomplished penalty killer thanks to his excellent hockey IQ, strength and enduring mean streak. Flames fans called the area along the boards on Regehr's side of the ice the "tunnel of death" for a reason.
Regehr's defensive GVT this past season was 6.2, one of the best numbers on the Flames despite the difficulty of his circumstances. Chris Butler, in contrast, despite mostly acting as second or third pairing defender (when he wasn't a healthy scratch) had a defensive GVT of just 2.6. While the difference between the two doesn't seem substantial, the truth is it is minimized by the disparity between their assignments: Chris Butler's defensive GVT would no doubt plummet if he was forced to face the likes of Pavel Dastyuk, Daniel Sedin and Joanthan Toews every game.
To illustrate the difficulty of Regehr's assignment, the following table shows his relative quality of competition rate, zone start ratio and rank for each metric amongst regular Flames defenders over the last three years:
Robyn Regehr's tough assignments
Season Rel Qcomp Rank Zone Start Rank
2010-2011 1.452 1 49.9% 2
2009-2010 1.474 1 51.1% 2
2008-2009 1.106 1 49.5% 1
Butler, in contrast, faced the easiest relative quality of completion on the Sabres (+0.027), although he did also start the most often in the defensive end on the team as well (49.4%). Last year was his first real season in the league so his history is limited.
The two primary assets the Flames get in the deal are cap space and youth. The addition of Kotalik marks this trade as a salary dump more than anything else for an organization that was woefully short on cap flexibility. The Flames also get younger with Butler (25 years old) and Byron (22 years old), meaning both players are relatively cheap and may improve enough to become more significant contributors in the future.
As it stands, however, the Flames dealt an established shutdown defender capable of playing against the best in the league for a third-pairing youngster, an AHLer and some cap space. Probably the only thing that can justify this move by GM Jay Feaster is if the club puts their newfound cap space to proper use.