If there's one thing we learned this weekend, it's how many teams felt they needed help on the blueline. Draft picks aside, there were multiple deals for proven NHL rear guards of varying talent.
Following up on the Boston Bruins trade-deadline acquisition of Tomas Kaberle, Friday saw deals done for Brent Burns, Brian Campbell, Jean-Michael Liles and eventually, Robyn Regehr.
The San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres both felt as if they were a key player away from making a sustained Cup run while Florida clearly felt they could upgrade if they took on a bloated cap hit.
Brent Burns deal
To San Jose: Brent Burns & 2nd round pick
To Minnesota: Devon Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle & 1st round pick
In Brent Burns, the Sharks get a player who has scored 43 goals in the last four seasons and has averaged 9.5 GVT over that same span. He played top-pairing quality of competition this year and only started 43% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He was also the best possession defenseman on the Wild, with a Relative Corsi of 9.5. At 26 years olf and with a cap hit of $3.55 million for the next year, he could be just what the Sharks need to complement Dan Boyle and a stellar set of forwards. The worry is whether he'll stick around once he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The Wild get a three-time 20-goal scorer in Devon Setoguchi who is young and just signed his RFA deal. He's definitely a top-six forward in scoring rate and competition faced while being a neutral-to-positive possession player. His four-year average GVT is 7.9.
In addition to getting an NHL top-six forward, the Wild acquired a top prospect and upgraded a draft pick, which is a pretty decent haul for a team needing to make a significant leap forward and giving up a defenseman with only one year left before UFA status.
Brian Campbell deal
To Florida: Brian Campbell
To Chicago: Rostislav Olesz
Brian Campbell has been on the wrong end of more than a few angry chat board comments since he signed with the Blackhawks for the 2008-09 season. Frankly, it really has nothing to do with his play, but more to do with his salary. His $7.14 million cap hit seems to indicate that he's a top-pairing shutdown player, and that's simply not his natural skill set despite making strides last year. However, he has averaged 13.2 GVT over the last five seasons. That's both incredibly consistent and incredibly valuable to a team in need of blueline help.
Campbell had the 11th-best defensive GVT in the NHL last year, while ranking 22nd in GVT among all NHL defensemen. From a GVT perspective, that is top pairing talent on most teams, especially for Florida.
So why hasn't Campbell received the praise he seems to deserve? In part because he racks up results from easier minutes than most. In Chicago this season, he had the luxury of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and even Niklas Hjalmarsson to face the most difficult competition. He also started 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone, second highest on the Blackhawks blueline. Campbell will score points, but needs to be deployed offensively. And at the age of 32, that cap hit gets riskier as his skills decline, making the next five years into a nervous exercise in wishful thinking for the Panthers front office.
In return, the Blackhawks take a disappointing player back themselves in Rostislav Olesz. For a cap hit of $3.1 million, Olesz provides very little value. He's averaged a GVT of 2.0 for the last five seasons, making him a third-line player at best. Chicago could buy him out for $650,000 per year for the next six years (thank you CapGeek.com) and save a ton over Campbell's bloated salary. Or they could hold on to him for the next three seasons and hope his once promising talent shines through.
Robyn Regehr deal
To Buffalo: Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik & 2nd round pick (2012)
To Calgary: Chris Butler, Paul Byron
It's surprising how little the Flames got in return for a player that has been part of the core group in Calgary since their cup run in 2004. That said, Regehr is essentially a stay-at-home defenseman with little offensive contribution. Over the past four seasons, his average GVT is 4.9, which is far from stellar but definitely worthy of top-four status on any squad. However, at 31 and not being a quick-footed player to begin with, it seems Flames management sees the writing on the wall and wanted to be rid of his $4 million cap hit along with Kotalik's boat-anchor cap hit of $3 million.
In Butler, the Flames get a bottom-pairing defenseman in the making while Paul Byron is a 22-year-old AHL sophomore who netted 53 points this season in 67 games. Using NHL equivalencies, that puts the winger as a 30-35 point scorer if he'd played the full season in the big leagues. In essence, the Flames gave up a serviceable Regehr to dump Kotalik's contract with very little in roster player potential coming back the other way.
The Value of a Legit NHL Rear Guard
It seems that the going rate for a top-four defenseman varies dramatically. San Jose was willing to part with three significant assets for a shot at Burns, which would make more sense if he was locked up for a few years and had less history of injury. Florida was able to secure Campbell merely by being willing to take on his salary and Buffalo ate an extra contract to acquire Regehr.
At this point, I would say San Jose overpaid quite a bit, but that both Florida and Buffalo got the most talent in their deals by sacrificing cap flexibility. The true value of the top-four rear guard appears to be somewhere in between. However, I would expect teams to overpay in free agency given the thin talent pool available this offseason.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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