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January 23, 2013
Zamboni Tracks
Early Roster Shuffling

by Ryan Wagman

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Carolina Hurricanes

Traded RW Anthony Stewart and a 2013 fourth round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings for RW Kevin Westgarth

Traded G Brian Boucher and D Mark Alt to the Philadelphia Flyers for C Luke Pither

Signed UFA G Dan Ellis to a one year contract for a pro-rated $650,000

With the lockout finally over, Hurricanes' GM Jim Rutherford was the first to open the transaction wires in preparation for the truncated 2013 season. Perhaps showing some rust from the long transaction inaction, the early verdict is a split decision for the long-time Carolina executive.

In shipping Anthony Stewart to Los Angeles, the Hurricanes became the third team—all of which reside in the Southeast Division—to jettison the former first rounder. While the first of those three, the Florida Panthers, could be excused in being disappointed with Stewart's production of 12 points in 105 games across four seasons, the 28-year-old has begun to show off a game that is actually suitable for an NHL fourth line, if not above average in that role. Even though Stewart has been held to under nine minutes per game in three of his last four seasons, his even strength scoring rate has risen steadily from below replacement level in 2007-08, to borderline top six production last year.

Year Team ESTOI ESP/60
2007-08 Florida 5.99 0.39
2008-09 Florida 7.59 0.8
2009-10 AHL - -
2010-11 Atlanta 12.91 1.57
2011-12 Carolina 7.75 1.81

Although his scoring rate was helped along by relatively easy shifts when he was allowed to reach the ice, one would think that the Canes could have received more for the low cost asset than Kevin Westgarth, a man more skilled at the negotiating table than on skates. Westgarth, whose on-ice contributions tend to come with the gloves dropped, was one of the NHLPA's point men during the recent labor negotiations with the league. His standing in the boardroom is more a reflection on his Princeton roots than his NHL standing, as the large man has been below replacement level in each of the past two seasons (-3.1 GVT combined), contributing a mere five points in 81 games while spending 144 minutes in the penalty box. That the Hurricanes had to throw in a fourth round pick as well skews the trade even more westward.

In a separate trade, Rutherford shipped the erstwhile backup netminder Brian Boucher back to his roots in Philadelphia. In order to rid the system of Boucher's salary, the Canes also sent solid young blueline prospect in Mark Alt to the Flyers in exchange for Luke Pither, by all accounts an AHL depth forward. The purpose of this dump-off was to bring Dan Ellis back to the NHL. An unrestricted free agent this past offseason, Ellis spent the lockout playing for Carolina's AHL team in Charlotte, performing up to a .922 save percentage in 18 games for the Checkers. Three years younger than Boucher, Ellis also wins out in terms of recent NHL performance, with better play in two of the past three seasons.

Season Boucher ESSV% Boucher GVT Ellis ESSV% Ellis GVT
2009-10 0.911 -4.1 0.921 2.5
2010-11 0.925 5.3 0.905 -5.7
2011-12 0.899 -6.1 0.923 0.4

With many speculating that the compressed schedule, with a higher frequency of back-to-back games, will require stronger goaltending depth, the pickup looks to be a net gain for the Hurricanes.

Los Angeles Kings

Lost D Thomas Hickey on waivers to the New York Islanders—January 15, 2013

Placed D Matt Greene on the IR with a back injury and recalled D Andrew Bodnarchuk from the AHL

Nothing says "BUST" quite like placing a player who was selected with the fourth overall pick only five years ago on waivers. All before he was even allowed to make his professional debut with the team that drafted him. That the Kings won the Stanley Cup despite whiffing on such a high draft choice allows us to give them a mulligan on the selection, as embarrassing as it turned out to be.

At first glance, the loss of Hickey to the Islanders on waivers may seem to hurt even more when one of the bulwarks from last year's Cup raising squad, Matt Greene, was lost to a back injury after his first game of the season, an injury that seems likely to keep him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. As disappointing as Hickey has been, surely the Kings would prefer to have kept him as a fallback option over Andrew Bodnarchuk, the man called up with Greene inactivated. A similar style of player as Hickey, Bodnarchuk has never scored more than 17 points in a single AHL season and is a career -9 at the level, while Hickey contributed 26 points at AHL Manchester last year and has a career minor pro plus/minus of +20.

A deeper look at Darryl Sutter's normal blueline usage patterns puts the lie to that first impression. Of the Kings' regular six defensemen last season, three (Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez) were more known for their offensive contributions, while the other three (Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, and the injured Greene) are classic stay-at-home defenders. Hickey and Bodnarchuk, both hewing closer to the style of the former trio, would not be suitable replacements for the fallen Greene.

With Willie Mitchell also out—although expected to return in short order—look for Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin to see a lot of ice time as the defensive half of one of the Kings' bottom two pairings. Of the two, Muzzin has more long-term upside and should be seen as the favorite to keep the third pairing stay-at-home role once Mitchell returns. Signed by the Kings as a free agent after failing to come to terms with the Penguins—who had originally used a fifth round pick on him as a junior with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL—Muzzin has impressed some onlookers in the AHL over the last two and a half years (although less so this season), showing some two-way ability in addition to a sound puck game. That said, according to Hockey Prospectus prospect guru Corey Pronman, Muzzin's decision-making ability would need to improve for him to fit in the stay-at-home role he is currently auditioning for.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Traded C Matthew Lombardi to the Phoenix Coyotes for a conditional fourth round draft pick in 2014

Placed C Tim Connolly on waivers and subsequently demoted him to the AHL

Signed LW Joffrey Lupul to a five year contract extension, totalling $26.25 million

Within days of taking over GM duties from his former benefactor Brian Burke, Dave Nonis has begun to put his stamp on the roster. Getting rid of last season's free agent disappointment Tim Connolly and giving breakout performer Joffrey Lupul a healthy raise and long-term security says more about how Nonis views the future of the franchise than any ambitions for the current short season.

With both skaters staring unrestricted free agency in the face following this season, a decision would have to made one way or another soon. While Nonis was not publically responsible for bringing either in to the organization, he was there when his former boss did the paperwork. He was there last season watching Connolly fail to gel with sniper Phil Kessel as the first line center he was signed to be. Nonis was also there as Lupul proved to the world that he had recovered from the back injury and subsequent blood clot that had marred his previous two seasons, to exceed one point per game for the first time in his career while helping to push linemate Kessel to the same plateau.

Without a place to play for Connolly to match his skill set, the choice to jettison him to the AHL was one of pragmatism rather than necessity. More than any other team, the Maple Leafs can afford to eat a cap hit of close to $5 million while also swallowing the cash. While it is possible that the Syracuse native could find a new home in trade, the Leafs would have to eat some salary to do so, much like they did in sending Matthew Lombardi back to Phoenix.

A new tool provided to creative GMs as a result of the fresh CBA, the Leafs will be paying $1.5 million of Lombardi's $3.5 million salary while the Montrealer suits up for the Coyotes. Even footing a portion of Connolly's bill, Toronto should not expect much in return for the veteran pivot, considering that all 29 other teams passed up on the chance to grab him off the waiver wire for nothing more than his salary.

Turning to Lupul, the fairness of his new contract depends on whether one believes that the level he reached last season is legitimate, or if it was a fluke. Now in his age-29 season, there are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic about the contract. On the positive, Lupul has shown the ability to be a bona fide top-six forward in the past and his even strength scoring rate has been above 1.90 points per 60 minutes in four of the past five seasons, with the outlier being his first partial year back from his injuries. Last year's PDO of an even 1000 showed that his career year was not a result of wonderful puck luck, although that may be deceiving. That perfect PDO was actually the product of pucks finding the net more often than should have been expected at both ends of the ice when Lupul was skating. Among Maple Leafs' forwards last year, Lupul saw his teammates score more often when he was on the ice than anyone else (10.77%), while only Lombardi saw his goalie fail more often behind him than did Lupul (.892).

While Lupul's new contract is comparable in cap hit to players including Ryan Kesler, Jason Pominville, and Jeff Carter, he will be older than all but Carter when his contract runs out. Furthermore, he is now locked up for four years more than Kessel. If the left winger's production last year was a result of great chemistry with Kessel, being separated may turn him into a pumpkin, which in Toronto looks like a 50-60 point producer. A five-year deal will not cripple the Leafs but it is far more likely that Lupul has already seen his peak. Expect the returns to diminish to the point that the contract is regretted over its final two years—especially if the cap does not rise much beyond next season's scheduled $64.3 million.

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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