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February 21, 2011
Front Office Focus
Blues Deal First Overall Pick, Still Come Out The Winner

by Ryan Popilchak

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It's not very often that we see teams swap promising young players for other promising young players. The typical trade deals are usually "help now" traded for "help later" or "talented but expensive" traded for "cheap with potential". However, the Blues and Avalanche decided to swap a few very high profile young players from positions of depth to fill a perceived position of need.

The Avs are full of young, talented forwards but could be seen as relatively thin on the blue line. The Blues have a wealth of depth on defense but wanted more scoring up front. Sounds like the perfect deal, doesn't it?

It could be, but at the moment it's not.

To begin with, the Blues and Avalanche are in very different situations at the moment. The Blues have 63 points and are 5 points out of a playoff spot. However, they're battling with teams like the Kings and Blackhawks and goal differential would indicate that their competition are much more talented teams. The Avs have 57 points and are almost as close to the last place Oilers as they are to the playoffs. They need to look more to next season than the postseason.

For those that didn't see the particulars of the trade, here they are. Keep in mind that the draft picks will be in the 2011 draft unless St. Louis finishes bottom 10, in which case they'll be in 2012. I included draft position for Stewart, Shattenkirk and Johnson to show how highly rated all three were as they entered the league.

To St Louis:

Chris Stewart, 23 years old, 18th overall in 2006, $2.9 million to 2012 (RFA)
Kevin Shattenkirk, 22 years old, 14th overall in 2007, $1.3 million to 2013 (RFA)
Second round pick

To Colorado:

Erik Johnson, 22 years old, 1st overall in 2006, $2.6 million to 2012 (RFA)
Jay McClement, 27 years old, $1.5 million to 2012 (UFA)
First round pick

Goal Value of the Trade

Using Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) values for each player from the 2007-08 season until now (and prorating this season), we can make an estimate on the goal value of the trade for each team. In this case, we'll use average yearly GVT.

Erik Johnson: 7.5 GVT
Jay McClement: 3.7 GVT
First round pick (not top 10): 5.0 GVT in future value

Chris Stewart 7.1 GVT
Kevin Shattenkirk 8.7 GVT
Second round pick: 3.0 GVT in future value

The GVT scores for draft picks are from Iain Fyfe's excellent study of draft pick value.

Just looking at GVT, the Blues appear to have a clear win here. Part of the reason for this is Shattenkirk's rookie season. He's playing very well, but given that he's only played 47 games in the NHL, his value is much riskier and more uncertain than the other players in the deal.

The other interesting point of note is that after the top 10 picks in any draft, the peak GVT of any pick in the back portion of the first round and through the second round are fairly similar. That doesn't mean that a team with solid scouting and a great development system can't outperform the field, but the historical value of the selections are relatively close. This makes the Blues protection of the 2011 pick if it's in the top 10 seem shrewd.

The Individual Players

Rightfully so, Erik Johnson has been the headliner of this trade. As a former first overall pick, he holds the highest expectations of the group. In Johnson's first two seasons (excluding an injury-missed '08), he was both positive in Relative plus-minus (0.23 and 0.40) and in Relative Corsi (8.2 and 7.0). These numbers were buoyed by the fact that Johnson played lesser competition and received very faborable zone starts. This season, he has played against much stiffer competition and consequently, he has suffered. A Relative plus-minus of -0.59 and a Relative Corsi of -4.0 show the impact. If the Avalanche are expecting Johnson to be a shutdown defenseman, he's not there yet.

Jay McClement is a very solid defensive center who has made a career of playing the difficult ice time. Over the last four seasons, his average zone start ratio is 39.6% and his average Corsi Rel QoC is 1.064. While he has played against some of the hardest competition in the league, he has also been buried by it at times. In three of the last four seasons, he's been a negative plus-minus (about 1 goal per 60), with the exception of last season where he barely broke even. The best heavy lifters take on the tough ice time and at least play to a draw. McClement's Corsi ratings are in the hole as well, but when adjusted for situation, are close to breakeven. In summary, McClement should be applauded for taking the tough assignments, but he's far from elite.

Chris Stewart has all the makings of an elite power forward. His scoring rate this season and last is 2.73 points per 60 minutes at even strength. That's good enough for top six status. Despite steadily increasing Corsi Rel QoC (-0.015 to 0.262 to 0.588), he has a breakeven Relative Corsi on a team that tended to be run over by that metric last season. The advantage Stewart has enjoyed through his first three seasons are easy zone starts, and it's been especially easy this year. An average zone start ranking of 53.6% means he has been deployed in a primarily offensive role and probably should continue being used that way.

Kevin Shattenkirk may be a rookie, but he's been an impressive one so far. He's logged close to 16 minutes of even strength ice time per game and has both positive Relative plus-minus (0.36) and Relative Corsi (6.0) ratings so far. He has definitely played easy competition (-0.252 Corsi Rel QoC) and has been gifted great starting position (59.7% zone starts). But what rookie isn't given an easy assignment before being thrown to the wolves? The key is that Shattenkirk is handling his initial year well and should be given slightly more difficult ice time as he becomes comfortable. Probably the most intriguing outcome has been his 1.21 points per 60 at even strength. If he can develop as an offensive threat from the blue line, he'll only add to his value.

Contracts

The Blues would seem to have won the contract portion of the deal as well. They gain both Stewart and Shattenkirk for a combined $4.2 million in cap space and retain the rights to both through restricted free agency.

The Avalanche will take a $4.1 million cap hit, but McClement is an unrestricted free agent at the end of next year. Colorado has no advantage over the other teams in the league to retain his services, and as he is in his late 20's, he'll likely be eager to sign the best financial deal he can find.

Conclusions

If the Avalanche are expecting Johnson to be the shutdown defenseman they really need, they'll be disappointed. He's proven to be a serviceable and solid NHL blueliner but when his level of competition was increased this season, he faltered. That said, he's only 22 and defensemen mature much later than forwards do. The next two seasons could be the most crucial for his development.

Jay McClement may provide a very interesting side benefit to the Avs. His penchant for playing the difficult minutes could leave forwards like Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny with the ability to start more in the offensive zone, much like Manny Malhotra has done for Ryan Kesler and the Sedins in Vancouver.

For the Blues, Chris Stewart joins a stable of good forwards that includes Brad Boyes, David Backes, Alexander Steen, Andy McDonald, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Patrick Berglund. Stewart also fits the bill as the "best player in the deal" in my mind.

The tipping point in favor of the Blues is that while Stewart and Johnson are both solid team building blocks, Shattenkirk has both much better contract value short- and long-term as well as upside when compared to McClement.

The Blues should be quite happy with themselves, as they squeaked out the advantage here.

Ryan Popilchak 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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