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February 27, 2012
Zamboni Tracks
Buyers, Sellers, And Traders

by Ryan Wagman

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Tampa Bay Lightning

Traded RW Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for D Kyle Quincey and then flipped Quincey to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for D Sebastien Piche and a 2012 1st round pick (February 21, 2012)

Although not the worst team in the NHL or even the Eastern Conference, the Lightning have the worst defense in the league, allowing 3.38 goals per game. They have been close to neutral on even strength, scoring nearly as often at five-on-five as they surrender, but this has been accomplished in spite of the NHL's worst even strength save percentage. Knowing that his team is closer to the Eastern Conference basement than to the eighth seed of the playoffs and that this situation would not change without an improvement in team goaltending—an improvement that would not be coming this season—Steve Yzerman has placed his team firmly in the camp of the sellers. After shedding both Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina last week , the Tampa Bake Sale has continued with the much younger Downie being moved to Colorado as part of a three-way deal that adds a 2012 first round pick from Detroit in addition to the two second rounders and other goodies acquired in the other trades. Part of the reason for the added return with Downie is that his offseason status will be that of an RFA while Moore and Kubina will be completely unencumbered as UFAs. Whereas the other two are both in their thirties, Steven Stamkos' former roommate is only 24.

While it is possible that Stevie Y, coming out of the Detroit organization, knows something about Piche that the scouting community has missed en masse, the fact that this is the first season the 24-year-old has spent more time in the AHL than in the ECHL does not speak highly of him.

The Lightning have some pieces of a strong nucleus, led by the all-World talent of Steven Stamkos and including veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Victor Hedman will be a defensive lynchpin for years to come. As it is usually hardest to achieve that core, this team is in good stead to be dangerous for several years into the future. Yzerman should look to trade at least one of the expiring defensive contracts of Matt Gilroy (having an under-the-radar strong season with 4.1 GVT as of February 19), Brett Clark, or Bruno Gervais. While Clark has the strongest reputation among that trio, Gilroy is the best bet to help a playoff aspirant.

Sellers: If it isn't nailed down, get rid of it.

Colorado Avalanche

Traded D Kyle Quincey to the Tampa Bay Lightning for RW Steve Downie (February 21, 2012)

While the language of the trade deadline is often limited to the easy labels of buyer, seller, and salary-cap, once in a while the deadline yields a pure hockey trade. The Avalanche, tied on points for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with Los Angeles and Dallas, have valid reasons to aspire to rise above the fray. Star C Matt Duchene, on the IR since New Year's Eve, has recently been activated, vastly strengthening the Avalanche's top six. Although the return of the former third overall draft pick is a great help, the Avalanche were still a poor offensive team, without a single player with more than 16 goals and only Ryan O'Reilly with over 40 points as of February 25.

Downie, more of a traditional power forward in the mold of Owen Nolan than a point-producing dynamo, was not brought in to provide the offensive spark required by his new team, but to create a diversion so that the more skilled forwards like O'Reilly and rookie Gabriel Landeskog can turn up the heat on the opposition.

GM Greg Sherman felt safe in giving away Kyle Quincey, like Downie an expectant RFA, as the Avalanche have a very deep defensive core. Quincey led the team's blue line in GVT at the time of the trade with 6.2, but the team still retains six blueliners who have contributed well above replacement-level hockey for them this season in Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Shane O'Brien, Stefan Elliott, Jan Hejda, and Ryan O'Byrne (currently injured). Tyson Barrie has also caused some excitement for his future in more limited time up with the big club. Considering that Quincey was not doing any of the heavy lifting among Colorado defensemen—getting a heavy dose of offensive zone starts while playing against bottom-six forwards more often than not—should make his absence easier to bear for Colorado. This trade puts them in a better position to stake a claim to a playoff berth than they were beforehand.

Traders: My surplus for yours.

Detroit Red Wings

Traded D Sebastien Piche and a 2012 first round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for D Kyle Quincey, acquired earlier in the day from the Colorado Avalanche (February 21, 2012)

Coming to the end of a record-breaking 23-game home winning streak, the Red Wings could justifiably feel confident that they had a team to be reckoned with come the postseason. Leading the Central Division, they were almost assured of a top-two seed in the Western Conference this season presuming only a modicum of health until the end of the regular season. While normally reluctant to give up a first round draft pick (last year's draft day trade notwithstanding), the Red Wings are now in their best position to make a run at the Stanley Cup since blowing a three games to two lead over Pittsburgh in 2009.

With the consummation of this trade, the Red Wings blueline corps now runs eight deep, with tyro Brendan Smith waiting in Grand Rapids for an opportunity that seems less likely to come this season. Depth aside, only the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom and the underrated Ian White have good possession numbers at even strength. All others are neutral are below par in Relative Corsi.* While Quincey has been favored with below average matchups and frequent offensive zone starts, he has responded well. In fact, should he be able to turn around his below average PDO, hampered by his weaker teammates in Colorado, his possession rates and GVT rate should increase towards the end of the season. The depth already present for the Wings should allow the Kitchener native to continue playing more sheltered minutes and provide his new (and old) employers with a positive contribution, now and likely in the future as the RFA seems an excellent candidate to be brought back next season.

*Bet you would not have guessed that NIklas Kronwall, with 12 goals, including five on the man advantage, would be the trailer in even strength relative Corsi at -5.8.

Buyers: Picking up anything possible without giving away a roster player.

Phoenix Coyotes

Traded G Curtis McElhinney, a 2012 second round draft pick, and a conditional 2013 fifth round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for C Antoine Vermette (February 22, 2012)

It is admittedly very hard to analyse anything done by the Phoenix Coyotes, particularly transaction-wise, without looking at their long-standing collective ownership situation. Still owned by the league, still shrouded in the fog of relocation rumors, still playing in front of a dwindling crown in the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale*. Long speculated to be dealing with a very finite and inflexible budget, GM Don Maloney scored an absolute coup in convincing the bosses, a group united only in their aversion to unnecessary spending and all in direct competition with Maloney's men for postseason glory, to expand his budget so he could strengthen the Coyotes at the expense of one of his benefactors.

*Amazingly, this year's attendance is actually the worst it has been in ages, averaging 11,955 fans per game through their first 30 home games. Goes to show that franchise uncertainty is not good for the bottom line.

Antoine Vermette, who had the second best Relative Corsi (behind only Vinny Prospal) among forwards on the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets, was acquired for Relative Peanuts. The package surrendered is the hockey equivalent of a pair of scratch-and-sniff cards and a crate full of used magazines. The former star of the Victoriaville Tigres, who has topped 20 goals three times in his NHL career, represents the center solution that the Coyotes have been seeking all season, dating back to Kyle Turris' holdout. Vermette is one of the top faceoff men in the NHL, ranking eighth in the league in Timo Seppa's weighted faceoff stat, UFO. His current raw success rate of 56.2% again puts him among the league leaders. While his offensive numbers are down this year, they should pick up once he begins to play in front of legitimate NHL caliber goaltending.

In Vermette, the Coyotes have a player that can be trusted in all situations, as his faceoff prowess makes him very useful in defensive situations, something recognized by his former coaches as his zone starts have been weighted very heavily towards the defensive zone in three of the last four seasons (making his 55.3% offensive zone start rate last season stick out). The native of St. Agapit, Quebec also holds the odd distinction among top-six players of having scored almost as many shorthanded goals in his career (17) as power play markers (18). Vermette will slot into the Coyotes' second line between the unsung duo of Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney as Phoenix attempts to hold onto their improbable spot atop the Pacific Division. Kudos to Don Maloney for finding a way to add a useful player with three years at $3.75 million per season to his team.

Buyers: The surprise hand that goes up from the back of the auction room.

New Jersey Devils

Traded D Kurtis Foster, RW Nick Palmieri, RW Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second round draft pick, and a conditional 2013 third round pick to the Minnesota Wild for D Marek Zidlicky (February 24, 2012)

Looking more and more like a sure thing to return to the playoffs under new coach Peter DeBoer, this year's Devils are not at all reminiscent of a classic Lamoriello Devils squad. The mere presence of an Ilya Kovalchuk on the roster assures us of that. While the three-time Stanley Cup Champions were led from the back by the youthful Martin Brodeur and blueliners Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, today's version still has an aged Brodeur between the pipes but their defensive experience has been limited to the likes of Anton Volchenkov (a poor man's Stevens) and Henrik Tallinder (more of a Lyle Odelein than a Niedermayer). Kurtis Foster, an earlier acquisition from Anaheim had taken the reins on the point during man advantage situations, and was adequate, if unexceptional, as he ranked 15th among league blueliners in 5-on-4 points per 60 minutes.

In that sense, a trade for a veteran defenseman with an offensive bent makes a lot of sense for the Devils, especially in light of the injuries that have kept Tallinder and rookie stud blueliner Adam Larsson off the ice for extended periods. Zidlicky, although he had struggled to impact the Minnesota power play under rookie coach Mike Yeo, has long been an ace quarterback, twice reaching double digits in power play goals. The two-time Olympian has generally been given sheltered minutes, starting more often than not in the offensive end against opponents who are more likely to be bottom six than top.

Had this trade merely been a swap of Foster for Zidlicky, or a pair of picks for the Czech veteran, it would have made sense for the Devils. Unfortunately, unless his lackluster play was truly a result of a clash between player and coach and not the expected regression of an aging player, this trade represents an extreme overpay. In fact, looking at goals versus threshold, Foster, in 28 games with New Jersey, has provided the same 0.8 GVT as Zidlicky has in 39 games between healthy scratches for Minnesota. The only way to rationalize the overpay is through payroll considerations. While Foster is on expiring contracts, Zidlicky's salary is more than double that of Foster. Dropping the minimal (or thereabouts) salaries of Veilleux and Palmieri may have been necessary for New Jersey, who like Phoenix, have needed some NHL assistance to meet their expenses this season. While none of the pieces surrendered, on their own, are likely to hurt the Devils going forward, the quantity involved creates unnecessary risk.

Buyers: Empty out your pockets and get whatever you can.

Minnesota Wild

Traded D Marek Zidlicky to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for D Kurtis Foster, RW Nick Palmieri, RW Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second round draft pick, and a conditional 2013 third round pick (February 24, 2012)

Looking unlikely to reach the playoffs once again, the Wild could be excused for selling away some of their assets, particularly ones less likely to be around for their next run at postseason glory. Zidlicky, openly feuding with head coach Mike Yeo, certainly fits that bill. Foster, a journeyman blueliner, should be familiar with his new surroundings, as he spent three-plus seasons with the Wild before embarking on an NHL journey that has seen him call Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Anaheim, and New Jersey home in the last two and a half seasons. If he clicks with Yeo, it should not be a surprise to see the native of Carp, Ontario re-sign with Minnesota to a contract that provides more flexibility than Zidlicky could.

Like Foster, Veilleux is an old Minnesotan, having played for the team for six seasons after the Wild drafted him out of Val d'Or in the QMJHL in 2001. Veilleux was one of the most defensive-oriented forwards in the NHL under Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, before finding himself frozen out of the NHL last year and forced to ply his trade in Finland. While he may end up back in the AHL, the 30-year-old has a lot more to offer his new/old team than some of the flotsam the Wild have been forced to use this year.

Making this trade an absolute steal for Chuck Fletcher is the inclusion of Nick Palmieri, a huge 22-year-old winger who demonstrated last season that he can contribute in the NHL, providing 4.3 GVT to the Devils in only 43 games. Do not be fooled by his lesser numbers this year as Palmieri has suffered from poor goaltending when he has been on the ice, with Brodeur and Hedberg putting up an execrable .887 even strength save percentage in his minutes. Slated to be an RFA this summer, the former third round pick should provide adequate third line value on a reasonable salary for years to come.

Sellers: Make like a matchstick man and sell.

Florida Panthers

Traded a 2012 sixth round pick to the Nashville Predators for LW/C Jerrod Smithson (February 24, 2012)

Traded D Michael Vernace and a 2013 third round pick to the New York Rangers for LW Wojtek Wolski (February 25, 2012)

Still holding on the Southeast Division lead at the trade deadline with multiple games in hand on their closest competitors, the Panthers are well motivated to make a few minor tweaks to their overachieving roster. With both Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm, regular left wingers, out with injuries, GM Dale Tallon has targeted the position for adding depth at minimal cost. Smithson, receiving fourth line minutes in Nashville, and Wolski, collecting on his $4 million salary while spending more time in the press box than on the ice, both have the ability and opportunity to provide more for their new team than with their previous employers.

Wolski had the makings of an above-average possession player in the near past, twice exceeding 20 goals in a season. He is only two years removed from a 65-point season split between Colorado and Phoenix. Even in a down year last season, he contributed 7.2 GVT to the Ranger cause. Like Smithson, Wolski can also line up at center, providing the Panthers with added versatility in their lineup.

Smithson, slated to pick up a similar fourth line role as he had with Nashville may be more valuable as a center than on the wing. The former Calgary Hitman finished fourth in UFO% last year, winning 57.4% of his faceoffs, which translated to 59% once properly weighted. He has again been well above average in that regards this season, winning over 55% of his draws. The key to success for Smithson, a poor possession player, will be to keep the puck away from him after the faceoff is over. Used to playing against top competition, Smithson has managed to find himself in front of goalies playing out of their head in terms of save percentage, even while being drastically outshot. Most studies say that is not a repeatable skill. This will be put to the test as the native of Vernon, B.C. plays for a coach not named Barry Trotz for the first time since before the lockout.

Buyers: A short shopping list with coupons.

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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<< Previous Article
Angles and Caroms (02/25)
<< Previous Column
Zamboni Tracks (02/23)
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Zamboni Tracks (02/29)
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From Daigle To Datsyuk (02/28)

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