Zamboni Tracks: Trade season starts early

Edmonton OilersTraded G Devan Dubnyk to the Nashville Predators in exchange for RW Matt Hendricks (Jan. 15, 2014)

Traded a 2014 third round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for G Ben Scrivens (Jan. 15, 2014)

Dubnyk, once a first round pick of the Oilers*, made his debut for Edmonton in the 2009-10 season, in his sixth season after being selected. Since his debut, the Oilers have known nothing except for sub-mediocrity, with last season’s third place finish in the Northwest Division their only non-basement ending of the Dubnyk era. It is very easy to associate – even to blame – franchise level failures on a poor goalie. If Dubnyk had been a poor goalie, I would also feel justified in blaming him for all of the team’s troubles. The problem is that Regina native is not a poor goalie. He is not and will likely never be a superstar, but his performance has been above average in terms of the only thing a goalie can truly be said to control: Stopping a reasonable number of the shots he faces.

Even though the Oilers never finished higher than 24th in goals allowed during the Dubnyk years – twice finishing dead last – the blame is not to be dumped on the former first rounder. As Robert Vollman pointed out in the 2013-14 Hockey Prospectus annual, Dubnyk’s even strength save percentage – the most important stat by which we can easily rate goaltenders – has been higher than that of two recent Stanley Cup winning backstops (Crawford and Fleury) in recent years, goalies whose teams simply prevented many of those shots from reaching the man in the colorful mask, such that their decent save percentages were enough to get by with.

* This was in the pre-perpetual rebuild phase the franchise is currently wading through.

Recent history aside, Dubnyk has not helped himself this year, as his normal even strength save percentage rates above .920 have fallen below .900 before the Oilers decided to turn over a new leaf in net. With Dubnyk shipped to Nashville for a classic fourth line grinder in Matt Hendricks, Edmonton then picked up former Toronto Maple Leaf backup Ben Scrivens, who had never had a season long even strength save percentage above .920, but had been performing admirably in his first year with the Los Angeles Kings. It is likely that Oiler coach Dallas Eakins vouched for Scrivens personally, having coached him for parts of three seasons in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. Scrivens was well above average in his AHL days, a stretch which included a deep playoff run in 2011-12.

Scrivens should be given most of the starts for Edmonton from here on out as the pending UFA needs to prove he can maintain a strong performance when playing every day for a prolonged stretch.  Without a genuine top goalie prospect in the system, Scrivens is hereby auditioning for a contract that will keep him in Edmonton for a few more years, or at least prove to other teams that he is more than a good backup.

The acquisition of Hendricks is a bit odder. Whereas Dubnyk was a pending UFA, Hendricks had only just signed a four year deal with Nashville this past off-season. Regularly entrusted with heavy defensive lifting, both at even strength and the penalty kill, the 32-year-old Minnesotan has only once topped 16 points in a single NHL season. With Edmonton less deep in trustworthy bottom six forwards, expect Hendricks to get a few extra minutes of ice time per game than he had been receiving in Nashville, a team that runs four lines deep in bottom six talent. The fact that their new winger has a cap hit around half that of the departed Dubnyk made it easy for them to turn around and acquire Scrivens as the two combine for over $1 million less on the cap than their former incumbent goalie. This is a long-winded way of saying that the Oilers got rid of a player who has historically been their sole saving grace on defense, but may have actually improved the team defensive game by doing so. That said, we should not expect Scrivens to post better GAAs until GM Craig MacTavish upgrades the blueline in a substantive way.

Los Angeles Kings – Traded G Ben Scrivens to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2014 third round draft pick (Jan. 15, 2014)

When incumbent starter Jonathan Quick went down with a groin injury in November, the Kings relied on Scrivens and rookie Martin Jones to hold the fort. Both men were excellent. In 19 games minding the LA crease (including a number before the Quick injury) Scrivens shone with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage including three shutouts. Much to the delight of the Kings, Jones, taking advantage of his opportunities, was just as good, if not better, with three shutouts of his own as his GAA stayed below 1.00(!) for his first eight games.  With Scrivens – part of the haul the Kings received by dealing Jonathan Bernier to Toronto during the offseason – a pending UFA and Jones still on his entry level deal, it only made sense to let the younger man stick around and turn the one time backup into a future third round pick. And let’s be honest here – this will be a very high third rounder.

Nashville Predatorstraded RW Matt Hendricks to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for G Devan Dubnyk (Jan. 15, 2014)

Traded D Kevin Klein to the New York Rangers in exchange for D Michael Del Zotto (Jan. 22, 2014)

Pekka Rinne, Nashville’s franchise level goaltender has not played since October 22, victim to a hip ailment that has seen him undergo surgery. He was allowed to begin weight bearing exercises less than two weeks ago. In his absence, the Predators had been relying almost entirely on the untested tandem of Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec who had one combined game of NHL experience behind their collective masks. In the 40 odd games since Rinne went down, Hutton and Mazanec have contributed a combined GVT of -8. In other words, they have been worse than could have been expected from a typical AHL callup. Further proof that not all replacement players are replacement level.

With Rinne’s return still only a matter of conjecture, Nashville had to act swiftly to try to stay in the race. It was furthermore understandable that they would not want to try to lure one of the big fish (Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller) as it would be a waste of valuable assets should Rinne return. Dubnyk, who had shown league average or better potential with the defensively irresponsible Oilers, and a pending UFA, fit the bill perfectly as a low cost fill-in, league-worst GVT notwithstanding. At the cost of depth line winger Matt Hendricks, himself looking like a mistake of an offseason free agent signing (albeit to small coin), GM David Poile rightly felt the gamble was worth the cause.

Having addressed the goalie situation, Poile has since turned to looking at his club’s offensive woes, their 2.43 goals scored per game ranked tied for 24th overall. The Predators have only four skaters who have lit the lamp at least 10 times and no one with more than 15 goals. On the other hand, the team was stacked with defensively responsible players.

One of those defensive players has been Kevin Klein, a stay-at-home blueliner, who was famously drafted in the wildly fruitful defensive class of 2003, between the selections of former teammates Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. While known as a fine penalty killer, the Predator PK has fallen on hard times over the past two partial seasons. We may be able to quibble about the percentages and seek an upwards regression to the mean, but the Predators were more likely to be scored upon when shorthanded with Klein on the ice than with any of their other penalty killing defensemen.

Del Zotto, while not expected to play a role on the PK, will likely slot in on a second pairing, perhaps next to rookie phenom Seth Jones or on the third duo with another young gun, Ryan Ellis. In addition to replacing an offensive zero with a player with tangible goal generating skills, Del Zotto will also serve to provide greater balance to the Nashville backline, as his left handed shot will allow coach Barry Trotz to always role out three defensemen from each side.

Finally, the deal provides Nashville with additional cap flexibility, if not great savings for the present. Klein was locked up for four more seasons after this one, at a cap hit of $2.9 million. Del Zotto, six years younger than Klein, will be an RFA this summer. Nashville, if it likes what it sees from the former 40 point scorer, can offer him a long term deal. If, on the other hand, Poile and Trotz have the same misgivings that kept MDZ in the rumor mills for much of his stay on Broadway, they can give him a simple one year qualifying offer, or worse comes to worst, just walk away.

New York Rangers Traded D Michael Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators in exchange for D Kevin Klein (Jan, 22, 2014)

Here we have the exact inverse of the Nashville situation described above. Whereas the Predators had too many right handed shots on the blueline, the Rangers defensive crew was too left handed. While Nashville wanted more offensive punch, preferring their bluliners in the mold of Shea Weber (then again, who doesn’t?), the Rangers platonic ideal looks more like Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, who are more puck distributors (albeit very good ones) than howitzer bearers.

Still a big minute muncher, Klein can directly take Del Zotto’s former place alongside young defenseman John Moore, and his responsible defensive game should allow Moore more freedom to join the offensive attack. With his shot blocking proclivities, Klein would seem to fit more smoothly into the blueline responsibilities demanded by former Rangers bench boss John Tortorella, but his style of game, if his decline has not yet begun at age 29, should work on Broadway, and allow Alain Vigneault to minimize Anton Stralman’s time on the penalty kill.

On the downside, in as much as Nashville walked away from a four year commitment, Glen Sather made one by trading for Klein and his contract which extends to the end of the 2017-18 season, when he will be 33. Considering Klein’s diminished possession game while facing average competition, there is a very good chance that New York will regret this trade within a season or two unless Klein finds a new (old) level with a new team. As MDZ was a healthy scratch eight times before the mid-way point in the season, there is much to suggest that this deal was simply a case of the GM picking up an asset his coach would feel more comfortable in using in place of a talented player that did not fit the system.

Ryan Wagman is a long-time author of Hockey Prospectus including his Zamboni Tracks transactions column, a contributor to several HP annuals, contributor to ESPN Insider, and long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs supporter.

Wagman

Follow Ryan on Twitter at @RAWagman.

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