What We Learned: Are NHL trade prices really 'too high'?

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Chicago Blackhawks Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman, listens to the media during a news conference at the United Center in Chicago, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. The Blackhawks recently agreed to eight-year contract extensions with Toews and Kane. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Today is the trade deadline and there's probably not a lot that's going to happen. Most of the big names are already off the board, and the price to acquire those remaining might be so prohibitive that contending teams largely avoid getting involved in bidding for them.

But one thing you're going to hear a lot today, and have heard for much of the last week, is that, “The price for [Player X] is too high.” Which is something I wonder about a lot. What constitutes “too high?”

Here's a quick example from the weekend: Saturday night it was announced that the Blackhawks traded for Antoine Vermette, giving up up their first-round pick this year and D prospect Klas Dahlbeck to do it.

This prompted a lot of people to wonder over the price tag for a guy who doesn't drive possession (albeit against top competition and middling zone starts) but has put up a decent number of points this year and wins a lot of draws. Doesn't a first pick and a prospect for a 32-year-old on an expiring deal seem a bit much? Well, yes and no. In the abstract, sure, that's two young assets you can control for years to come at a cheap price in exchange for one expensive one that is probably going to be gone come July 1. But you have to think about what those assets mean to the Blackhawks, which is, in reality, very little indeed.

Dahlbeck seems like a decent enough defensive prospect, but he's 23 years old and has basically been an AHL player his entire career. He could improve, and maybe if Chicago's blue line weren't so full-up with NHL deals he might have won a more permanent role with the big club. But he hasn't improved yet, and it is full of actual NHL defensemen, and so Dahlbeck proves rather expendable.

As for the first-round pick, well, let's say Chicago drafts in the high teens in a worst-case scenario where they bomb out of the playoffs. What's the value of a pick like that overall? The chance that a player taken there plays at least 100 NHL games is 62 percent, meaning that 3 in 5 players taken there go on to have a role with the team. And while there are Zach Parises and Ryan Getzlafs to be acquired there on occasion, that still leaves 2 in 5 who are Mark Mitera and Kenndal McArdle. And most are somewhere in the middle; Robert Nilsson is one of the forgotten guys of that 2003 draft who had a decently long NHL career of about three seasons, and some like Dan Paille are still playing in the league, but in fourth-line roles for teams that did not draft them. The thing is about playing the odds here, and for the Blackhawks, waiting four years to maybe develop a Dan Paille-type player is not something in which they have a particularly large amount of interest.

Plus, they needed someone — hell, anyone — to chip in a little offense in the absence of Patrick Kane, plus there's the fact that they're not unlikely to finish in the top six or eight in the league (that is, make a conference final or come close) even without their Hart candidate. They are that good, and the farther away you get from the first pick in the draft, in general the lower the chances you get a good contributor. Again, you can get superstars anywhere if you get lucky enough, but the reason people still talk about Detroit getting Pavel Datsyuk in the 123rd round is because it's an extraordinarily rare occurrence, rather than some sort of tribute to the drafting brilliance of the Red Wings. If they knew what they were getting that late, they would have been more than happy to take him first overall.

Now, on the other hand, for the Coyotes this price is a good one because they need all the help they can get and if they have to wait a few years for that pick to develop into something (maybe), then so be it. They don't have other options. So they'll take what they can get and ransom whoever draws interest to a high bidder.

This same logic also applies to the Kings acquiring Andrej Sekera for their first-round pick and a decentish prospect. The Kings don't need the pick — it'll probably be, like, 25-27th overall at worst — and they're set on NHL players for a while as well.

A first-round pick and middling prospect for two of the best teams in the league every year is basically nothing. Rent Vermette or Sekera and even if you don't re-sign them, maybe they help ferry you that much deeper into the playoffs. That probably pays for itself pretty quickly in terms of both actual dollars and psychic value. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, it suddenly didn't hurt so much that they'd given up Joe Colborne — admittedly a decent NHLer at this point — along with a first-round pick and a conditional pick for Tomas Kaberle. Colborne probably never would have had a place with the Bruins, and that pick ended up being 30th overall (Toronto eventually flipped it to Anaheim, and the Ducks drafted Rickard Rakell, for whom the Bruins aren't exactly pining these days).

But these are trades made by sure-thing teams for which we have a pretty good idea at this point of what they are. Now, if the Bruins make the same swap — a B-level prospect and a pick for an older center — it's a much riskier proposition; they're currently slated to pick 15th in the league and Vermette isn't exactly a player who's going to get them over the hump from “decent” to “contender.” They have players on that roster capable of playing extremely well for two months, so it's not impossible that they somehow make a run to a conference final or something (i.e. Tuukka Rask could play Vezina-level hockey again, or David Krejci could come back healthy and be Good Playoffs David Krejci), but what odds would you give that this will actually happen? Maybe 1 in 4, 1 in 5, that kind of thing? That pick has far greater value in terms of the odds that it produces a difference-making NHLer in all likelihood. So for the Bruins, the price probably was too high, but for the Blackhawks it can be considered perfectly reasonable.

Any other considerations in this regard have to include the kind of impact a traded-for player is going to have. Sekera is almost certainly going to deliver considerable value to the Kings in this Cup run because he was a No. 1 defenseman in Carolina who is now probably the third-best in Los Angeles. That really helps you win depth battles, which increases the percentage of the game in which you're spending time in the opponent's end. But what about Vermette? He's a depth guy who doesn't really hurt you, especially if you are careful in how you use him, in a worst-case scenario. And he could help you if you manage his minutes properly. He's probably worth those assets even if he plays just 35 games in a Chicago sweater.

What GMs have to be careful about, then, is the kinds of players they acquire. Sunday morning Darren Dreger floated the rumor that teams were sniffing around Andrew Ference, and the Oilers would be fools not to trade him for anything they could get. Ference is an expensive possession black hole; he gets tough zone starts against mediocre-at-best competition and gets buried every night, and he's also 35 years old with three years left at $3.25 million on his contract. If Edmonton even gets a sixth-round pick out of any deal, they'd be lucky to do so, while the team surrendering that asset — albeit one with like a 10 percent chance of making an impact at the NHL level — probably doesn't consider the price too high at all.

The point is that if you can acquire an NHL player for just about any pick outside the top 15, and also reasonably expect to control his contract, then that's not a bad investment in your team overall. But you have to be careful about how you define who is and isn't an NHL player, especially if they used to be one but aren't any more. Why is Tim Gleason worth a prospect and a fourth-round pick? He isn't, because he actively makes your team worse when he's on the ice; Washington got robbed blind. Why is Dan Winnik worth a grit guy and two picks, one of which is a second rounder? Because he is one of the better play-driving depth guys who was on the market this year, and Jim Rutherford made a very shrewd decision to acquire him. Why is the jury still out on Chicago acquiring Kimmo Timonen for a second and a conditional fourth that might end up being a second as well? Only because he hasn't played all season and is an unknown quantity at 39; if he's the Timonen we saw the last two seasons, he's more than worth that.

It's all relative, isn't it? We know by now what a lot of these teams are or aren't. The Bruins need like six things to make them legitimate contenders, which is why Peter Chiarelli probably shouldn't bother trading assets to get any one of them. Los Angeles and Chicago don't need as much, so the price to meet their goals doesn't end up being as prohibitive.

If Chicago doesn't get to the West final, then those trades look foolish even if they were a good investment at that time. And if those picks, however improbably, end up being the next Brandon Saad and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Stan Bowman looks like a fool as well.

But what you're doing is trading away lottery tickets for cash, and in most cases contending teams don't really need more lottery tickets. They need the cash to buy a big, shiny trophy.

What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks
: The Ducks, for example, might be a team that maybe shouldn't try to push all-in on this season despite the early success they've had. Are they clearly in the top, say, four teams in the West? Does getting one defenseman help them get there? I'm not sure.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes have lost nine in a row. It really is time to blow the whole thing up. How is Shane Doan still considered untouchable?

Boston Bruins: Y'all really shouldn't bother trading for anyone, though.

Buffalo Sabres: A day after Mark Pysyk was sent down, he collapsed while playing pickup basketball and had to be taken to the hospital. Very, very strange.

Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano hitting the IR with a shoulder injury should basically put to rest any pretensions of this team being any good and worth investing in for Brad Treliving. If Giordano misses any time at all, this team is dead in the water if they weren't already (and they were, so y'know).

Carolina Hurricanes: What a great job to get two assets back for Tim Gleason, who is bad.

Chicago: Yeah, a “B” grade for that Vermette deal sounds just about right. Not great but certainly solid enough that it's likely to help the team.

Colorado Avalanche: Say what you want about the Avs, but they sure are a bunch of crybabies. Of course they're mad about this hard, very legal hit from Sean Bergenheim, because it broke Nathan MacKinnon's nose, so you definitely have to start throwing punches from the bench and starting fights with seven seconds left in the game. Good, cool team.

Columbus Blue Jackets: They're playing David Clarkson on a line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. This is not a drill.

Dallas Stars: Awful goaltending has just killed the Stars this season. I mean, an .894 team save percentage? How is that possible?

Detroit Red Wings: Ken Holland wonders whether he should make a trade or stand pat. Probably wise to do the latter, because this team is good but it's not elite. Also, they want to add a right-shot defenseman, which is a new and interesting twist for the Wings.

Edmonton Oilers: The waiver wire around the trade deadline is always stocked with players, and boy if bad teams shouldn't just try to claim like half those guys. There's usually some pretty decent, under-appreciated ones in the mix.

Florida Panthers: Preemptive RIP Dany Heatley's career. This has to be the end of the line, right?

Los Angeles Kings: Derek Forbort was sent down to make room on the roster for Andrej Sekera, which is more than a little bit of an upgrade.

Minnesota Wild: Interesting look at how equipment crews deal with things around deadline day. It's hectic to say the least.

Montreal Canadiens: Should Marc Bergevin really be getting all this credit for building the Habs? This is a really not-good roster with an elite goaltender — whose acquisition he had nothing to do with — who's playing the season of his life.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Saturday marked the first time all year that Pekka Rinne gave up three goals or more in consecutive games. His save percentage has been trending down lately. Is that a cause for concern?

New Jersey Devils: It was really nice to see the Devils basically give up the ghost and trade Jaromir Jagr, even if it was to Florida where no one cares and he's not going to make the playoffs anyway.

New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak set the Islanders' single-season wins record on Friday night, and they still have 18 more of these damn things to go.

New York Rangers: I liked that Yandle trade a lot better when they were getting rid of Dan Girardi.

Ottawa Senators: Andrew Hammond has been excellent for the Sens of late, and has a lot of people in Ottawa wondering just how high his ceiling is. Hey, remember when Jean-Gabriel Pageau was really good in that one playoff run? I bet this is totally different from that.

Philadelphia Flyers: Just how many guys are the Flyers going to sell here? Might want to go with “all of 'em.”

Pittsburgh Penguins: No one on the Penguins is really talking about who might be traded, or traded-for. I believe it a lot!

San Jose Sharks: This seems like an oddly specific thing to look for.

St. Louis Blues: In what way is a 2-1 win over the Oilers “key” and not just “probably not even that good of a game for you?” I really do wonder about whether this team can be competitive come playoff time.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts are looking to spend another $25 million to improve their arena. And the local government would only have to cover half of that! Wow what a deal for taxpayers!

Toronto Maple Leafs: Boy, Kyle Dubas sure does sound like a smart kid. How long until he's just the GM? Two years? Three?

Vancouver Canucks: It wasn't really so long ago that a season in which the Sedins were less than a point a game would be further evidence that they weren't first-liners and needed to be traded. Now it's “stellar.” Funny what a difference a few years makes.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are probably going to make Andrei Burakovsky eligible for the AHL playoffs, which says a lot about their plans for the NHL playoffs.

Winnipeg Jets: Isn't it weird how a team with almost no roster turnover can look good if they're coached correctly? Isn't it weird?

Play of the Weekend

Great shot by Brad Marchand but watch the no-look backhand pass from Patrice Bergeron when exiting his own zone. Yikes.

Gold Star Award

Jack Eichel finished the Hockey East season with a three-point night for BU, and became the first player since the turn of the century to finish the league slate with at two points per game in conference play. He also has 55 points in 32 games. Anyway, this coast-to-coast shortie is prettttttty nice.

Minus of the Weekend

The fact that this goal was disallowed is infuriating.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “tillman40” is being nice.

Jonathan Bernier + Nazem Kadri


Leon Draisaitl + Ben Scrivens

Scrivens is just a throw in if the Oilers need to move a goalie to make it work...

Flame away lol

“lol” indeed.

Oh, you mean a journal?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here