What We Learned: Oblivious suckers of the NHL offseason

What We Learned: Oblivious suckers of the NHL offseason

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The NHL is smarter now than it has ever been.

Teams use advanced data of many different stripes to try to gain an edge on the competition, whether it's to streamline breakouts and defensive systems, identify a talent in a player other teams cannot see, better determine the actual and future value of a player, or find diamond-in-the-rough prospects that can help their teams down the road.

A great many teams now employ these strategies, to the point that the advantage they can give is already diminishing because most everyone has already figured out a lot of this stuff. And while there's plenty of proprietary information these teams have that the public does not, market inefficiencies are to some extent beginning to dry up.

Fortunately for about 27 teams in the league, all you need is one guy who doesn't know about those inefficiencies and you might just be able to make something happen. Right now the three teams that are walking down the midway with a fistful of bills clutched in one hand and a big mound of cotton candy in the other are more than willing to make deals they don't realize are mistakes.

Take, for example, the Vancouver Canucks, who on Wednesday traded a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick, and 2014 first-rounder Jared McCann for Erik Gudbranson and a fifth rounder.

What do you need to know about trade, other than the fact that because we're dealing with Jim Benning here we know for sure that he misevaluated things? How about this direct quote from the victim himself:

Rare is the hockey trade where a team calls you about a player they just re-signed less than a month prior where the person on the receiving end of that call is actually getting a non-lemon. Jim Nill once received just such a call from Peter Chiarelli, but other than that, Florida called Vancouver because they knew for sure that a 6-foot-5 defenseman is something Benning would have moved heaven and earth to receive.

The trade was immediately and widely mocked among certain circles of hockey people (the smart ones) and cheered by others (the ones still living in 1992). I would say the former went overboard a little bit, because Gudbranson strikes a neutral observer as being a decent No. 4 or 5 defenseman; he's not outright terrible. But he's certainly not worth what Vancouver proudly gave up for him. He'll make the team better, but not as much as McCann and a high second-round pick make Florida down the road. And the lack of forward-looking understanding is what's really the issue for Vancouver here.

It's especially troublesome because Benning is still out here talking about how the team owes it to fans to be competitive right now and all that. This about the team that finished 28th in the NHL, behind Columbus and Calgary and Arizona, and whose best players are now in their late 30s. Not that standings are necessarily the be-all, end-all in determining team quality, but in this case that feels just about right for a team that is currently being managed right into the ground. Especially because Benning is also out here saying things like, “Decisions have to be made by hockey people who know what winning teams look like and how to build them.”

This is like when people used to sell bricks in camcorder boxes out of the trunk of their car, except if you had the tools right at your disposal, because they're just on War on Ice or Corsica, to tell you, “Hey there's a brick in that box, not a camcorder.” But then you're proud you bought the brick.

And with Darren Dreger recently confirming what we might have already guessed — that Benning has more trades in the hopper — any smart GM with a physical player to unload should be calling him twice a day to talk about the weather and maybe just mention in passing that this guy who had 200 hits last season is available for the right price. “Ah jeez, would love to have him around but just can't make the cap numbers work,” and so on. Benning would be more than happy to help you with that, provided he doesn't spend his own cap money on a six-year deal for Kris Russell or Milan Lucic, or both.

Just to put this to bed, here's Benning's body of trade-related work since in the past nine or 10 months:

Fortunately for the Canucks, though, they're not the only gormless team still in the league these days. We know full well that the Colorado Avalanche are likewise run, shall we say, inefficiently, and that might come to a serious head this summer as the team looks to make a decision on the very young, very good defenseman Tyson Barrie.

Here are Terry Frei and Mike Chambers of the Denver Post talking about what the team plans to do with Barrie, in light of rumors earlier in the spring that the team may be actively looking to trade him. Some choice quotes follow:

“It’s very obvious that the Avalanche’s Patrick Roy has disowned the scooter defenseman-type philosophy that permeated their previous drafting philosophy. I think Patrick Roy really wants to get a big, strong defense. I think he really believes that Tyson Barrie should be at best a fifth defenseman and a power play specialist, so I think they will look at this contract negotiation and potential arbitration and say, ‘This is going to skew our salary structure for a guy we’re not really enamored of.’”

It's fine for teams, especially teams facing potential arbitration cases, to think to themselves that a player isn't that good. But if you have a team that is actively eschewing “scooter defenseman-type” players — that is, puck-moving D — in favor of big and physical, you gotta get that team on the phone and try to offload every big, physical defender you have at hand. Never know what might come loose if you shake that tree hard enough.

Let's put it this way: Any rational person is going to watch Tyson Barrie play and think he's a future All-Star with some sort of defensive system in place, but the Avs think he's a …..... fifth defenseman? Even if both Denver writers think the team keeps him for another two or three years, this is still a team that repeatedly proves to be poorly run.

Barrie is the type of defenseman for whom you get into a bidding war with other teams. Players like him don't just become available the vast majority of the time. And really, they only do when teams aren't making good decisions.

Finally, the Boston Bruins just gave Kevan Miller $10 million over four years, so that's another team you can probably rip off pretty good, without a lot of additional analysis needed. They demonstrably fall into the same boat as Benning — a former Bruins front office man himself, which I'm sure is a total coincidence — in that they clearly value things that are not as helpful in today's NHL as they think.

That in itself is something of a market inefficiency, and if other teams aren't trying like hell to exploit it, they're likely going to miss out on a fleecing or two.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have a lot of big choices to make this summer, because they probably can't hang onto everyone they'd like to keep. What do you give Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm that doesn't break your budget?

Arizona Coyotes: Can we please just stop with this?

Boston Bruins: Is the answer, “Convince Cam Neely to resign?”

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres will for-sure be making trades around the draft, so trading down seems to be a fairly likely option here.

Calgary Flames: In 2011, the Flames drafted just five players, three of which are now with division rivals, one of which has played 26 NHL games and doesn't seem like he's going to become a full-timer, and one of which was Johnny Gaudreau. So, successful draft.

Carolina Hurricanes: If this team brings back Cam Ward, man, I dunno. I mean, they won't. But why are we even discussing it? Dude is cooked.

Chicago: Here's a good question: Which current players on the team deserve to have their numbers retired? Toews, Kane, and Keith are all obvious. Anyone else? Another year or three like this and I might be inclined to add Crawford as well.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are on a bit of a prospect signing spree lately, which is a good idea when your team isn't competitive.

Columbus Blue Jackets: I'm still mad about this.

Dallas Stars: How many “Here's what the Stars need to fix” articles are we gonna get that aren't just the word “goaltending” written 800 times?

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings love the interview process at the combine. Ask all of them if they think a hot dog is a sandwich, and never pick anyone who says yes.

Edmonton Oilers: This is going great.

Florida Panthers: Here's more on how badly Florida ripped off Vancouver.

Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar has to be the next captain, right? Not Drew Doughty?

Minnesota Wild: Just in time to lose at the World Cup of Hockey!

Montreal Canadiens: They won't regret leaving off PK Subban because they're going to win easily anyway, but they should regret it, for sure.

Nashville Predators: This is a very good thing.

New Jersey Devils: Yeah, Patrik Elias has to retire, right? He's 40, not very good any more, and a pending UFA. That's gotta be it.

New York Islanders: Oh so we're just gonna act like this is a thing until July 1, huh?

New York Rangers: This wouldn't really be a problem for the franchise.

Ottawa Senators: I mean Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are fairly far down on the list of guys who got snubbed for the World Cup, but sure.

Philadelphia Flyers: This kid'll be on the NHL roster next season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: What a beautiful boy.

San Jose Sharks: This is true of all teams, but yes.

St. Louis Blues: Tarasenko didn't make himself available on getaway day so the knives are out, baby.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Stamkos says he wants to stay in Tampa. Subtext: I'm sure he added, “wink emoji.”

Toronto Maple Leafs: This kid is super, super, super good.

Vancouver Canucks: I am screaming.

Washington Capitals: Yup, TJ Oshie was very solid for Washington this season. Good work, TJ Oshie.

Winnipeg Jets: This is actual news is Winnipeg.

Play of the Weekend

Here's a nice goal from William Nylander to close out a hat trick in the AHL Conference Finals. What a shot.

Gold Star Award

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Phil Kessel and Joe Thornton are my two nice boys who made the Stanley Cup Final. I'm so happy.

Minus of the Weekend


You'll never guess who had a “Phil Kessel's character is the reason he was left off the World Cup roster” hot (dog) take this weekend.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Sweech” is off his or her rocker.

Lightning trade:

Ben Bishop
Matt Carle
Alex Killorn 

Jets trade:

Ondrej Pavelec
Alex Burmistrov
Ben Chiarot
Rights to Ivan Telegin 


You want me to show this to the cat, and have the cat tell you what it is? Cuz the cat's gonna get it.


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

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)