Friday, March 10, 2006

Theodore For Aebischer

One of the more important trade deadline deals was the Montreal Canadiens trading Jose Theodore to the Colorado Avalanche for David Aebischer. This has been one of the most discussed trades so far (with most blogosphere opinion being that Montreal won the deal - for example this is James Mirtle's opinion). I disagree with that analysis. I think Colorado got the better of the deal.

Jose Theodore is one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. He won the 2002 Hart and Vezina trophies. He is 29 years old (still likely has many big seasons ahead of him). He does not have any recurring injury problems that one might think would prevent him from playing at a top level. However, this season has been a disaster for him. He only has a 3.46 GAA and a .881 saves percentage. These are the worst numbers of the three Montreal goaltenders used this season. In fact, I suggested that Cristobal Huet's good play might lead to Theodore getting traded (there is a short interesting discussion about Theodore's tradeability with Lyle Richardson claiming that he didn't think Theodore is very tradeable). Of course, I never foresaw this trade as a realistic possibility. I expected that if Theodore was to be traded it would be in the years to come - possibly after Huet took his job. To add insult to injury, Theodore suffered the embarrassment of testing positive for Propecia (which can be used to mask the presence of steroids in your system) in pre-Olympic tests as he was considered for (but did not make) the Canadian Olympic team. Even worse, he fell and broke his heel and is expected to be out until late March.

David Aebischer is a solid but unspectacular starting goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche. He is currently having a solid but unspectacular season. He has a 2.98 GAA and a .900 saves percentage.

Major trades should be analayzed in relation to the GMs goals (which should be winning a Stanley Cup). One of the best ways to have a good run in the Stanley Cup playoffs is to ride along with a hot goaltender. Over the course of his career, Jose Theodore has shown a better ability to have one of these hot streaks then David Aebischer. As long as the future is well predicted by the past, then Theodore is the better choice.

How likely is Theodore to bounce back to his all star ways? He isn't too old. He isn't suffering from any longterm injuries. Most good goalies are capable of playing at a high level well into their 30's or even 40's. Its a good bet that Theodore will; be able to do this as well. Its a very good bet that Theodore has several more all star seasons left in him.

How likely is Aebischer to play several all star seasons? Given that he has never had one in the past it is less likely. He may be able to do it once or twice in a best case scenario, but the odds are significantly less then for Theodore.

What about winning the Stanley Cup this season? Theodore is listed as out until late March on TSN's injury list. Since the playoffs do not begin until mid-April this gives him time to be ready for a playoff run. Even if Theodore is not back, is Colorado really in much worse shape with Peter Budaj as a starter then they would have been with David Aebischer? Afterall, Budaj has put up slightly better numbers then Aebischer has so far this year. I do not think that they are.

Jose Theodore brings with him a significant cost, he will make $11.5 million in total over the next two years. In a salary capped NHL this is significant. With the upcoming increase in the salary cap Colorado should be able to absorb this (at least partially). Of course if Theodore doesn't play well, his salary will make him an albatross for Colorado. This is true of any player with a big salary (essentially any established top player will have a big salary). That shouldn't deter one from having good players on their team. You are unlikely to win without them.

I think a team with Jose Theodore in goal is far more likely to make a significant Stanley Cup run then a team with David Aebischer is. That is in spite of Theodore's injury and lack of results this season. If you have the opportunity to add a 29 year old ex-Hart trophy winner (who doesn't have any long term injuries) without subtracting any all star players, its a good gamble. I think Pierre Lacroix got the best of this deal. I think Bob Gainey will live to regret it. It is always good to "buy low, sell high" when making trades. Recent circumstances have made Jose Theodore's price much lower than it has been in the past. It is smart to step in at that point to acquire him. That is when he is most affordable. He still likely has a great future in front of him, but his price is at a minimum. This gamble Lacroix made is a good one. Likely it will pay big dividends.

Comments:
Good points about buying low - there's no one lower than Theo right now. The thing is, his reputation (and salary) are based almost entirely on his 01-02 season. He had an OK and a good year since, but nothing worth his paycheque.

The deal is essentially Theo until 2008 at $5.33M per for Aebischer until 2007 at $1.9M this year and whatever he signs for next year. The Avs are losing a lot of flexibility in return for a potential reward.

There is an excellent debate about it here.
 
Something else to consider. Theodore's 2001-02 season aside, since then Aebischer's numbers have been comparable to Theodore's. And this season, Aebischer's are better than Theodore's. The reason why he has that middling SP and GAA is because of a slow start to the season. Jose started slowly as well, the difference being, Abby recovered from his, Jose didn't.

If the concerns about Jose's struggles to adapt to his new, smaller equipment are the real reason for his slump this season, a change of scenery isn't going to improve things.

Don't get me wrong, I like Jose and hope he does recover in Colorado, but I don't think this deal will come back to haunt the Habs like the Roy trade did.

In that trade, the Avs got a guy who already had a pedigree as one of the league's best. The Denver media was rapturous over Roy's acquisition.

The media reception for Theodore has been muted, and the Denver Post's Terry Frei believes Gainey fleeced Lacroix.

Time will tell...
 
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