Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trades In The Current NHL

In the current CBA it is extremely hard to make a trade. A trade must make hockey sense, contractual sense and salary cap sense all at the same time and that is very hard to do. There are two periods which are exceptions to that rule. In the summer, when rosters are not complete, it is often possible to make a trade as teams have not already commit their salary cap room and at the trade deadline when teams add as small as possible an increment to their payroll to add a player. However, during the rest of the season, there are almost no trades. One need only look at this season to see confirmation. Before last night, the two biggest roster moves were made via waivers and not trade. Ilya Bryzgalov was placed on waivers by Anaheim and claimed by Phoenix and Mark Recchi was placed on waivers by Pittsburgh and claimed by Atlanta. There had been a few minor trades, but nothing of significance. The biggest deal was Phoenix, who had too many goalies after acquiring Bryzgalov trading Alex Auld to Boston in exchange for Nate DiCasmirro, a 29 year old career AHL player and a 2009 fifth round draft pick. The return to Phoenix for Auld was not much better than what they would have received if they gave him up on waivers.

This changed last night when Anaheim was forced to make a trade to bring back Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer was going to push Anaheim's payroll over the salary cap next season (if we ignore for a second that we don't know next season's salary cap or Anaheim's roster). Thus, Anaheim had to make a move to reduce payroll next season. They traded Andy McDonald to the St Louis Blues for Doug Weight, Michal Birner and a 2008 seventh round draft pick. This is clearly a good trade for St Louis and the best Anaheim could do under the circumstances.

Andy McDonald is coming off of 85 and 78 point seasons. He struggled a bit this season, having 16 points in 33 games, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot score into the future. He is under contract through the end of the 2008/09 season and moving him reduces the Ducks payroll next year. Doug Weight was a very good hockey player. He scored 104 points in the 1995/96 season, but currently only has 11 points in 29 games. He is 36 years old (37 in January) and is nearing the end of the line. His contract ends at the end of this season and there is reason to believe he might retire at that point. Michal Birner is a 21 year old AHL player who shows little signs of being much of an NHL prospect and a seventh round draft pick is even less likely to ever make an impact.

St Louis gets a usable forward who will likely make a big impact playing frontline ice time. Anaheim gets a forward who will provide some depth for the rest of the season, but clearly lacks much upside at this point in his career. St Louis wins this trade in all likelihood. I suppose that is the kind of trade teams love to make; one where their partner is dealing from a position of weakness. St Louis GM Larry Pleau did a good job getting into the right place at the right time to make a deal. St Louis expects to win this deal. Anaheim hopes to not lose it very badly.

It is quite likely that this is the most significant deal the NHL will see until the trade deadline rolls around. That will not stop some of the less mature or honest bloggers from floating all kinds of ridiculous trade rumors in the meantime. The only legitimate rumors site on the internet today is that of Spector (Lyle Richardson) and lately he spends more time shooting down the crazy rumors than actually endorsing them.

I'm not so convinced that Anaheim loses this one. In straight-up value, McDonald's certainly worth more than Weight: however, I think Brian Burke made a pretty good deal here. He gets Weight, who can chip in offensively this year (probably close to the level McDonald was playing at) and will be off his books next year, giving him the cap room to either sign Perry to an extension or add some more pieces closer to the trade deadline. Birner and the draft pick are added value: sure, they may amount to nothing, but there's
always a chance they'll pay off big (look at low draft picks like Henrik Zetterberg, who the Wings took in the seventh round back in 1999). Burke also didn't have to shake up his defense core, which is one of the strongest in the league with Niedermayer's return.
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