By Jacob Wallman
*All statistics listed are retrieved from NHL.com, Naturalstattrick.com, or Waronice.com
*All individual player statistics listed are for Even Strength
Wednesday’s blockbuster NHL trade between the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, which sent injured young scorer Evander Kane, defenseman and Upstate New York Zach Bogosian, and an inconsequential goalie prospect to Buffalo for 6’8″, 25-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers, veteran forward Drew Stafford, two prospects, and a late-first round pick t, immediately has analysts and fans alike scrambling for a winner. In today’s NHL, most in-season trades are veteran-for-prospect/pick affairs where both teams really do get what they need, but could this trade (in which the main pieces going either way were established NHL players) really be a win-win?
To determine the value of the trade for either team, I will go through the value and skill of all the assets involved, and the needs that each team filled (or didn’t, as the case may be). But first, let’s look at the circumstances surrounding the transaction.
(If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, you can just read the Background and skip to the Conclusion)
The most imperative thing to this trade is that Evander Kane had a serious falling out with the Winnipeg Jets. Frustrated with not getting favorable ice time and often being stuck with mediocre linemates, Kane became more and more alienated from the team, which culminated (amidst widespread rumors that his time in Winnipeg was done) in Kane arriving to a workout in a tracksuit (which is against the Jets’ dress code), and the tracksuit being thrown into the shower by teammate Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced Buff-linn), all but writing Kane’s plane ticket out. As Kane is a talented and well-rounded player (with an agreeable contract), there were many contending teams interested in acquiring him to bolster their lineup for the playoffs, but Kane underwent shoulder surgery, which decommissioned him for the year and resulted in many teams losing interest for the short term.
The other thing that made this possible is that Buffalo is tanking (which is likely a part of why the last-place Sabres were so willing to give up so much for a player that can’t even help the team until next year). When comparing players going either way, it will be important to keep in mind that you can’t judge a Sabres player’s statistics like you normally would, because they are so historically bad that even their best players’ numbers suffer greatly. This season, Buffalo has allowed more shot attempts (otherwise known Corsi events) than any other team, while generating the least shot attempts in the NHL, and as a result have a league-worst shot attempt differential of -1214 (to put that in perspective, the second-worst differential is -600).
It seems strange for a tanking team to seriously need a top winger, even for next year, but with the acquisition of Evander Kane, Buffalo fills a serious organizational need at winger. Of course, their need at winger was that urgent mostly because of super-prospect centers Connor McDavid (widely considered the best draft prospect since Sidney Crosby) and Jack Eichel, who are both coming out in this year’s draft (all but guaranteeing the Sabres a young star even if they don’t wind up with the number one pick) , and it is certainly shrewd to add a running mate for whichever of the two they end up with. This may seem like counting their eggs before they hatch (especially with NHL’s draft lottery), but Buffalo is already three wins behind the second-worst team, just traded their starting goalie, and already have several good center prospects (including 2014 No.2 overall pick Sam Reinhart) in their system who could certainly use a winger even if the Sabres win their way out of the first pick.
Unlike the Sabres, the Winnipeg Jets are currently in a playoff spot (as of 2/15, they are occupying the second-to-last playoff spot, but with five points separating them and the first non-playoff team), and it was important for them not only to not downgrade at any position, but also to pick up a veteran forward to fill some of the hole that Kane leaves behind. Most people would tell you (as I will discuss more in-depth later) that Tyler Myers is at least a slight upgrade on Bogosian, and Drew Stafford is a great depth scorer for the Jets to have down the stretch.
Asset Assessment: Determining the Value of All Traded Parties
Also helping the Jets in their playoff push (and Sabres in their quest for a top two pick), is that Winnipeg definately. Buffalo shipped out their best defenseman, Tyler Myers, (who has had a resurgence in the past calendar year after previously failing to live up to expectations that came when he won rookie of the year and led the Sabres in time on ice as a 20-year-old in 2009-10) and solid right winger Drew Stafford. The defenseman they acquired in the deal, Zach Bogosian, is no slouch (and, as a 24-year-old former 3rd overall draft pick could still very well improve on his hometown Sabres), but is generally considered at least a slight downgrade on Myers, and most people would tell you that Bogosian’s ceiling is not as high as the 6’8″ physical monster that went Winnipeg’s way. Unfortunately, most statistics that I would normally use to compare the two go out the window due to the Sabres’ awfulness, but we can see how Myers and Bogosian affect the players around them by looking to see if the Corsi percentages of each players’ teammates tends to be better or worse when they’re on the ice together (as opposed to when they are apart).
A player’s Corsi percentage is the number of shot attempts his team takes while he’s on the ice, divided by the total amount of shot attempts taken by both teams while that particular player is on the ice. Of course, there are other factors into how much better or worse a players’ teammates’ Corsi percentages are when they are together. For instance, some players are put out against tougher opponents, or start fewer of their shifts in the offensive zone (which is tracked as “Offensive Zone Start Percentage”). Unfortunately for us, Tyler Myers seems to fall under that category, with an Offensive Zone Start Percentage that is even lower than most of the other Sabres at a nightmarish 34.69%. However, Zach Bogosian’s numbers tell a much clearer story. Despite the fact that, at the time of the trade, Bogosian had the Jets’ 10th highest Offensive Zone Start Percentage at 51%, of the 12 players that have played at least 60 even strength minutes with him, 9 actually have better Corsi percentages with him than without him (including the three players with whom he has shared the most even strength time with). This really supports the notion that Myers is the better defenseman, and as such, makes it clear that the Jets did get what is almost definitely an upgrade
Of course, we still need to look at the man that many people believe to be the best player involved in the trade: Evander Kane. Due to his fallout in Winnipeg, there are serious questions being asked about his character, and, because of his lack of passing and playmaking so far in the NHL, many are not convinced that he’s really that good. In my opinion, at least one of these notions is severely damaged by one statistic: in his time with the Jets this season, Evander Kane was the only player in the entire National Hockey League to lead his team in both shots-per game and hits-per-game. Aside from denoting serious skill, this suggests that Kane, on the ice at least, goes about his business with an exceptional “lead by example” type of game (as evidenced by the fact that the only other four players who have come close to achieving this feat to this point in the season are all the captains of their respective teams). Other than generating a lot of shots and hits, Kane is one of the faster players in the league, possesses a great shot, and is defensively solid (as one can discern from his consistently receiving time on the penalty kill). As for the concerns about his apparent lack of top-flight playmaking ability and vision, it’s hard to tell how much is reflective of his skill, and how much is because he usually didn’t have great players to pass to. However, even if he really lacks the capacity to facilitate for his linemates (which he probably won’t be required to do in Buffalo, since all three of his prospective future centers; McDavid, Eichel, and Reinhart; would probably fill that role), Evander Kane is a top notch player (maybe even better than Myers).
Drew Stafford is, as I said before, a great addition and has put up decent point totals on the historically bad Sabres, but he definitely wouldn’t have made the deal worthwhile for the Jets if it was just him and Myers for Bogosian and Kane. However, as is a great relief to Jets fans, that was not the entire trade.
The Jets also acquired, along with what will likely be a late first round pick that the Sabres picked up in a previous trade, a pair of Buffalo’s many talented forward prospects, both of whom were taken in the top 31 of their respective draft years. The older of the two, 21-year-old Finnish player Joel Armia, has many of the same skills and weaknesses as Evander Kane (though of course not as skilled or fast). At 6’3″ and over 200 pounds, Armia’s prototypical power-forward game (physical style, scoring touch, and a simple, no-frills style that sometimes hinders facilitating ability) is very likely to send him to the NHL eventually, though he has struggled to translate his game to the pros since coming over from Finland to play with Buffalo’s minor league team. The other prospect, 18-year-old Brendan Lemieux (son of former Canadiens, Avalanche, and Devils player and 1995 Playoff MVP Claude Lemieux), has seen his stock rise since being the first pick of the second round last June, and would certainly be a first-rounder if teams could do it all over again. Another power forward, Lemieux plays the same physical, agitator style that made his father infamous, and has complemented that grit with great point totals this year in Juniors. Of the two, Lemieux is much more highly regarded (and was thought by many to be the Sabres’ best winger prospect) but both of them have value.
Winnipeg sent goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf, who is considered to have NHL potential, but his value pales in comparison to the combined value of Lemieux, Armia, and the first-rounder.
One more thing that I should mention is that both Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane have been prone to injury over their young careers (especially the last couple of seasons), and we should judge their value accordingly.
While this trade is a “win-win” in the sense that both teams got what they needed (and can both be happy about the trade), but, in the end, Winnipeg’s end of the deal was sweeter. While Buffalo grabbed the top winger they needed without downgrading too much on defense or giving up prospects and picks that they really needed for their rebuild, Winnipeg managed to get noticeably better for this year and significantly bolstering their prospect pool.