Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Around the League: Top 5 Trades of the Summer

Previously, we looked at players we felt were the best value signings of the summer. Today we look at the other transactions that have occurred, namely trades, to try to identify the deals that will most help one or both of the involved teams this season and beyond.

With a thin UFA crop, hockey fans were spoiled with a significant number of high profile deals which began right before draft weekend. Here are 5 of the biggest.

5) The San Jose Sharks trade forward Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild for winger Martin Havlat.

This marks the third trade in Dany Heatley's 9 season NHL career, and each has been a significant blockbuster. To some, these players have been heading in opposite directions of late; in Heatley's case, coming off his worst season since 2003-04, while Havlat seems to have put the biggest knock on him - injury concerns - to rest for now, with 78, 73, and 81 games played over the past 3 seasons respectively. With two seasons of over 100 points, Heatley brings more star power to the table, but he has always benefited from highly skilled linemates, showing he may be more of a complimentary than core player. Havlat, on the other hand, has shown the ability to create offense on his own, and while he has seldom reached the 1 point-per-game mark, plays a more intense, hardnosed game than Heatley. The deal has potential to be good for both sides, with a change of scenery sometimes bringing out the best in a player. For now, though, since Havlat's cap hit is $2.5M less than Heatley's, which allowed the Sharks to sign Brent Burns (see lower down the list) to a lengthy extension, we'll score San Jose as the winner. The club was also facing Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, and Heatley all hitting the UFA market at the same time in 3 years, so they've hedged their bets by swapping for Havlat who has 4 years remaining on his deal.

4) The Philadelphia Flyers trade center Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and the Blue Jackets' 1st and 3rd round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

We'll come right out and say it: love this trade for the Flyers. Absolutely no disrespect intended to Jeff Carter, who is a tremendous hockey player and provides more offensive depth to try to get Columbus over that post-season hump. But in all honesty, it wouldn't be a huge surprise of Jakub Voracek's year-end point total is close to that of Carter's (though with fewer goals of course). Add in that Philadelphia added a top prospect to their stable in Sean Couturier, and had the money to fix their biggest weakness - goaltending - in signing Ilya Bryzgalov, and this trade appears to be a homerun. It will be interesting to monitor Carter's performance with the Jackets, who are clearly trying to shift to a "win now" mentality, having only made the playoffs once and never having won a playoff series. He doesn't seem like a natural fit to play with star Rick Nash, as both have sniping shoot-first mentalities, so the intent was perhaps to bring some scoring balance to a traditionally one-line team. It's a risky move for the club, however, with Carter's contract not ending until the year 2022 (no, that's not a typo).

3) The Washington Capitals trade goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a 1st round pick in 2012 and a 2nd rounder in either 2012 or 2013.

The Colorado Avalanche faced public scrutiny this season for making some questionable deals, so certainly their general manager would be careful to manage perception this summer, right? Wrong. Yes, the Avs desperately needed to fix their goaltending situation for both the short and long terms. But why they chose to pin their hopes on a still mostly unproven 23 year old who is coming off an injury-plagued season is beyond me. Varlamov is a solid netminder, always putting up strong numbers when healthy. However, he has yet to play more than 27 games in a season, so it is premature to consider him a surefire top tier starter. With many reasonable and affordable names on the goalie UFA market this summer, the logical approach for Colorado would have been to get 2 of them under contract and see what happens, while drafting and developing a young talent of their own. But conventional the Avs are not, giving up what COULD be as high as a top 5 pick in next year's entry draft, plus an additional second rounder, to acquire Varlamov, before signing J.S. Giguere as a back-up / mentor to ease the young Russian into a starting role. If Varlamov stays healthy, fans of the Avalanche won't have to feel too bad about this trade as he could play in the league for many years, but Capitals fans had to feel down right dirty after hearing this news. With a log-jam in goal already due to the strong play of fellow young netminders Brayden Holtby and Michael Neuvirth, Varlamov appeared headed for the KHL, meaning Washington basically acquired two free draft picks for what was to be a rapidly depreciating asset. And as if that wasn't enough, the Caps were then able to sign an aging Tomas Vokoun to guard their goal for a year, and he remains one of the best in the league.

2) The Minnesota Wild trade rover (but really defenseman) Brent Burns and a 2nd round draft choice to the San Jose Sharks in return for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a 1st round selection.

Our last two deals rank at the top because we expect them to work out for both sides. Brent Burns is a highly underrated player who doesn't get enough press due to the league's "Eastern Conference bias." The Sharks' back-end was severely lacking after Dan Boyle, who just may hang up the skates at the end of the three years remaining on his contract, so for their team, Burns is a very important addition. Plus, from an asset management perspective, Burns' great shot and ability to take shifts as a winger (much like Dustin Byfuglien) means San Jose is likely not to notice the departure of Devin Setoguchi much. Clearly the team has been frustrated by their post-season failures, so a shuffling of the deck like this just may leave them with the right pieces in place to take a longer run at the Cup. For Minnesota, with Burns having been a pending UFA next summer, the club likely felt they wouldn't be able to re-sign him, and obtained quality younger assets in his place. They used the first rounder to select center Zack Phillips, and add Charlie Coyle, a first round pick in 2010, to their organization, essentially meaning that they picked up three 1sts for a player they might have lost for nothing in a year's time. The Wild need to hope that Setoguchi gets back to a production level like the 2008-09 season, where he topped the 30 goal mark and had 65 points, rather than the two seasons that followed of 36 and 41 points respectively.

1) The Philadelphia Flyers trade former captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for prospect Brayden Schenn, forward Wayne Simmonds, and a 2nd round pick in 2012.

We love the moves the Kings made this summer, and while they paid a hefty price, they've acquired the kind of player you can build a hockey team around in Mike Richards. Along with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, and Dustin Penner, Richards gives the Kings what might be the best all-around top 6 forward group in the league. Brayden Schenn will be a great player in the NHL, but how his offense will translate to the big league is still unknown. The Flyers are gambling a little in the short term, but created a bunch of cap space to complete theyother moves they wanted to make and added a surefire bluechipper to the system. Wayne Simmonds is no slouch either, a guy that many feel could eventually be a top 6 power forward, but with limited offensive production thus far, remains more of a tweener two-way third line type. In any case, all three players swapped in this move are expected to play significant roles on their teams for the upcoming season, and both clubs can be considered favourites to make noise come playoff time, which is why we consider this to be the move with the biggest impact this off-season.

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