Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Yesterday's Trade Means for Habs

Let's talk about yesterday. I'll save you the painstaking process of reading more about another embarrassing home loss, this one by a 3-0 score at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Could this one be blamed on a flu virus running rampant through the dressing room? Perhaps in part, with Tomas Plekanec sitting out due to illness, David Desharnais said to have been sick all weekend, and Mathieu Darche unable to finish the game because of his symptoms. But either way, the Canadiens Bell Centre record fell to 11-14-8 on the season despite playing in what is considered one of the best - if not the best - home rinks in the league. With Tampa Bay and Buffalo posting wins last night, and Winnipeg picking up a loser point, the Canadiens took another step towards a lottery pick with their dismal effort, currently in position to draft fourth overall, with Carolina just one point behind them and holding a game in hand (plus the tiebreaker). Simply put, it was a good night for the Blow for Grigorenko campaign.

Enough about that right now. The focus this week is primarily on General Manager Pierre Gauthier and what he may or may not do in the time leading up to the trade deadline, as it should be. Playoffs are out of reach; the important thing now is to be building for next season and beyond. In that light, Twitter was abuzz with Hab-related Tweets following a three team transaction. If you missed it, here is the move as it went down:

Colorado sent defenseman Kyle Quincey to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for pesky forward Steve Downie; the Lightning then sent Qunicey to the Detroit Red Wings in return for Detroit's 2012 first round pick and - for contract limit reasons only - minor league defenseman Sebastien Piche.

Let's start with a little background. Quincey, if you'll recall, was originally a Red Wings draft pick. He was considered a solid prospect, but eventually lost out the in numbers game, unable to crack a deep Detroit blueline. As such, the Wings had to place him on waivers, where he was claimed by Los Angeles, and eventually traded to Colorado. Yes, you read that right. Detroit waived him. 3 and a half years ago. And yesterday gave up a first round pick to get him back. Imagine if Pierre Gauthier made such a move; Habs fans would lynch him. Yet Ken Holland was being praised by some for acquiring an underrated player who could help to fill a gap if Brad Stuart opts to leave Detroit as an unrestricted free agent this summer. (that's not a jab at Holland; more so one at Habs fans, who need to relax and understand that circumstances change over time)

If Piche's name sounds somewhat familiar to you, it's because he was invited to Habs' rookie camp back in 2007, but was never offered a contract. He was never drafted, and since signing a deal with the Wings as a free agent, has bounced between the AHL and ECHL. Nothing to see there.

Many fans were quick to take this trade and jump to conclusions about the worth of some Canadiens players that may be on the market. If Kyle Quincey could be dealt first for Steve Downie and then for a late first round pick, then surely there must be a market for Chris Campoli or Tomas Kaberle. If Downie was indirectly worth a first round pick, then a guy who plays a similar role but is better in the locker room like Travis Moen should be worth the same if he were healthy. And a much more skilled forward like Andrei Kostitsyn is likely worth even more!

Not so fast - let's not get carried away. The cases are completely different. Both Quincey and Downie are set to become just restricted free agents this summer, meaning that they are assets beyond the next 20 games plus playoffs. Downie is only 24 and has a 20-goal season under his belt. He plays with an edge and can drop the gloves. He was phenomenal in the playoffs last year, scoring 14 points in 17 games. The downsides, of course, are that he crosses the line at times, having received numerous suspensions, and has been rumoured to be a poor teammate. His offensive numbers to date may be inflated by having Steven Stamkos and/or Vincent Lecavalier as centers. That Quincey would be worth as much as Downie, or worth a first round pick, was surprising to many, and may say something about the demand for defensemen - always hot commodities at this time of year. But he's also only 26, has good size at 6'2" and 206 lbs, and has had seasons of 38 and 29 points, with 23 in 54 games this season.

Moen, Kostitsyn, and Campoli are all pending unrestricted free agents, meaning their value should be pegged to other rentals rather than younger or contracted players.

For Moen, if he were healthy, the closest comparable seems to be Dominic Moore. Some 5 days ago, the Lightning traded Moore and a 7th round pick to San Jose for a 2nd. For what Moore brings in face-off ability, Moen compensates with size and toughness, plus whereas Moore was having a subpar season, Moen might have set career highs if he stayed off the IR. Thus, I would say Moen's value is slightly higher than Moore's, in all likelihood worth a mid-to-late 2nd round pick by himself, and *perhaps* a tad bit more. He isn't Downie, and wouldn't get a 1st from anybody. Of course, there is a good chance that with his injury, he stays with the Canadiens. Then we'd just have to hope he can come to terms on an agreeable contract with Gauthier so as not to lose him for no return in July.

For Campoli, I do agree that the prices paid for d-men thus far would indicate that someone is probably willing to part with *something* for his services. The Quincey trades, however, have nothing to do with setting a value for him. There are many pending-UFA defensemen that teams could opt for over Campoli, meaning the Canadiens are not in a position of strength when it comes to brokering a deal. Even after the moves they've made thus far, looking at the Tampa Bay Lightning's roster alone, pending free agents Brett Clark and Matt Gilroy are likely to generate as much buzz as the much-malgined Habs' defenseman. No, not every team has quite as many players to offer up, but if you got excited thinking Montreal might end up with as much as a third round pick for Campoli, then a reality check is likely to come (though crazier things HAVE happened).

Kostitsyn is easily the toughest of the three to gauge at this point, as it is hard to find comparables who have been moved. Alexei Ponikarovsky was dealt for a 4th round pick a few weeks ago, but his play has declined the past few seasons, so surely Kostitsyn is worth considerably more at this point. A 6'0" (but thick) goal-scoring winger who can play physical at times and, having just turned 27, with many productive seasons ahead (though as a pending UFA, they are no guarantee to any club) should draw some interest from around the league. In fact, the Canadiens would be wise to attempt to get him signed since replacing the skill set he brings would likely cost a bigger cap hit on the free agent market this summer. But if that's not to be, and/or if they are done with waiting for his inconsistencies to normalize, then he must be moved before the team loses him for nothing this summer. So perhaps we can get a value estimate by looking at the 2011 deadline. Former Hab Chris Higgins was having a similar season to Kostitsyn's when he was dealt to Vancouver last year, and the Canucks ponied up a 3rd round selection and a reasonable prospect in defenseman Evan Oberg. Dustin Penner has been similarly inconsistent over his career, but had already scored 21 goals by the time he was dealt last season, returning 1st and 3rd round selections, along with prospect Colton Teubert. The Buffalo Sabres gave up a 2nd round pick to acquire Brad Boyes, a player softer than Kostitsyn, but who had already scored 41 points by deadline time (compared to Kostitsyn's 24), has 40- and 30-goal seasons on his resume, and had one more year remaining on his contract.

So what is Kostitsyn worth? Likely somewhere in the middle of all of that. I think the return Boyes got is probably the closest, meaning the Habs might be able to get a 2nd round pick for him. Perhaps add a decent prospect to that, but not likely more. Fans dreaming of a 1st round pick ++ are likely doing just that - dreaming.

So in short, what did yesterday's trade mean for the Habs? Not a whole lot. With players like Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina being moved, we have some indication of what the market value for d-men is, but there are many dominoes left to fall between now and Monday.

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