Monday, March 1, 2010

A Look at a Potential Trade

It’s time for hockey’s silly season to begin- that period of time just before the trade deadline where rumors run rampant and GM’s run amok. This year hockey fans get the march to the trade deadline in two doses. First was a flurry of activity that occurred leading up to the roster freeze for the Olympics. The second period will be from the end of the Olympics on the 28th of February until 3:00 March 3rd. In the interim, GM’s have an opportunity to stew over their roster and discuss particular roster moves with their coaches and other potential trading partners.

With the signing of Pekka Rinne to a new two year contract, the Predators have two very marketable unrestricted free agents that could draw interest from other teams: goaltender Dan Ellis and defenseman Dan Hamhuis. In particular, Hamhuis has been a player about which the rumor mill has been buzzing. Teams that need help now on the blue line are looking for players that they can plug into the lineup for their push to the playoffs.

Hamhuis is a player that could be very marketable for the Predators, who could chose to give up the defenseman for scoring or bring in another defenseman that is under contract. I think the second scenario occurs if the Predators sense that Hamhuis is going to test the free agent waters and they risk losing him. The first scenario is one that many Predator fans covet, a consistent scoring threat up front to complement our existing forwards.

So if Hamhuis is on the market, what would an acquiring team get? Hamhuis was the 12th overall pick of the 2001 entry draft, and his first full season with the Predators was the 2003-04 season. Here are “Hammer’s” stats since he has been with the Predators:

2003-04  80 GP   7G 19A   26 PTS   22:08 ATOI   +/- -12

2005-06  82 GP   7G 31A   38 PTS   22:34 ATOI   +/- +11

2006-07  81 GP   6G 14A   20 PTS   21:20 ATOI   +/- +8

2007-08  80 GP   4G 23A   27PTS    22:44 ATOI   +/- -4

2008-09  82GP    3G 23A   26 PTS   22:50 ATOI   +/- -4

2009-10  57GP    4G 12A    16PTS   21:07 ATOI   +/- +2

Looking at his career in the NHL, one sees a durable, steady defenseman. He is not going to light up the scoreboard with goals, but he moves the puck well and is able to distribute the puck in the offensive zone. Recently, Hammer’s power play time has become non-existent as the team has gone with four forwards and one defenseman on the power play unit. He has solidified his position on the number two D pairing for the past several years, and although in the shadow of his more notable blueliners Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, has played some quality minutes for the Predators.

Hammer is not without flaws. He has been prone over his career to the occasional and sometimes egregious turnover that leads to a quality scoring chance for the other team. Although this season he is a +2 in the 57 games he has played, he has struggled at times with his defensive partner. Breakdowns with this pair have cost the Predators some goals as coverage lapses when Hammer is on the ice have oftentimes left opposing forwards alone in front of the net.

One of the teams that is rumored to have interest in Hammer is the Boston Bruins. Since this is a team that Predator fans see only on occasion, I have asked C.J. Shepard, a good friend and fellow writer at Hockey Independent, to give us a scouting report on players from the B’s that could potentially come back to the Predators were a trade to happen. Remember, dear readers, this is purely speculation, both about Hammer being traded and Bruins coming back to the Preds, but it is instructive to see what potentially could occur if Peter Chiarelli and David Poile have been talking over the Olympic break. Here is CJ's take:

"From Beantown there are a couple of options at forward that the Bruins might consider packaging. Depending on how much GM Peter Chiarelli covets “Hammer” the options are varied. The Bruins have struggled to score goals, and if the Preds want a forward under contract, with a sniper’s touch the primary candidate would be Michael Ryder. Ryder was a reclaimation project, having worked his way solidly into Bob Gainey’s doghouse with the Canadiens. He came to Boston a year ago, and united with former coach Claude Julien finished the season tied for the NHL lead with 7 GWG’s. Ryder’s 27 goals and 26 assists (also +/- plus 27) were in part due to a dynamic chemistry with linemates David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. Ryder does not create his own goal scoring opportunities, and is recognized as a streaky scorer. He was, no doubt, acquired by the Bruins to compliment top playmaker Marc Savard, however in two seasons no spark between the two has been created. Ryder has a quick release, and loves to snipe the top shelf. The Bruins openly discussed moving Ryder before the Olympic break, and he responded with a multi-goal game.

Last season the Bruins made a deal for Mark Recchi, parting with two prospects (Matt Lashoff and Martin Karsums), as Chiarelli said his trade philosophy was to move players who could not crack the line-up, but would benefit from a new start in another organization. If he stays with that mindset then speedy forward Vlad Sobotka could be on his way to Smashville. Sobotka earned a bit of a cult following after bursting on the scene in the playoffs two years ago when rookie Phil Kessel was benched due to his uninspired play. Sobotka came up big with a couple of goals in that series, created by his dangerous speed and his willingness to throw the body and crash the net. Sobotka’s natural position is center and with injuries to Bruins forwards, in particular Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron this season, Sobotka did get another look, but is appears frustrated by Coach Julien’s defense first system and line juggling. Sobotka is a fearless player, and his speed is most certainly his biggest asset however he is not a sniper – but scores goals from the dirty areas and is a threat on the forecheck.

Sobotka will be a RFA at the end of the season, as will be Bruins forward Blake Wheeler. Wheeler had a breakout rookie season in 08-09 21 G, 24A and a staggering +/- PLUS 36. Wheeler did fade at the end of last season, and struggled in the playoffs, and seemed to be mired in a bit of a sophomore slump until the Bruins acquired Miro Satan. Message received by the young winger who scored a highlight reel 1v4 shorthanded goal versus the Blues last season. In 60 games this season Wheeler has 13 goals and 18 assists, among the Bruins leaders in points. Wheeler is a bit ahead of schedule, many expected him to start last season with the Providence Bruins in the AHL, but he made the big club right out of camp. Wheeler has also been a valuable penalty killer for the Bruins, often paired with linemate David Krejci. The only question with Wheeler is his lack of physical play, despite his size. Sobotka plays much bigger than he is and is an agitator. Wheeler is still learning to use his body and while he absorbs hits and generally protects the puck well along the wall, he does not initiate contact consistently.

Those would be the forwards that in my mind are most likely to be moved in exchange for Dan Hamhius. Given the Bruins are thin on the blue line I can not imagine they would move a d-man, but Dennis Wideman’s struggles might make him a candidate. Wideman could use a change in scenery as the Garden faithful are not enamored with the puck moving d-man’s admission of lack of focus, and resulting sloppy play. A year ago Wideman score 13 goals and added 37 helpers, so perhaps adding a defenseman who has the ability to provide punch from the blueline might be of some appeal for the Preds. Dark horse d-man to be dealt in a swap for Hamhius on the blueline would be Derek Morris. Morris has not provided the punch on the powerplay that was advertised, but while he was never billed as a stay at home defenseman, he has been serviceable in that role. I could see Morris included with a player like Sobotka in exchange for Hamhius and perhaps a pick/prospect.

The Bruins are known for their conservatism, especially at the trade deadline. Most believe they have the pieces necessary to have a strong end run this season, if players are healthy and performing to their level of expectation. Neither circumstance was at play in the first 60 games, the Bruins suffered injuries to Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Steve Begin, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Mark Stuart, and Andrew Ference causing all to miss long stretches in the first 2/3 of the season. Unfortunately many others struggled to perform well in the wake of those injuries, and the team chemistry that was so apparent last season has been notably absent. So while I expect the Bruins to make a deal, I expect it will be a subtle but critical move, much like the addition of Mark Recchi last season.

If there is a deal to be done between the Bruins and the Preds the added plus is that both teams play a hardnosed style and players moved will likely adapt and make an impact quickly."

So, Pred's fans. What do you think? Are the players mentioned they type of players this team needs? And are they a good return for Hamhuis?
Again, this is purely a speculative post, but it is interesting to get the perspective of someone on the Bruins side of any potential trade.
My thanks to my friend and colleague, C. J. Shepard, for her contribution to this post and her insight.

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