Evander’s Exodus: Kane leaves Winnipeg in Blockbuster Deal

New York Islanders v Winnipeg JetsAfter years of inactivity on the trade market, Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off the biggest deal the NHL has seen in years. After a week of rampant speculation following “track suit-gate”, Winnipeg dealt Evander Kane – the most controversial figure in Jets 2.0 history. But perhaps a bigger surprise was that long-time Jets-Thrashers d-man, Zach Bogosian, was also included in the deal.

Too often, players get evaluated based on expectations. particularly when it comes to salary and draft position. Kane and Bogosian were each top-5 draft picks who came to Atlanta at the tender age of 18. Each showed enough glimpses of promise in the foregoing years to ‘earn’ large, long-term contracts from the club. And while each player made significant contributions in their time with the franchise, it’s probably fair to say that they failed to live up to the draft-day hype.

However, expectations are a two-way street, because when it comes to trades, NHL players are sort of like stocks; regardless of how the company’s actually performing, if the expectations in the market for that company are good, then the stock price will continue to rise. Similarly, if expectations around the league for a particular player are still high, then that player will still be a significant asset for that club. Given their size, speed, youth, and draft pedigree, Kane and Bogosian were, and are valuable commodities. With that in mind, let’s see how this trade shakes down, and whether the Jets deserve praise or criticism for this move.

The Trade

To Buffalo: Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and prospect goaltender Jason Kasdorf

To Winnipeg: Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, round *1 pick in 2015 (*either from St. Louis’ or the New York Islanders’ – whoever finishes lower

THE SKINNY ON WHO IS INVOLVED

Evander Kane – 23 – LW

Power forward with size and speed who loves to shoot the puck. One thirty-goal season, with strong potential for many twenty-plus goal seasons in the future. A second-line winger with obvious first-line potential. A player who seems to lack hockey sense, and has trouble (or is disinterested in) using his linemates. Physical style often leads to injuries.

Zach Bogosian – 24 – RD

A big, strong defenceman who skates well and is able to log top-4 minutes. Has above average puck skills for a d-man, and is good at skating the puck out of trouble. Possesses a hard, but inaccurate shot. Lacks vision and hockey sense in all zones, and is ill-suited for powerplay roles. Injury-prone.

Jason Kasdorf – 22 – G

Plays College hockey at R.P.I. Had a strong season in 2012-2013, but missed almost all of 2013-2014 with a shoulder injury. A 6th round pick in 2011, he probably has a professional career before him, but fell behind Hellebuyck, Comrie, and perhaps Jamie Phillips on the Jets’ prospect goaltenders’ depth chart.

Tyler Myers – 24 – RD

6’8 defenceman who skates incredibly well and likes to rush the puck. A forward in his minor hockey days, he switched to defence as a 16-year-old with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. A former Calder Trophy winner, he scored 48 points as a rookie defenceman in 2010, but his stats have steadily regressed ever since. A skeptic would tell you that he is, and will always be a third-pairing defenceman, whose lack of poise often creates a circus in his own end; an optimist believes that he can regain the form he showed early on, and become a top-pairing defenceman who can play 25 minutes per game and contribute in every situation.

Drew Stafford – 29 – RW

6’2, skilled forward who slots in as a second-liner on the majority of teams. A big scorer in College and the AHL, he has scored 30 goals once in his NHL career (in just 62 games played), and 20 goals on two other occasions. A player who skates well given his size, but lacks a physical element to his game, and is often criticized for his lack of consistency.

Brendan Lemieux – 18 – LW

Plays in Barrie of the OHL, where he is coached by Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. Son of the infamous Claude Lemieux, whose penchant for ‘uncharitable’ play overshadowed an impressive career, which saw him win four Stanley Cups, and the Conn Smythe in 1995 with New Jersey. Those familiar with his play would suggest that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Brendan combines size, goal scoring ability, and a physical edge to his game which often provokes fury from the opposition. Likely an NHL player down the road, he projects as a valuable third-line contributor, but carries second-line upside.

Joel Armia – 22 – RW

Tall, Finish forward with good hands and a good shot. Lots of offensive upside, but is said to lack consistency, intensity, and interest in his defensive responsibilities. (To be fair, many young forwards like consistency and defensive acumen). May not find himself permanent NHL employment if he can’t find a niche as a top-6 winger. The next 15 months will be telling.

1st round pick – The 2015 amateur crop is said to be one of the deepest in recent years. Assuming they keep the pick, there’s a good chance the Jets will land a top-9 forward or NHL defenceman as a result.

Short-run Assessment (present-July 1)

The Jets got better today. With Kane’s shoulder surgery keeping him out until next season, they have essentially dealt Zach Bogosian for Tyler Myers, (let’s call it a wash for now), and landed a skilled, NHL right-winger, and a potential NHL call-up forward as well. They also have a very liquid asset in the first-round pick, which they could potentially use prior to the deadline to acquire another top-9 forward.

Long-run (3+ years)

This is dependent on oh so many factors. How will Kane fit in Buffalo? Will he stay healthy? Will he “mature”? Will he gel with McEichel and take his game to a new level? What about Bogosian – is he a top-pairing guy? A top-4? Can he produce any offence?

What about Stafford – does he re-sign? Or is he simply a rental for the home stretch / possible playoff run? If he re-signs, does he produce at a 20-goal pace as his resume suggests he could? Does Lemieux become a top-9 winger as it appears he might? Can Armia’s offensive game translate to the NHL? Who do the Jets pick in the first round?

There are tons of questions, all of which are speculative, and some of which are irrelevant. For all we know, some of these players may never actually play for either of these teams, whether due to trades, or the inability to crack an NHL lineup. Some may play only for a brief stretch, and have limited impacts. Injuries are always a possibility, which further muddles everything. Coaching, structure, and linemates can create incredible synergies, or unforeseen deteriorations in play. In sum, I’ll leave this to others.

Mid-run (1-3 years)

In my opinion, this is what’s most worth examining. There are several reasons why I think this deal is a good one, and it all relates to this particular window of time.

Salary Cap Implications

In the first four seasons, the Jets have not been a cap team. They have kept nearly a 10% cushion between their spending and the salary cap limit, and many expect that they will continue to be somewhat miserly. In this respect, the deal is a home run. Between Kane and Bogosian, they were owed roughly $12M per year for the duration of their contracts – Kane for another 3 years, Bogosian for another 5. Meanwhile, while Tyler Myers’ salary cap hit is $5.5M, he only has $15.5M remaining in the next 4 years – around $4M per year. Drew Stafford is a pending UFA, and if retained, one would expect him to make no more than the $4M he currently rakes in.

As a result, the Jets have opened room to make big-money offers for their key, pending free agents – Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, each of whom would hit the open market in July, 2016. They also need to re-sign Trouba, Scheifele, Hutchinson, and Lowry in 2016, (though as RFA’s, they have bargaining power). This may also help them retain Michael Frolik in the off-season – assuming his demands are reasonable – or a short-term replacement for Frolik in free agency this July.

Prospect Depth

Make no mistake, the Winnipeg Jets are serious about drafting and developing. They have used their picks wisely, and created one of the best prospect bases in the league in just four years, which is incredible given that the cupboard was bare when the franchise moved from Atlanta. While the NHL team is competitive today, it’s prospects like Ehlers, Morrissey, Copp, Hellebuyck, Petan, and others who will give the budget-conscious Jets the organizational depth they need, and the high-end skill that simply can’t be acquired via free agency. Adding Lemieux, Armia, and a potential 1st helps round out an already impressive group, and complements an otherwise small group of forwards with size, grit, and even more skill.

Asset Base

Look at the Jets today, who are the core players? The top line – Ladd-Little-Wheeler, then Perreault, Scheifele, and probably Lowry. That makes six forwards. On defence, you have Trouba, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Chiarot, and now Myers. 5 defencemen. What is the trend here? Centres and right-handed defencemen. Little, Scheifele, Perreault, and Lowry can all play centre, and have done so recently, while Buff, Trouba, and Myers are big, skate well, and play the right-side on D. What are the most coveted positions for rival GM’s? Not goaltenders – they’re becoming a dime a dozen these days – look no further than Brian Elliot, Devan Dubnyk, Mike Smith, Sergei Bobrovsky, all of whom came to their present teams with low expectations. Wingers? Hardly. You rarely hear about a team going “all-in” to get a top-line left winger. Ask Detroit, Dallas, and Philadelphia if they need more left d-men. The most coveted players by position are centre ice-men, and right-handed defencemen, bar none. Is it a total coincidence that the Jets have loaded up on these high-value positions? If it is, it’s a fantastic coincidence.

WHO IS THE KEY PIECE?

The prospects are nice, the pick is useful, and Stafford is a nice stop-gap at a minimum, but the key to this deal is Tyler Myers. Rumours have dogged this player for years – his trade to Detroit was cemented long ago in the blogosphere. His stats certainly don’t wow you, the fans were down on him, and many question how he ever put up 48 points and won Rookie of the Year. And yet, here’s a 6’8 defenceman who skates remarkably well, has good hands, and is just 24 years old. He is coming from a team which is bad – I mean, historically awful; the Sabres might give up twice as many goals this year as they’ve scored – a feat of futility which hasn’t been accomplished in the past decade. They lack talent, structure, and any possible sense of hope that things might be better for the remainder of the current season. Isn’t this the definition of buying low?

Tyler Myers’ best season was his rookie season, when he was paired with a reliable veteran defender named Henrik Tallinder. Tallinder left the following season for New Jersey, and Myers was thrust into an even bigger role, only with less support. His play started to regress, and as the team got worse, Myers – the team’s biggest minute-munching defenceman, also began to play worse. Here’s my question – was it a fluke that Tyler Myers won the Calder in 2010? Did he simply play out of his mind, and peak at 19 years of age? Or was that simply the product of a teenage defenceman with incredible intangibles, who was placed in a limited role, with a veteran partner, on a then playoff team; in other words, low expectations + ample supports = maximum contributions.

More than anything, I just don’t see how anyone can evaluate Myers accurately coming from a toxic environment in Buffalo. I’m fascinated to see whether a player with his never-before-seen combination of size and speed can flourish once again when he’s given a lesser role, a better defence partner, a positive environment, and strong mentorship from coaches and peers. I think Tyler Myers can be a top-4-type defenceman now, and I think his upside is still immense. While I don’t necessarily see him as a big offensive contributor, he has the physical tools to become like Jay Bouwmeester – a big, smooth-skating defender who takes away space from his opponents, and plays a reliable game against some of the best players in the world. I’m sure he’s delighted to be turning the page on Buffalo, to be heading to a potentially playoff bound club, and also to be closer to his home-town in Calgary.

 

 

 

Ending the Crosby-Toews Debate

crosby+toewsI’ve heard many people suggest that that Jonathan Toews is a better hockey player than Sidney Crosby. Not more talented, perhaps, but they usually start with the premise of “if you could pick one player to build a team around”, “yatta-yatta-yatta…”, it has to be Toews. Continue reading

2014 Jets Training Camp

L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman
L-R: Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger, Mark Hillier, Nikolaj Ehlers, Marcel Comeau, Larry Simmons, Paul Maurice, Mark Chipman

The Winnipeg Jets kick off training camp tomorrow – Thursday, September 18. While it will be exciting to see how the potential young stars stack up against the vets – namely, Nik Ehlers and Josh Morrissey – the battle for roster spots may be less compelling. Continue reading

I Disagree, Mr. Lawless

1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle
1st overall pick in 1993, Alexandre Daigle

 

Gary Lawless recently wrote an article in the Free Press named “Youth Must be Served”. As you might infer from the title, the idea is that the Jets should put some young players in their lineup this fall, because the young guns offer more than some of the veterans who currently fill the bottom of the roster. (Ok, let’s see, young guys, lots of talent, fun to watch – sounds plausible so far). He further justifies the point by saying that the team isn’t very good anyway, so “why not bring in some youth and let them learn on the job”. (Yeah, I guess so…you gotta learn somewhere, right?) Let me tell you why I think it’s a bad idea. Actually, let me show you why I think it’s the worst idea.

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Wings' rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist
Wings’ rookie sensation, Gustav Nyquist

 

There are two types of organizations – those who rush their players, and those who don’t. Ken Holland and his group in Detroit are ‘the good guys’. Gustav Nyquist just finished his rookie season with Detroit, where he scored 28 goals in only 57 games. In fact, he was on pace for 40 goals in – let me say it again – his rookie season, had he played in all 82. Interestingly, he was already 24 years old when the season started, and was playing with the poise and maturity that one might expect from a player who had been clawing to get to the NHL for a number of years.

I’m a fervent believer in the Detroit Red Wings model of development – the one in which you actually give players time to develop, until they clearly demonstrate that they’re too good for their previous level, whether it be junior, college, Europe, or the AHL. For the Wings, that usual entails leaving them in junior till age 20 (21 if coming from College or Europe), and then a one or two year stint in the AHL. Most Red Wings don’t make the squad full-time before they’re at least 21, and the last time a teenager played a full season in Detroit was in 1991, when Keith Primeau made the team as a 19-year-old. Nick Lidstrom – almost universally recognized as one of the top-5 defencemen of all-time – didn’t play for Detroit until he was 21. Henrik Zetterberg came over from Sweden at 22, while Pavel Datsyuk didn’t leave Russia till 23. The Red Wings’ current stud defenceman – Nik Kronwall – didn’t make the roster as a full-time NHL’er till he was 24. In the past 20 years, Detroit has absolutely set the standard for player development in the NHL. No other team lets their prospects “ferment” in the minor leagues for as long as Detroit, and perhaps there’s a method to the madness. Continue reading

2014 NHL Free Agency Wrap-Up

Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and his club were one of the big wingers in Free Agency

Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and his club were one of the big winners in Free Agency

The NHL’s Free Agency period is a time where mistakes happen. Teams get overzealous, hoping that a big catch will turn their team’s fortunes. Over the years, the poster child for bad free agent signings has been the New York Rangers, who have shelled out big-money, long-term deals to players like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Brad Richards. In the end, Gomez was traded, Drury retired before the contract finished, and the other two were bought out.  Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets’ 2014 NHL Draft

Nikolaj Ehlers - Jets'  1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers – The Jets’
1st round pick in 2014

Nikolaj Ehlers (F) – 1st round, 9th overall

After Jacob Trouba, this could be the best draft pick the Jets have ever made. He’s instantly the most skilled player in the entire organization, and draws comparisons to Patrick Kane based on his build, skating, and offensive arsenal. Like Kane, he’s normal in height – nearly 6′ – but very slim at just over 160 lbs; his skating is quick and elusive, and like Kane, he’s just as good a finisher as he is a play-maker. Given more height and weight, he might have been in the running for the first overall pick. But instead the Jets were able to nab him at 9, and add a potential 1st line winger who will beautifully complement Mark Scheifele down the road. No one should expect Ehlers to play in the NHL this year or next – he needs a few years to fill out – but here’s hoping that he gets a taste of the AHL playoffs at the end of his junior season, just like Josh Morrissey did this past year.

Check out his sweet stats here

Continue reading

Free Agency Special: 2014 UFA’s

PaulStastny1

Paul Stastny will have this reaction after he cashes in on July 1

Every July 1, NHL General Managers fall over each other to shell out big-ticket deals to mid-ticket players. This has led to countless cap disasters, with recent buy-out victims like Brad Richards, Ed Jovonovski, and Ville Leino being perfect examples. (Though nothing beats the David Clarkson contract in terms of bad value). In general, the biggest overpays tend to be for defencemen and centres, because they’re generally in shortest supply.

What’s worse is that many of these mid-level players are also past their prime. In general, most players peak in their mid-to-late 20’s. But what you’ll find is that most of the free agents are well into their 30’s. In fact, if you like at the UFA list, you’ll see that among the top-20 previous salary earners, only 1 of them (Paul Stastny) is under 30. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any bargains further down the list, but it’s safe  to say that there will be more bad contracts given out on Tuesday than good ones. Continue reading

2014 NHL Draft: Top-10 Prospects & Mock Draft

Sam Bennett of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs

Sam Bennett of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs

The draft is upon us. Here are my top-10 prospects and a mock draft. Check out my other draft posts from this week here and here. Continue reading