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Cullen: What do stats say about top trade candidates?

Scott Cullen

2/27/2014 5:49:14 PM

We all have some opinions on the players that come up in daily trade rumours as the NHL trade deadline approaches. This player is a sniper, that one's over-the-hill; this one can still dominate the game, that one is riding the coattails of superior linemates.

Then, the deals will start coming and we'll have to see how those players fit in their new locations.

Before the trade flurry beings, though, what do some of the advanced stats say about the players considered 'in play' leading up to the NHL trade deadline?

For some, there will be no surprises -- they are who we thought they were! -- but, for others, maybe there are some reasons to have second thoughts.

After some digging on www.behindthenet.ca, www.extraskater.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com, here's a fancy stats look at some of the more notable trade candidates:

Thomas Vanek, LW, N.Y. Islanders - There aren't any grand surprises in Vanek's profile. He's a top-line scoring winger, so he tends to face high quality competition (ie. other team's best defencemen), but those matchups have tended to get the better of Vanek in terms of possession stats, leaving him with a negative relative Corsi even though the ice should be tilted in his favour due to starting 59.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Of course, the line of Vanek, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo is skilled enough that they can be sub-50% in possession terms and still score more goals and, in Vanek's case, he's on for 40 goals for and 26 against during 5-on-5 play this season.

Ryan Callahan, RW, N.Y. Rangers - While the Rangers' captain has seen his ice-time reduced under new head coach Alain Vigneault, he still has okay possession stats while facing quality opposition.

What is somewhat surprising about Callahan is that he's starting a disproportionate percentage (61.3%) of his shifts in the offensive zone. Considering his reduced power play role, those offensive zone starts are likely due to his spot on Brad Richards' wing.

Andrew MacDonald, D, N.Y. Islanders - For years, MacDonald has been a favourite on the underrated, or at least underpaid, lists because he's playing big minutes while making $550,000 per season. Now that he's approaching unrestricted free agency, and his stats come under more scrutiny, it's clear that MacDonald is getting destroyed in puck possession terms and when one compares his with-or-without-you stats, it's plain to see that MacDonald is being asked to do too much for the Islanders.

The hope for an acquiring team would be that MacDonald could fit maybe as a No. 4 or No. 5 on a contender and, of course, his contract would be easy to accomodate for teams that are close to the cap.

Steve Ott, C, Buffalo - Playing for the Sabres has forced Ott to play more than he should, because Buffalo doesn't have enough quality options, so he gets chewed up in terms of puck possession, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that, in a third-line role on a contender, Ott would have a better chance to succeed.

Marian Gaborik, RW, Columbus - There's not much of a sample to work with, considering Gaborik has been injured for much of the season, but in the 18 games that he has played, Gaborik hasn't been particularly effective though he has started an abnormal percentage (47.9%) of his shifts in the defensive zone after three straight seasons with more than 60% offensive zone starts.

To be fair, any team that is trying to acquire Gaborik (or any player, really) is going to be looking at more than what he's done this season, so subpar possesion numbers this year can't be considered the whole picture of his contribution. Like Vanek, for instance, Gaborik tends to have a higher on-ice shooting percentage than most, so his goal results tend to be better than the shot data indicates.

Sam Gagner, C, Edmonton - This has been a season to forget for Gagner, starting with the broken jaw he suffered in the preseason, thanks to Zack Kassian. Gagner has generally been getting thumped when it comes to puck possession and, while he has plenty of work to do in his own right in the defensive zone, Gagner has been relatively unlucky, compared to previous years, in terms of on-ice save percentage (.891).

If a team thinks that they can get quality production out of Gagner for the years ahead, his production this year ought to at least lower the asking price.

Matt Moulson, LW, Buffalo - In what was completely expected when his first trade occurred early in the season, Moulson is heading towards his second deal of the year.

It's tough sledding in Buffalo so Moulston has been getting beaten up in raw possession stats, yet still positive in relative terms, though being better than the average Sabres skater this season is a decidedly low bar. On a better team, with better linemates and more offensive zone starts, there is still a decent opportunity for Moulson to be a finisher on a contender's scoring line.

Mike Cammalleri, LW, Calgary - Injuries have been a standard part of Cammalleri's resume, so that's part of the package, but when he has played this year, he has played tough minutes and been relatively effective. He's undermined by a horrible on-ice save percentage (.867), but the underlying possession stats are pretty favourable for Cammalleri. In a better environment, with better linemates, he should be a productive addition.

Ryan Miller, G, Buffalo - While goaltending has its share of mysteries, given our current measurement, it's pretty easy to see that Miller has been enjoying a strong season, with a .923 save percentage that is the second-best of his career but, looking over a longer time period, there are some trends to note.

Over the past five seasons, his 5-on-5 save percentage is .927, which is good, ranking 11th among goaltenders with at least 2000 5-on-5 minutes played in that span. Where Miller has distinguished himself, somewhat, is in terms of shorthanded play, posting an .897 save percentage in 4-on-5 situations, which is second-best among goalies with at least 500 4-on-5 minutes played. No matter where Miller goes, it will be a better situation in terms of his opportunity to win and, really, his opportunity to be rewarded for strong individual play.

David Legwand, C, Nashville - It comes as no secret, after nearly 1000 games, that Legwand plays against tough opponents and, generally, holds his own in the possession game. Like others in Nashville, he's been a victim of a relatively low on-ice save percentage, but that doesn't diminish the fact that Legwand can easily slide into a second or third-line centre role for many teams.

Jaromir Jagr, RW, New Jersey - Sure, the ice is tilted in an offensive direction for Jagr, who naturally starts more of his shifts in the offensive zone, but he remains a dominant puck possession player, as he has been forever. He says he wants to stay in New Jersey, but Jagr has been an NHL nomad, playing in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston and New Jersey since returning from his stint in the KHL.

Marek Zidlicky, D, New Jersey - While his name isn't being liberally thrown out like some others, Zidlicky is an aging pending unrestricted free agent who can man the point on the power play. Trouble is, he hasn't been very effective as a possession player even while starting 58.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He's pretty much a specialist, who has 12 of his 29 points on the power play.

Tom Gilbert, D, Florida - After he was bought out of his contract by the Minnesota Wild, Gilbert was an inexpensive pick-up for the Panthers, signing a one-year, $900,000 deal. Turns out to have been a bargain as Gilbert is having a very strong season playing alongside Brian Campbell.

Naturally, some of his success is due to playing with Campbell, but Gilbert has handled tough minutes and, thoughout his career, has consistently been a solid performer though, admittedly, on mostly bad teams. On a thin defence market, he could help, though the Panthers might want to see about keeping him around a bit longer.

Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton - Hemsky's offensive production is a far cry from his point-per-game days, yet he's delivering solid possession numbers while facing high-quality opposition and starting 43.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone. On a good team, in an offensive role, it's easy enough to see that performance translating into Hemsky making a more significant scoring contribution.

Nick Schultz, D, Edmonton - The totality of Nick Schultz's NHL existence has involved him playing tough defensive matchups, with lots of defensive zone starts. At his best, he played that shutdown role. Where Schultz is now, however, is getting crushed in terms of puck possession and while he still starts more in the D-zone (he plays for the Oilers, remember), it's not nearly enough to justify the shooting tilt when he's on the ice.

Some team will hope that Schultz will fit in a defensive role with more structure than surrounds him in Edmonton, but there is definitely risk involved in that projection when the trend has been going downhill for some time.

Brad Boyes, RW, Florida - Another of the Panthers' bargain free agents from the offseason, Boyes has still managed to put up decent possession numbers. Not outstanding, but good enough to think that he could offer a bit of an offensive boost for a team seeking a top-nine forward.

Ray Whitney, LW, Dallas - Though he's 41-years-old, Whitney is coming off a 2013 season in which he tallied 29 points in 32 games, so he was expected to fill an offensive role for the Stars this year. It hasn't really happened for him as he's played a reduced role and is among the glut of indistinguishable supporting forwards in Dallas.

Whitney's puck possession numbers have dipped dramatically from the past couple seasons, but he's also been a little unlucky at the offensive end (with a 7.34% on-ice shooting percentage). A team that chooses to acquire Whitney, would do so on the basis that he could add some juice to the power play, a pretty standard expectation for a player who has 409 career points with the man advantage.

Tuomo Ruutu, LW, Carolina - After an injury-marred 2013 season, Ruutu has stayed relatively healthy this year, but has some bad numbers to show for it. He has mediocre possession stats, despite starting 63.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone (the first question: why?!?!), but Ruutu has also been seriously unlucky in terms of percentages at both ends of the rink.

It's one thing to pick up Ruutu, expecting the percentages to fall in line with career norms, but his performance to this point likely makes for a very low asking price in trade talks.

Chris Stewart, RW, St. Louis - The Blues' leading scorer last season, Stewart is averaging under 15 minutes per game for the first time since his rookie season and that decreased ice time is justified. He's getting destroyed in terms of puck possession while not facing tough competition and starting 60.1% of his shifts in offensive zone, failing despite many situational advantages in his favour.

Stewart is a big-bodied forward who can score, which might attract some interest, but his underlying numbers -- if anyone's looking at them -- don't help the sales pitch.

Lee Stempniak, RW, Calgary - A generally unheralded veteran winger, Stempniak has to take on tough minutes for the Flames, facing quality competition and starting more shifts in the defensive zone.

Even so, Stempniak's relative possession numbers are strong, which is a reflection of his team's struggles, but he's also been relatively unlucky offensively, with a 6.33 on-ice shooting percentage, the lowest rate of his career. These are the kind of numbers that might suggest Stempniak is due for some bounces if he fits into a top-nine role with a contending team.

Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver - A late addition to the list of players under consideration for trade, Kesler (who may have a broken hand/finger at the moment) has been healthy this year. He still faces the toughest opposition and still wins possession battles, but not nearly like he did during his peak years from 2009 through 2012.

In any case, teams that are looking for a two-way centre that can handle tough matchups defensively and score will naturally be drawn to Kesler and will likely have to pay a hefty price to pry him out of Vancouver.

Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay - There was apparently some behind-the-scenes drama when St. Louis was left off the initial roster for the Canadian Olympic team. If the Lightning are inclined to acquiesce to that wish, teams will be looking at a forward who has never been great in terms of possession.

He's been okay, factoring in more offensive zone starts, but St. Louis has consistently had a high on-ice shooting percentage and has maintained it this year, even with Steven Stamkos out since November 11. The gist of it is that St. Louis will still be productive offensively, so long as he's left in that role, though it's fair to wonder whether his best interests will be served by playing with someone other than Stamkos (who is targeting a March 6 return to the lineup).

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.