Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Quick Hits: On Trades and Finding Talent

So I was talking Kesler trade with Thomas Drance today. He brought up a point that I don't totally agree with:
You do need a lot of good players to build a serious contender, and Vancouver doesn't have enough good players. Therefore, Vancouver needs more good players. It's a pretty simple formula. The trick, of course, is getting enough good players.

As this relates to Ryan Kesler, I'd rather move him for fewer, high-quality parts than a greater volume of lower-quality ones. For example, I'd take Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim over Emerson Etem and the 10th overall pick. Whether or not Anaheim would go for this is another matter entirely, but Lindholm + any additional BS throw-ins you can negotiate would be my preferred ask from Jim Benning's point of view.

The problem here is Vancouver still needs player volume to fill out a deep roster and build a contender, and trading your big ticket item for one guy doesn't help you with depth. It's likely a lateral move in terms of quality (hopefully), and roster spots filled. So at the end of the day, you're left essentially where you started, except you've moved towards the right side of the window of contention being open again. So if you're making a lateral move by trading for quality, why not address an immediate need and get a bunch of guys?

The answers are "scarcity" and "replacement cost" of top-end players relative to good depth guys, but instead of providing a lecture on economic theory and what the hell these mean, I'll go through the moves Dean Lombardi made to build a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Los Angeles, since I think the L.A. "model" is a good illustration in how to build a deep, effective, and sustainably successful NHL team. Lombardi took over the Kings in April of 2006. Here's how he acquired his forward group:

Anze Kopitar: Inherited from previous regime.
Justin Williams: Inherited Pavol Demitra. Traded Demitra to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O'Sullivan and a 1st round pick in 2006 (Trevor Lewis). Dealt O'Sullivan and a 2nd round pick to Carolina for Justin Williams.
Marian Gaborik: Drafted Jonathan Bernier in the 1st round of 2006. Traded Bernier to Toronto for Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and a 2nd round pick. Traded Ben Scrivens to Edmonton for a 3rd round pick. Traded Matt Frattin, a 2nd round pick, and a conditional 2nd/3rd round pick to Columbus for Marian Gaborik.
Jeff Carter: Inherited Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason. Traded Belanger and Gleason to Carolina in exchange for Jack Johnson and Oleg Tverdovsky. Traded Jack Johnson and a 1st round pick to Columbus for Jeff Carter.
Tyler Toffoli: Traded 2nd round pick and 4th round pick in 2010 to Colorado in exchange for 2nd round pick in 2010 (Tyler Toffoli).
Mike Richards: Inherited Brent Sopel. Traded Sopel to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2nd round pick in 2007 (Wayne Simmonds) and a 4th round pick in 2008. Drafted Brayden Schenn in the 1st round of 2009. Traded Simmonds, Schenn, and a 2nd round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards.
Dustin Brown: Inherited from previous regime.
Jarrett Stoll: Inherited Lubomir Visnovsky. Traded Visnovsky to the Edmonton Oilers for Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene.
Tanner Pearson: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 draft.
Kyle Clifford: Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft.
Dwight King: Inherited Craig Conroy. Traded Conroy to the Calgary Flames for Jamie Lundmark, a 2nd round pick in 2008, and a 4th round pick in 2007 (Dwight King).
Jordan Nolan: Drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 draft.

As for Los Angeles' D, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez were all drafted by the Kings, while Willie Mitchell and Jake Muzzin were UFA signings (Muzzin was drafted but never signed by Pittsburgh, so he became a free agent). Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene were both acquired via trade.

At the end of the day, we appear to be left with this formula:

  • Build the bare-bones skeleton of your team through the early picks of the draft (Kopitar, Doughty)
  • Trade multiple assets to acquire premium quality depth (Williams, Carter, Gaborik, Richards) 
  • Fill in the bottom-end holes in your roster from within by developing your own talent
  • Stay away from unrestricted free agency, except for unsigned prospects
Not since 2007 has Dean Lombardi traded down to stock the cupboards with quantity of players in lieu of quality. In fact, Lombardi has done the opposite most of the time by packaging up players and picks to take a home-run swing on the trade market. As a smart GM, he realizes that top-end talent, like Jeff Carter and Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik, is harder to come by than bundles of assets involving lesser players and draft picks. Hell, NHL teams are given seven free draft picks every year, but you have to work hard to find a Jeff Carter.

Of course, Lombardi's wheeling and dealing wouldn't be possible without a strong scouting department that's been among the league's best since he took over. If his scouts had not found Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, or Jonathan Bernier, it's unlikely he has enough assets to build a team as strong as the Kings are. And as an added bonus, his amateur scouting department has also landed the Kings Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan in recent years to fill out the roster and ultimately save money on pricier veteran UFA replacements. Amateur scouting really matters.

Coming full circle to Vancouver, yes the Canucks absolutely need to "re-stock" the cupboard. But, as the Kings have shown, there are other ways to find quantity of talent than trading your best trade chip for a bunch of assets that can be found through other processes. Land the single best asset you can for Ryan Kesler. Focus on the other stuff later.

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