Sunday, May 04, 2008

Flyers Move On

Flyers move onto the Conference final a year after finishing last overall.

Lowetide has a terrific post looking at Kevin Lowe's body of work. As with everything he does, its a nicely written and measured look. You might quibble with a few of his opinions but overall he gives a pretty objective look at Lowe's tenure.

Of course it doesn't take long for battlelines to be drawn when it comes to Lowe. Even his biggest detractors cannot really argue with 2006 although you will get a couple who throw the word luck around quite a bit. On the other hand you get a few who will defend everything that Lowe has done and who figure this rebuild job will be good for a few parades when all is said and done. These guys are the types who talk about all of the Cups Lowe won as a player and how that has all of the relevance in the world when it comes to putting a Cup winning club together. Sort of like saying a hero cop could be commissioner or Oscar winning actor would be able to direct a terrific movie. It can and does happen but one skillset is not the same as the other. Pretty simple stuff really.

I'm in the middle when it comes to Lowe. His work prelockout was pretty solid and I think LT or one of the commenters talks about how the things this club had to do to stay competitive then still serve him well now - digging up hidden gems on the D, drafting and development and so on. I think player procurement is slowly and surely becoming a real strength of this organization. The example that people point to as a real disaster is that area, Pouliot/Parise, really means fuckall to me really. Pouliot was highly ranked going into that draft - its not like the Oilers picked Marie Claude Pouliot from the Canadian Woman's National team. They picked a guy who was recognized as a very good prospect by all of the services across the board. Has he been a disappointment? Sure. But he wasn't a longshot reach by any means. Raking Lowe over the coals for that makes little sense to me.

It has been Lowe's work since G7 that makes me wonder and while this past spring was fun to watch this club still has finished out of the playoffs two years running and there are no guarantees for the future. The fellow in the picture is Braydon Coburn. He is twenty three years old. This year was his first full season in the NHL and he scored nine goals and twenty seven assists. So far in the playoffs he has five assists and is a plus five while playing nearly twenty five minutes a night against the other team's top opposition.

The Flyers acquired him for Alexei Zhitnik.

This is why Oiler fans get upset about all of this five assets BS when it comes to the Pronger deal.

Don't tell me that Pitkanen was part of the deal. He was not. If we're going to start talking that garbage then you better bring Roman Hamrlik, Mike Comrie and the second round pick the Oilers gave up for Jason Smith into it. Pronger was traded for Joffrey Lupul, Laddy Smid and three draft picks. Things might turn out still but if you have to start spinning me that the deal was good because they turned Lupul into Pitkanen then you better be able to spin me later whoever the Oilers move Pitkanen for and then where does that stop? Don't spin me. Pronger was one of the best defenceman in the league at the time. He had just been the probable MVP on a team that went all the way to G7 of the Stanley Cup. If the guys that came over in the deal don't stand up on their own as fair return then it WASN'T A GOOD DEAL!

You know who the Flyers got for Alexei Zhitnik? Braydon Coburn. That's who. A top two defenceman at 23. For Alexei Zhitnik.

Where did the Flyers finish last year? Last place. Where are they this morning? The Eastern Conference Finals, that's where.

Two years ago the Oilers were on a beauty run, thanks to, yes, Kevin Lowe. This year they are on the golf course, again.

I like Kevin Lowe. I hope this team wins it all, again and again although I'd be perfectly happy with once, mind you. But when he does something poorly, which he has quite often these past two years, don't keep telling me he's Sam Pollack. Because right now he's not even Paul Holmgren.

11 comments:

andy grabia said...

Don't tell me that Pitkanen was part of the deal. He was not.

Staples said he was, so it must be true.

Bruce said...

Don't tell me that Pitkanen was part of the deal. He was not.

BDHS: I'm in the middle on the trade analysis front, there's different ways of doing it and all of them have (some) validity. It's interesting to follow the threads long term. eg. Maltby for McGillis for Niinimaa for Torres. If you consider the original trade only, Oilers lost it because Maltby is still in Detroit while McGillis is long gone from Edmonton. But what Jonathan calls his "exit value" brought returns upon returns.

I try to consider transactions in terms of yin and yang, not just what bodies came or departed, but also what holes were filled or created, be they on the roster, in the organization, and within the cap structure.

The Oilers did, sort of, turn Lupul into Pitkanen. In another sense Pitkanen replaced Pronger's hole on the roster (unfilled in 2006-07) as a big-minutes all-purpose stud. How well he filled that void is another question entirely, but to me the Pronger-out-Pitkanen-in moves are related in both the Lupul connection and in basic roster management.

In this latter sense almost all moves are related in some way or other. e.g. You can't tell me that the Smyth trade and the Penner raid weren't cause and effect, even though there were no common names in the two transactions. Smyth was dumped for three "assets", giving the organization more depth in developing talent at the rather high cost of its first-line LW. It also opened up substantial space under cap.

The Penner deal was almost a mirror image, cap money and three "assets" spent in pursuit of a new first-line LW. While it's interesting to examine each deal in isolation, it's hard not to connect the dots and wonder how Oilers fared on the net outcome:

1) Is Penner as good or better than Smyth? Well, he's younger, cheaper, healthier, and his career path is headed in the opposite direction. I would suggest he didn't make the impact on the Oilers this year that Ryan Smyth has done in the past, but there's reason to be optimistic about his future.

2) Who got the better of the "assets"? We'll never know in that Anaheim will choose different players than Oilers would have with those three upcoming draft picks. But from an Oilers' perspective I look at it this way: if we went into this year's draft with picks 12, 42 and 72 and walked away with Nilsson, O'Marra and Plante, would we be happy?

From the perspective of trading a 32-year-old and three 18-year-olds for guys aged 26, 23, 21 and 19, in the short-to-medium term I like that just fine. Nilsson's here now, he's not 3-5 years away like those draft picks are apt to be. With these two deals Lowe cast his lot with a quick rebuild, one which was already showing considerable promise by season's end.

Bruce said...

I like Kevin Lowe. I hope this team wins it all, again and again although I'd be perfectly happy with once, mind you. But when he does something poorly, which he has quite often these past two years, don't keep telling me he's Sam Pollack. Because right now he's not even Paul Holmgren.

Right now Paul Holmgren looks like the next coming of Sam Pollack. He has compiled an outstanding body of work since taking over Bobby Clarke's dead-fucking-last crew partway through 2007-07. Holmgren:

1) turned six weeks of Peter Forsberg and his sore ankle into Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, picks, and conditional futures, saving the last million-plus bucks of Forsberg's contract in the process.

2) made the spectacular Coburn-for-Zhitnik deal you cite. This already looks to be a one-for-one steal of the calibre of Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov or Red Kelly for Marc Rheaume. At 23 Coburn had a fabulous season, and is having an excellent playoffs in a shutdown pairing with Timonen.

3) dumped a Bobby Clarke salary, the underachieving Kyle Calder, for serviceable and affordable young defenceman Lasse Kukkonen.

4) proactively dealt with a perennial Flyer weakness by acquiring Marty Biron for a second-rounder, then signing him to a three-year contract. Biron's solid netminding has been instrumental in the Flyers' post-season run

5) turned one of the Nashville conditional picks into bargaining rights for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, signing both to long-term contracts.

6) signed one of the most sought-after UFAs, Daniel Briere, who has exploited holes in opposition defences and scored a number of huge goals during the Flyers' run to the conference final.

7) with Coburn, Parent, Kukkonen, and Timonen in tow, traded talented-but-moody young defender and arbitration headache Joni Pitkanen and salary dump Geoff Sanderson for promising sniper Joffrey Lupul and battle-hardened Jason Smith. Lupul scored the biggest goal of the season, while Smith assumed the team captaincy.

8) Identified franchise player Mike Richards as his first RFA priority and signed him to an innovative long-term contract designed to pay market value while minimizing the cap hit.

9), 10), 11) acquired Vaclav Prospal, Jaroslav Modry and Patrick Thoresen near the trade deadline, adding valuable depth at low cost (unless Alexandre Picard blossoms into the next Braydon Coburn). These latest moves can be seen as tinkering compared to the massive, and massively successful, overhaul of this organization during the first twelve months of Paul Holmgren. Maybe you can quibble with some of the individual puzzle pieces, but there's no denying the overall positive effect. The evidence is there for all to see, in the conference finals.

In related news, Don Waddell still has a job.

Black Dog said...

Bruce, nice summary of Holmgren's work, including a few moves that I had forgotten. I can't remember a team being so fully made over in such a short time. And other then Pitkanen what of value did he really give up?

The Briere contract is going to bite them in the ass a few years down the road, I would think, but the guy gives them a go-to guy for the next few years at least.

Don't know if the Oilers could match his moves, mostly because I don't know if they can get the UFAs to come but if I were a Leafs' fan, for example, I would be bitter looking at this makeover.

As for Smyth, I was one of few who could live with the trade at the time. I don't think sinking big money in over 30 guys is a great idea. And I am a huge Smyth fan. Of course Lowe lost me when he signed a poorer player with a longer injury history, also over 30, (and coming off a career year), in Souray.

The return for six weeks of Smyth was pretty good though.

therealdeal said...

Brewer and Woywitka for Pitkanen?

Black Dog said...

oh kyle I know you're kidding but that stuff drives me mental

Bruce said...

Bruce, nice summary of Holmgren's work, including a few moves that I had forgotten. I can't remember a team being so fully made over in such a short time.

Thanks, and neither can I. Holmgren really has done an exceptional job in a very short time.

And other then Pitkanen what of value did he really give up?

Some pieces which might appear useful to other teams, but were simply used goods from the perspective of a rebuilding club. Forsbear, Zhitnik, Calder, Sanderson ... the only guy who did anything this year was Forsberg, and he was gone as a UFA last summer anyway. They used the cap room for Briere, Timonen, Hartnell ...

The Briere contract is going to bite them in the ass a few years down the road, I would think, but the guy gives them a go-to guy for the next few years at least.

Briere is no Foppa, but then again he's actually playing the games, and did a hell of a lot more to help Philly in Round 2 than Forsberg did Colorado.

Don't know if the Oilers could match his moves, mostly because I don't know if they can get the UFAs to come but if I were a Leafs' fan, for example, I would be bitter looking at this makeover.

Or they could use it as a "how to" manual. Unfortunately all those no-trade contracts prevented the Leafs from unloading the deadwood the way Holmgren did. To say that JFJ was no Paul Holmgren would be no small understatement.

therealdeal said...

oh kyle I know you're kidding but that stuff drives me mental

I was going to bring it back to Hamrlik but I just thought that was too far.

Honestly, I don't think you can just ignore the history of the asset, but I know it's not as complicated as people make it out to be.

Black Dog said...

Kyle - can't ignore it true but here is an example of what I am talking about and I will pick on Bruce because a) he can take it b) he always picks on me ;) and c) he will correct me anyway if I need correcting

In a thread over at LT Bruce brought up the point that Pronger was awesome last year, not so great this year and that essentially we may see him starting to decline. His point was that in a few years Pronger will be done but the Oilers will have Smid, Nash, Pitkanen or whatever they get for him plus whatever they pick this year.

Of ocurse this is true but my issue is that they did not trade a guy who was in decline. They traded a guy at the peak of his game.

Now I know I am ranting a little here because I will acknowledge that these things take time to play out and that you do have to take into account the idea of assets. Five years from now maybe Pronger is retired and Nash is a 40 goal scorer and Pitkanen is a PPG man and the Oilers are a contender year after year.

Only Karen Percy knows for sure but I have to think that there was a better deal out there and when people don't acknowledge that by saying 'well they got Pitkanen for him too' it makes me crazy. Because he did not.

Bruce said...

Bruce, nice summary of Holmgren's work, including a few moves that I had forgotten.

Just read Jim Matheson's piece "Transformation complete" in today's (May 6) Edmonton Journal, and hasten to point out that the above (undated) comment about Holmgren's accomplishments was completed at 6:11 p.m. yesterday. I didn't rip off Matty's article, the timing of which makes me wonder if our Hall of Fame writer reads "Black Dog Hates Skunks". (It was one of his more insightful pieces of late.) :D

Bruce said...

Kyle - can't ignore it true but here is an example of what I am talking about and I will pick on Bruce because a) he can take it b) he always picks on me ;) and c) he will correct me anyway if I need correcting

BDHS: No worries, a), b) and c) are all true. Especially c). :)

In a thread over at LT Bruce brought up the point that Pronger was awesome last year, not so great this year and that essentially we may see him starting to decline. His point was that in a few years Pronger will be done but the Oilers will have Smid, Nash, Pitkanen or whatever they get for him plus whatever they pick this year.
Of ocurse this is true but my issue is that they did not trade a guy who was in decline. They traded a guy at the peak of his game.


My point is that it's all about projections. Just as you project young guys to develop and improve, so you project older guys to start to fall off. Pocklington called Gretzky a "diminishing asset" when he sold him off, a comment which drew much outrage in these parts but which was undeniably true, if a bit premature when the Great One was just 27. Same thing most definitely applied to Ryan Smyth and probably to Chris Pronger.

Nowadays with finite contracts you also must take into account you are not so much trading the guy as X years of the guy (or X months in the case of an impending UFA like Smytty). In the case of Pronger, X = 4 years, after which he was free to walk.

For those four years Oilers got five assets. It is convoluted but not illogical to follow the thread of each asset:

1) Smid
2) Lupul plus becomes Pitkanen
3) First rounder plus becomes Nash
4) Second rounder is directly or indirectly related to the acquisition of Rourke, Grebeshkov, and Penner (something of a stretch, but the asset was played rather neatly)
5) First rounder to come

Of course each of those assets has a limited shelf life, essentially up to the time the player is himself a UFA or has been traded for no return value.

Meanwhile the four years of Pronger are stacking up thusly:

1) Great year
2) Mediocre year
3) to come
4) to come

... and maybe Anaheim re-ups him and is graced with his presence for future years, but maybe not. On my post that you cite I did say that I expect him to bounce back, the point was just that one of the four years wasn't all that wonderful. And it may well be that one or two of those five assets isn't that wonderful either (see: Lupul, Joffrey), but the cost for a given "asset" wasn't Pronger, it was just ~1 year (good or bad) of Pronger. Which is still substantial, don't get me wrong, but Pronger is nonetheless a finite and diminishing asset.