Vancouver’s long running goalie saga came with a twist ending today: Roberto Luongo stays and Cory Schneider moves on to the New Jersey Devils. In exchange, the Canucks received the Devils’ first round pick, ninth overall. They quickly used that pick to select Bo Horvat. I’m not particularly interested in the psychodrama of it all, except to the extent that there’s an undefined possibility that Luongo now demands a trade or retires or something, which would be hilarious. I am interested in the idea that Mike Gillis received poor value here. I see that as distinct from the other question about this, which is whether or not a player like Bo Horvat is what Vancouver needs right now.
I tend to think that Gillis got good value for Schneider. I went back through the last ten year’s worth of drafts and looked for picks that were plus or minus five spots from the ninth overall that Vancouver acquired for Cory Schneider and that were traded in trades that weren’t primarily pick trades. There aren’t a lot. Toronto’s pick, overall in 2007, was traded to San Jose along with some other picks for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell. I had this to say in the fall of that year:
While I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be paying $8MM over two years for Toskala, if you look at his numbers, he’s fairly described as a guy who has spent his career floating between average and slightly above average, with a big spike pre-lockout. If the Leafs can put together another big outshooting year, that’s probably all they’ll need to slide into second in the division. They aren’t really getting any great value out of Toskala though and there were probably better ways to do this. The Leafs spent a lot of draft picks on acquiring Toskala and are basically going to pay him free agent money…
As it turned out, Toskala was at the end of the line or never much good anyway, no matter what the numbers said; the Leafs blew a top ten Corsi% year and things kind of snowballed. San Jose turned the picks they got in exchange into Logan Couture.
Edmonton’s pick, twelfth overall, in 2008 went to Anaheim (and then to other places) as part of the compensation for Dustin Penner. It turned into Tyler Myers. Calgary’s first round pick in 2010 (13th overall), which turned out to be Brandon Gormley, who looks to have had a very nice age 20 season in Portland, went to Phoenix in 2009 as part of a deal for Olli Jokinen.
Three of these picks moved in 2011. Columbus moved the number 8 pick, along with Jacob Voracek, for Jeff Carter. Toronto gave up the number ten as part of the Phil Kessel deal. The Blues’ pick, at 11, went to Colorado as part of the trade that sent Erik Johnson to Colorado and Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart to St. Louis. It bears mentioning that the pick was protected – Colorado wouldn’t have received it if it was a top ten pick. Those picks turned into Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton and Duncan Siemens, respectively.
Last year, Pittsburgh acquired the number eight pick as part of the return for Jordan Staal. Washington got the number eleven from Colorado in the Semyon Varlamov deal. Those picks were turned into Derrick Pouliot and Filip Forsberg.
When you look at the calibre of player it takes to acquire a pick in this range, it seems generally to be pretty high to me. There’s the odd screwup – Toskala, Varlamov, Penner and Jokinen, although in three of those cases, you can argue that the team giving up the pick probably (foolishly) didn’t expect that the pick would be so high. Jeff Carter, Phil Kessel, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and Jordan Staal can all play. You could build a Cup contender around those players.
The players acquired with those picks have, generally speaking, turned out to be really good players to great players too. This is where I think that the people complaining about the return are kind of missing the point. The thing about a pick in the top ten is that you’re talking about a player who has a non-marginal chance of being an honest to god star in the NHL. That potential, which may or may not be realized, has real value.
Imagine if someone offered you a lottery ticket for a 6/49 draw that had a 1/1,000 chance of winning $10,000,000. How much would be willing to pay for it? You might say “Well, 1/1000*10,000,000=$10,000. That ticket has an expected value to me of $10,000 so I wouldn’t pay more than that.” You might also quite reasonably say “I’d notice if $15,000 was gone but it wouldn’t change my life. $10,000,000 would. I’d be willing to risk a negative expected return for something potentially life changing.”
Acquiring an elite player for nothing more than the cost of a draft pick is life changing for NHL teams. Rightly or wrongly, teams are able to command awfully high prices for those draft picks. There’s no guarantee but they seem to treat the possibility as being enough to command a high price. It is, I think, defensible to do so.
It’s easy to say that Vancouver should have got more because of what Washington was able to get from Colorado in exchange for Semyon Varlamov but, frankly, that was an insane deal the moment that it was made. I don’t think it’s all that sensible to judge a deal based on the highest price:value deal you can think of.
I think it’s a bit telling when you look at how Varlamov performed after that deal too. He hasn’t been particularly good in Colorado. That, of course, is the other side of this: goalies without much of a track record are volatile commodities. They’re kind of like draft picks between 5 and 10 that way, in that there’s a potential for huge return or a big bust.
Is Cory Schneider really a great goalie? Eric Tulsky at Broadstreet Hockey thinks he’s one of the best bets in the league right now; personally, I’m kind of uncomfortable with giving up much of anything for a goalie with such a short track record. Assuming that Mike Gillis took the best offer available to him, it looks like that’s a view shared around the NHL. When you look at this deal in the context of what it generally takes to get a pick that high without a high pick to throw in the deal, I don’t think it’s that bad.
The other question, of course, is whether this move makes sense for Vancouver given the context of their team. The Canucks now have three stars: the Sedins and Luongo, who are 33, 33 and 34. That’s an awfully old team for a Cup contender and the window is probably closing on the opportunity to win a Cup on a team built around the Sedins pretty shortly – I suspect Luongo’s got a bit longer as a high end player than they do, assuming good health. If that’s the case, you wonder why they didn’t try and get a player who helps them right now, rather than two or three years down the road. That’s a harder question to answer favourably for Gillis, although it’s been pointed out to me that Vancouver’s tight against the salary cap.
It’s seemed to me over the past few years that Vancouver has kind of tried to avoid going all-in – they want a window to win that stretches out forever. I think you can have that, although at a cost, in terms of a diminished chance to win in ht immediate future. In fairness to Gillis, if Vancouver had won that 2011 Stanley Cup, as they easily could have, nobody would be critical of that – people would be impressed that Vancouver had won their Stanley Cup and looked positioned to be a contender for a long time. The acquisition of Horvat ups the likelihood that the Canucks will be a really good team indefinitely, albeit maybe at a bit of a hit to their chances to win now. If you own the hockey team, you might prefer that but Stanley Cup banners hang from the rafters forever.
Honestly, my biggest criticism of the way that the Canucks managed this whole thing was their failure to wrap it up, one way or another, last summer. They took an awfully big risk in holding on to Luongo, who wasn’t their preferred choice to keep, through the lockout, hoping that offers would get better on the other side of it. I’d be awfully interested to know about their internal discussions leading to that decision. Were the Canucks blindsided a bit by the cap recapture rule? Possibly. What seems obvious now, in terms of cap recapture coming, maybe wasn’t so obvious in the summer of 2012.
All of that said, the Canucks seem to me to be a stronger team now than they were two days ago. They acquired a really good prospect in exchange for a slight reduction in the ability of their goaltending, given that only one goalie can play at a time. The price seems reasonable to me, given the way in which NHL teams have historically valued the possibility of striking gold in the draft. If the return seems to be something that helps in the future rather than now, well, that’s kind of been the way that the Canucks are operated. If you tend to think that a consistently well run team will win a Cup eventually, as I do, it’s hard to be too critical of that, even if you kind of look at the clock and wonder how much longer a Cup contender can be built around the Sedins.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org