Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Breaking down the Ballard deal

At the NHL Entry Draft this past weekend, the Vancouver Canucks pulled off the largest deal of the day with the Florida Panthers.

The Canucks sent forwards Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner, and their 1st Round pick (25th overall) to the Panthers in exchange for Defenceman Keith Ballard, and forward Viktor Oreskovich.

Many Vancouver fans and members of the media feel that the Canucks overpaid, and that is probably true - but let's analyze the deal a bit more.

First, the 'cons' of the deal from the Canucks' perspective. 

The Cons
In Steve Bernier, the Canucks lose a forward of considerable size, and some talent from their bottom six forwards.  While unable to stick on a scoring line, Bernier did post decent numbers from a bottom six forward and his absence removes one of the only sizeable forwards and net presences that the Canucks could use as an option up front.

In Michael Grabner, the Canucks forfeit a budding offense forward.  While the jury is still out on just how good he can be, few doubt that he is capable of 30-35 goal seasons in the NHL.  When the Canucks traded Grabner, they traded their closest prospect to making the squad this year, as Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder have yet to play any NHL games.  Grabner had 11 points in 20 games last season, including a hat-trick against Anaheim where he was by far the best player on the ice, could have scored 5 goals, and only had 10 minutes of ice time.

Grabner was also solid in the playoffs, as he looked like one of the few dangerous Canucks on the ice in the Chicago Blackhawks second round series.

The disappointing thing for Canucks fans on Grabner is that the organization invested 4 years into developing him, and just when he's ready to make an impact - they trade him.  Not only do they trade him, but I think as we'll see, for below value.

The last point on Grabner would be that aside from Anton Rodin, the Canucks do not have any decent prospects on the wings, and with the exception of Mason Raymond, the Canucks have no young, offensively minded wingers.

The last part of the deal heading to Florida was the Canucks 1st round, 25th overall draft pick.  This pick will turn out to likely be a top 6 forward or top 4 defenceman in three or four years.

Overall, the Canucks lose some youth and they lose some offensive depth.

Still listing the cons of this deal, in Keith Ballard, they get a journeyman defenseman with a large contract (4.2 mil per year) for 5 years, and yet another of these all-around top-four Defenseman type player.  While each defender differs slightly, the Canucks basically have four of the same defenseman with Ehrhoff, Edler, Salo and Bieksa.  Even when Ohlund was in the fold, you have all fair-sized defensemen who are well-rounded defensively and offensively, but none of them offer any game breaking (exceptional) talents on the offensive or defensive end of the rink. 

Certainly this adds to the Canucks blueline in the versatility department, but they do not get a powerplay quarterback or #1-2 defenseman like Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty, whom the Canucks were ravaged by in the playoffs for two rounds.  Those defensemen do not grow on trees, but this may not have been a deal that had to be made.

The other piece of the deal is a throw in, Viktor Oreskovich.  A large (6'3" 215lbs) forward who can hit and sktae, he'll likely occupy a spot on the 4th line this coming season.

Adding up all the negatives to this deal, the Canucks forfeit skill, youth, and add to their payroll. 

The Positives
On the positive side for the Canucks, they gain a sturdy and reliable defenceman who was third in the NHL in blocked shots this past season.  Ballard has great mobility, an offensive upside, and gives them more versatility should Sami Salo get injured for the 40th time.  Ballard can also replace Willie Mitchell and in a more mobile and offensively capable fashion.

Ballard rounds out the Canucks blueline nicely and is a physical presence with a strong desire or the game.  He is definitely the best player in the trade - which is sometimes used to decide a 'winner' of a deal.

Oreskovich provides some size and mobility on the bottom half of the line up and may wind up being a cheaper version of Bernier with a bit less offense.

For the Canucks meanwhile, they rid themselves of Steve Bernier's contract, a whopping $2million per year for someone who has become a 4th line player with limited effectiveness.  Dealing Bernier frees up $1.5 million towards a more offensively gifted forward, or a shutdown guy for your third line.

There is not much good to be said of trading Grabner away, who would have been a cheap fill-in for a top 6 forward spot should injuries strike throughout the year, but perhaps the Canucks felt comfortable with Cody Hodgson or Jordan Schroeder filling in, or for some free agent signings on the horizon to aid in that area.

The Verdict
All in all, the Canucks deal is reminiscent of a deal in 2003 between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Just before draft, Lightning GM Jay Feaster traded the 4th overall pick (Joni Pitkanen) to the Flyers in exchange for forward Ruslan Fedotenko, a top 9 forward.  This deal was criticized widely by media and hockey people, thinking that the Flyers stole the 4th overall pick.

Fedotenko however added to the Lightning line-up, complimenting a solid corps of forward, and helped win the Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay that same year.  The Flyers meanwhile took Pitkanen and traded him away shortly thereafter.  While Pitkanen may be the better player over Fedotenko, the deal made sense in hindsight for the Lightning.  Perhaps Ballard will serve a Fedotenko-like purpose for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks will regret trading Grabner, but will appreciate what Ballard brings to the team.  Fear not Canucks fans, Gillis knows there are positions to be filled, he is likely not done yet.


  1. I'm gunning for the Cup!

  2. I don't think Ballard can play the role Gillis thinks he can, after all, Team USA took players like Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik over Ballard. Still, he has been stuck on some dreadful teams so he will have a chance to put his best foot forward.