Good Ontario Boy Shawn Matthias is reportedly on the market. Time for #BoldMoves?
Image via wikimedia commons.
On Sunday night when the Vancouver Canucks host the Dallas Stars, the club is expected to roll with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mike Santorelli and Brad Richardson down the middle of their four forward lines. Or at least that’s how Vancouver’s forward groups will deploy start the game. That group of four centremen is surely as strong as any group the Canucks have iced in at last three years, which sadly says a lot about Vancouver’s persistent dearth of quality centre depth over the past few seasons.
While Santorelli has been excellent and Richardson has been servicable through the first quarter of the season, it’s pretty clear that the Canucks remain thin at centre. One potential sollution that has emerged over the weekend is Florida Panthers forward Shawn Matthias, who is reportedly available on the trade market. Would he make sense for the team?
Let’s take a quick and dirty look after the jump.
Interest and fit:
During Hockey Night in Canada’s Hot Stove segment on Saturday night, CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported that that where, "Kris Versteeg was the first domino to go down… there are some people who think the next one who may go down is Shawn Matthias." Friedman added that "I believe Vancouver is a team that has interest in him."
It would make some superficial sense if the Canucks were interested in Matthias, beyond the fact that he plays for Vancouver’s official AAAA affiliate the Florida Panthers. Matthias is, after all, a 6-foot-4, 220 pound centerman with hands.
Matthias also carries a reasonable $1.75 million cap-hit for this season and next. According to capgeek.com the Canucks have nearly $3 million in available cap-space once you factor in players like Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weiss being on Long-Term Injured Reserve. So they could conceivably add Matthias without necessarily sending salary the other way. That’s also probably appealing to the Canucks, and even more appealing to the Panthers.
There’s a lot to like about Matthias’ game: he’s generally produced offense at a good clip for a top-9 forward, he has really nice hands, and he’s a big fellow.
There are some warts to Matthias’ game, however, which isn’t surprising otherwise he wouldn’t be available on the trade market. For example, Matthias isn’t particularly good in the faceoff circle (48.9% over the past four seasons) and has rarely handled a large face-off burden over the past few seasons. Still, Matthias’ winning percentage in the dot isn’t overly concerning. Though 48.9% isn’t great, it’s not a "problem" and is unlikely to hurt a team in the big picture.
Actually concerning is the underlying data, and Matthias’ "with or without you" record in particular strikes me as a modest red flag. Since the 2010-11 season Matthias has played more than 300 minutes with 11 different teammates. All 11 of those teammates did better in terms of attempted shot differential without Matthias than they did when they played with him. Granted this analysis doesn’t account for deployment, linemates, and matchups, but that remains a concerning figure.
Also Matthias is in the midst of a tough season. Though his possession numbers are relatively strong on a pretty awful Panthers team (and he’s started two shifts in his own end of the rink for every one he starts in the offensive zone), Matthias has only managed four points in 20 games so far this season. That’s a pretty disappointing way for Matthias to have followed up on what was widely considered a "breakout campaign" in the lockout abbreviated 2012-13 campaign when he managed 14 goals in 48 games.
You may have guessed this already but Matthias’ "breakout campaign" in 2012-13 was something of a percentage driven mirage. The Panthers scored on well over 9% of even-strength shot taken with Matthias on the ice in 2012-13, while the former Belleville Bulls forward converted on 13.2% of all shots taken (well above his career 9.2% shooting clip). The flip side of that coin is that Matthias’ depressed offensive totals this season are also percentage driven as the Panthers forward has capitalized on only 6.3% of his shots individually, and the Panthers have scored on only 4.9% of shots taken with Matthias on the ice at even-strength. Or more simply put: Matthias isn’t as good offensively as he looked in 2012-13, but he’s better than he’s looked so far this year.
In some ways Matthias’ struggles in the early going this season are ephemeral enough that he might qualify as a smart "buy low" candidate. It’s an enticing opportunity once you factor in the instability afflicting the Florida Panthers at the moment. The club was recently sold to a new ownership group, and of late appear to be selling off useful pieces for pennies on the dollar for reasons that have little to do with on-ice performance…
The Cost of Doing Business:
Ultimately the wisdom of acquiring Matthias depends almost entirely on the cost of doing business. If Matthias is valued on the market similarly to newly minted Maple Leafs center Peter Holland then a couple of mid-round picks, a B- prospect and incurring, say, a $1.2 million dollar liability over two years (Joey Crabb, anyone?) ought to do it.
If Dale Tallon and the Panthers are looking for much more than that, however, then it’s not like this is an opportunity that the team can’t afford to miss.
It’s tough to ignore Matthias’ consistently iffy performance by the underlying numbers. Or the fact that he’s playing fourth line minutes this season for a bad team in a poor conference. If he can’t play top-nine minutes for the Panthers, how exactly is he a sollution as a possible second or third-line centre in Vancouver?
The answer to that rhetorical question is that Matthias isn’t a credible sollution in a specific top-nine role necessarily, but he would provide the club with additional flexibility (to, say, play Kesler on the wing whiel still rolling four lines) and additional depth. And in a league shaped by a whole host of devices designed to encourage "parity", depth is king.