Given all the chatter surrounding the Canucks and Bruins making a potential deal, it seems like a foregone conclusion that something is going to happen between these two teams before the trade deadline. We know that Canucks management isn’t a fan of Zack Kassian, we know that Vancouver needs help on their left side D, and we know that Boston Bruins left side D Matt Bartkowski has been struggling for ice time in Boston and has ties to the Canucks organization. Putting two and two together, it seems like the heavy flirting between the Canucks and Bruins will eventually amount to a Kassian-for-Bartkowski swap, perhaps with some other stuff thrown in.
So let’s just get out ahead of this right now, what the heck is a “Matt Bartkowski”? Is it better than Zack Kassian? How will it help the Canucks? Read past the jump to find out.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Matt Bartkowski
Vancouver seems to have been telegraphing this move for a while, since MoneyPuck first wrote about this potential deal back in December. Here’s what he wrote back then:
If there’s any roster that I’d expect the Bruins to move its Mark Bartkowski. At 26, this is the first year that Bartkowski has been able to stick at the NHL level, and when he’s been in the lineup he’s received minutes consistent with a 4/5 defensemen. For that utilization, he’s posted better than average possession metrics, both in terms of even strength corsi (52.3%) and relative to his teammates (0.9). In fact, the only Canucks defensemen to post better corsi numbers than Bartkowski this year are Chris Tanev and Alex Edler. The caution flag is that he’s only played 16 games this year, and has been a healthy scratch on many occasions, so he really hasn’t played nearly enough time to reasonably conclude on his talent level. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Bartkowski ends up in a Canucks jersey should Benning and Chiarelli make a deal.
Bartkowski was a Florida Panthers 7th round draft pick in 2008 that was acquired by Boston in the deal that saw D Dennis Seidenberg join the Bruins in exchange for a 2nd round draft pick (Alex Petrovic) and some AHL grit. He’s about average NHL size at 6’1, 196 lbs, and turns 27 near the end of this season. The Hockey News describes Bartkowski as a “solid puck mover” that “skates very well and is plenty mobile from the back end” and “likes to be engaged in the play and isn’t afraid of physical contact.”
The numbers support a physical tendency to Bartkowski’s game, as he’s been credited with the second most hits per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 of any Bruins D-man, behind only Kevan Miller. This scouting report from 2012 has the following to say about Bartkowski’s style of play:
Bartkowski is a very strong two-way defender with good mobility and size. He plays a robust game and uses his body effectively along the walls and in open ice. He also has a good outlet game and knows how to support the offense, but isn’t a real pace pusher offensively. His defensive game is strong being a good one-on-one defender who knows how to maintain good gaps, read the play, and cover passing lanes.
His current $1.25 M/yr contract expires a the end of this season, after which he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. It’s unlikely he’ll command much of a raise however, as he’s yet to score an NHL goal in the regular season and has been a frequent healthy scratch with the Bruins, appearing in just 20 of their 48 games this season, and none in the month of January. If Jim Benning makes a trade for Bartkowski, it’s safe to assume that he will work to avoid free agency, however.
Frequent observers of the Bruins tell me that Bartkowski is prone to making the big mistake, so he’d be somewhat similar to Luca Sbisa in that regard, but he’s otherwise a solid defender that many believe should be in the Bruins lineup over more frequently used Kevan Miller. His possession numbers seem to support this too – he’s a 53.3% Corsi player over his past 84 games in a depth role compared to Miller’s 50.1%.
He is a negative for CorsiRel however, but some of that can be attributed to Zdeno Chara seeing the ice the majority of the time when Bartkowski was on the bench. In terms of Stephen Burtch’s dCorsi metric, Bartkowski has basically had a negligible effect on what’s expected from an average player in his role, indicating that he’s roughly an average to slightly above average puck possession player.
Bartkowski has been fairly effective at pitching in on offense too, despite having never scored a regular season NHL goal. His assist rate is very good, as his 0.9 A/60 ranks him 1st on the Bruins since the beginning of last season, and also would rank him 1st on the Canucks in the same time frame by a considerable margin, though this is likely inflated by a very favourable 9.1% on-ice shooting percentage.
All in all, it sounds like Bartkowski is the lite-version of the player Keith Ballard was supposed to be, which is a mobile and physical two-way guy that can help out a little bit in all facets of the game. Put it all together, and you a picture of a very serviceable second-pair guy on most teams:
Courtesy of the criminally under-followed Domenic Galamini (@MimicoHero on Twitter)
Keep in mind that shooting percentage regression is likely to pull Bartkowski’s A/60 and Pts/60 down into the second-pair range, but that’s still a player that every NHL team would benefit from having – including the Boston Bruins.
The Fit With Vancouver
As a left-handed defender, Bartkowski will likely slot in on the 3rd pairing on Vancouver’s defensive depth chart behind Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis – basically the same role he’s been tasked with playing in Boston. This should bump one of Luca Sbisa or Ryan Stanton to the pressbox, and the other down to waivers and possibly Utica once Kevin Bieksa returns. This could also enable the Canucks to deal either Stanton or Sbisa too – perhaps the Blues would be willing to part with Magnus Paajarvi for Ryan Stanton and some cap savings.
We already know that both Sbisa and Stanton have been shaky at best this year and cataclysmic at worst, so Bartkowski is a pretty definite upgrade on both right now. He will help the Canucks defense corps, and make that six-man unit better for the rest of 2014-2015. However, whether the addition of Bartkowski provides a net gain for the Canucks is dependent on if losing Kassian hurts them more.
We know that Kassian took a step forward last season in fairly difficult circumstances, and we also know that he’s struggled to take a second step forward thanks to a combination of inconsistent play, an ill-timed finger injury, a lack of trust from the coaching staff, and some awful puck luck. As of this writing, Zack Kassian is 602nd out of 612 NHL skaters that have played over 200 minutes of 5v5 time in PDO, which goes to show that at least some of his perceived faults aren’t really on him.
Still, Kassian is a useful, if flawed and misunderstood, hockey player:
Also courtesy of Domenic Galamini (@MimicoHero)
Kassian is dangerous (in a good way) with the puck in his hands and below average defensively too, though he’s nowhere near the liability that Bo Horvat and Derek Dorsett have been. He also makes Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson far better at pushing the puck up ice. For how ugly Kassian looks at times and how good Matthias looks at times, Matthias is remarkably better with Kassian playing his opposite wing than he is with anyone else.
Maybe it’s tough love to try and squeeze something out of Kassian that isn’t there, but the Canucks have been somewhat foolishly letting “good” get in the way of “useful” by healthy scratching Kassian. He makes mistakes and he doesn’t play the way they want, but he’s still 2.5 years younger than Bartkowski, and probably Vancouver’s best bottom-6 winger right now. Granted, it’s not a deep group.
Jannik Hansen should be able to be able to fill in this role well enough, but given the age curve of forwards, the mortality rate of bottom-6 players past 30, and Hansen’s age, this is likely a short-term option. One would hope that Nicklas Jensen can fill this role within the next couple of years, but Kassian was a more productive OHLer and twice as good offensively as Jensen has been in the AHL too.
Trading Zack Kassian will leave a hole in Vancouver’s lineup that will need to be filled, but it also addresses a need that desperately needs addressing. But that’s the nature of the beast – you have to give up something of value to get something of value.
Given the greater number of minutes that D-men play and the fact that he’d be immediately taking Luca Sbisa or Ryan Stanton out of the lineup, Bartkowski is likely more valuable to the Vancouver Canucks right now than Kassian is. Bartkowski may just amount to be a rental though, and at 26-27 years of age, probably won’t significantly help Vancouver beyond three or four years down the road.
Kassian for Bartkowski would be the type of “hockey trade” that Jim Benning has talked at length about making, and it would address a major need for the Canucks, but I can’t really shake the feeling that making this deal would amount to much more than shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Kassian at least has the potential to help you by the time your next group of foundational players are ready to contribute. Realistically, Bartkowski is a good band-aid for the next couple of seasons. We’ve seen how fast a guy like Kevin Bieksa has fallen off the cliff at 32-33, and remember Keith Ballard? His game went in the toilet at 28. If the Canucks begin re-tooling their core immediately, Bartkowski will be in his early to mid 30’s by the time they’ll likely be ready.
If we’re isolating our analysis to the rest of this season and assuming that no other significant pieces are included in the deal, I’d say that Vancouver wins this currently hypothetical deal hands-down. Bartkowski’s a better player, filling a greater need, in a more important position. Given the state of Vancouver’s core though, you have to ask the question whether it’s wise to be acquiring assets that have a good chance to depreciate into nothing, either through free agency or player aging, four or five years into the future.
So, assuming this deal a) is straight player-for-player, and b) actually happens, how should we score it? In my view, it’s a solid short-term win for the Canucks that raises valid questions about how prepared this regime is to plan for the future. Bartkowski is worth trading Kassian for, even if age is of moderate concern.