Is Matt Bartkowski a Good Fit in Vancouver?

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:

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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%.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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  • Mantastic

    if i’m Boston, I don’t know why i would make a straight player for player swap. Kassian’s perceived value is very low and even Bartkowski sitting the rest of the regular season but providing post season D depth is better than what Boston gets with Kassian at the moment.

    • Larionov18

      Paarjavi, Holland, Colborne & Schroeder were/are all next to worthless from that draft.

      “But Kassian is ours!” says the dullard Canuck fan…

      3rd round pick may even be high.

      With the murkiness around the cap, it’s not even a lock that teams would take on Kassian and his $1.75 cap hit next year…

    • wojohowitz

      I hope that’s what Boston feels. This trade is only good for this year, and sucks going forward for Vancouver. Plus if bennign really feels that Sbisa is a top 4 dman in 2-3 years, that makes the deal even worse.

      • andyg

        He is a big LW with loads of skill but doesn’t seem to want to be consistent. If he he is put on a teem that is going on a play off run and put with skilled players he could be a huge asset. His cap hit is easy to absorb and only has one more year.

        I would either get a good return or keep him. A 26 year old D who will be a ufa next year will be very disappointing.

          • andyg

            You say that now. But if gets traded to someone like Boston and he plays on a line with Lucic and comes alive.

            You will be one of the first winners to get on this site cry about giving him away!

          • Mantastic

            no i wouldn’t and i would be shocked if he played better with Lucic. everyone tends to forget this but Kassian has played with the Sedins and played himself off of their line.

  • elvis15

    Kassian’s stock is trending downward but I’d keep him over Bartkowski.

    Bartkowski is a UFA after this season and, probably, a 5/6 D man. Also being a constant healthy scratch isn’t enticing either. I’d rather deal Kassian for a 2nd round pick this year or some other prospect.

    I’m thinking Utica could supply a better D option (Sanguetti, Biega – both getting positive reviews).

    I hope Benning passes on this trade.

    • Mantastic

      Agreed. This is a terrible idea. If we did trade Kassian — and frankly I think it’s giving up way too early — we need to get something out of it. Doesn’t CA always complain that the Canucks choose low-ceiling solid over swing-for-the fences skill? Why on earth would you trade a skilled power forward who has been woefully disappointing this year but was trending upwards even last year for a defenseman whose upside is stability on the 2nd pairing? Mantastic, I know you’re anti-Canucks bias is well established but you just sound dumb here. The question isn’t whether or not Kassian has panned out so far (he hasn’t but the general bitching about his “attitude” is irritating — it’s that kind of stupid thinking that trades skilled young players for plumbers) but what you’d get if you actually traded him. This article suggests that Bartkowski would make any team better — yet the team he plays for one that’s been hamstrung by injuries on D still has been sitting him in over half their games. Has Kassian been benched? Sure. Does he make the Canucks better when he’s on the ice? Absolutely, even if he isn’t scoring or doing a hell of a lot I’d still rather play him than to be honest Higgins or Dorsett. I’d rather that Kassian, Vey and Horvat learn something. If we actually packaged Kassian and got something for him decent in terms of a prospect or pick then I suppose it would be fine but Bartkowski isn’t it.

      • wojohowitz

        Well said, PB.

        This is a pointless trade that could be disastrous. Rhys mentions that Bartkowski could end up being a lite version of Keith Ballard (was supposed to be). Ballard was top defenceman on a horrible team when the Canucks aquired him. And ex-GMMG wrongly read that meant he was a top defenceman. He was not.

        Bartkowski is billed as a guy who can do all the little things well. But his own team doesn’t trust him when they need him? And he’s 26? Regardless of how you feel about the defenceman aging process, he’s not a puppy and he ought to have established himself by now. You can read, if you squint really hard, that this guy just needs a change of scenery. But maybe, like Ballard, you are simply fooling yourself.

        Sure, it’s an upgrade over what the team currently has at the 5/6 slot, but what that actually says about the team’s defence is more indicting than what makes Bartkowski enticing. Eating poo-smeared hamburger meat is better than going hungry for five days.

        This isn’t really worth it for the Canucks – and likley why it isn’t a done deal yet.

      • Mantastic

        Where is Mantastic showing bias?

        Steve Bernier was deemed worthy of a 2nd & 3rd round pick when he was acquired by Vancouver after showing better scoring ability than Kassian on his ELC.

        Just look at how little it took to acquire Holland, Colborne & Schroeder (all 1st rounders in the 2009 draft).

        Kassian is next to worthless no matter how much delusional Canuck fans wish it wasn’t so…

        • Larionov18

          The bias is in so clearly overvaluing Bartkowski, not in under appreciating Kassian. You can keep retreating to your ad hominem that anyone who utters a different view is “delusional” but the fact remains that Bartkowski is a terrible return on Kassian. In fact I’m shocked that you would suggest otherwise — why would we possibly gain from a marginal rental player? There is no denying that Kassian has lost much of what little value he once had and that he’s not going to fetch much. If that’s the case and the scenario that is laid out for us in this article is Kassian for Bartkowski I think the answer is obvious. It’s a useless sideways or negative move, not because Kassian is good but because Bartkowski does next to nothing to address our many (many many) other serious deficiencies. Please go ahead and call me delusional for saying so.

          • Mantastic

            no where did i over value bartkowski. Bartkowski remaining on the Bruins roster is more valuable to Boston than having Kassian on their team. D depth in the playoffs is always a good thing to have.

            Bartkowski’s value to the canucks is marginal at best but same as Kassian, it’s a bad trade for both teams, TBH

          • Mantastic

            “the fact remains that Bartkowski is a terrible return on Kassian”

            That is not fact. It is subjective delusion…

            Contending teams often give up something around a 3rd round pick for depth defenseman like Bartowski.

            Why would Boston deplete their defensive depth in a wide open Eastern Conference?

            If they actually had an interest in Kassian, they may as well give up a mid round pick or mediocre prospect for the privilege of taking on his $1.75 cap hit next year.

            The FACT that Paarjavi, Holland & Colborne are/were worth next to nothing should clue you in as to how little Kassian is worth…

          • wojohowitz

            You think that Bartkowski is worth a 3rd round pick? And that Boston, loaded as they are with underperforming forwards far north of Kassian’s contract and cap hit would shudder at the idea of taking on his relatively low deal?

            Yes, I’m the one who’s delusional

          • wojohowitz

            “You think that Bartkowski is worth a 3rd round pick?”

            Andrew Alberts was once worth a 3rd round pick…

            “And that Boston, loaded as they are with underperforming forwards far north of Kassian’s contract and cap hit would shudder at the idea of taking on his relatively low deal?”

            Are you completely unaware of Boston’s cap situation?


            How many teams were willing to take on Paarjavi on an EXPIRING contract?

            “Yes, I’m the one who’s delusional”

          • wojohowitz

            Yes you’re right, Andrew Alberts who had at that point established himself as an NHL regular (5 seasons as a full-time player) is exactly the same as someone who’s managed to be full-time for about 1. This, by the way, is not an argument for Alberts.

            I actually agree with much of what you write. I just don’t know why you’re digging your heels on this one. Put aside your incessant need to be correct — do you honestly believe that this idea is a good one for improving the Canucks? Or a kind of pointlessly middling deal that would benefit neither side?

          • wojohowitz

            Where have I said that I think the Canucks should make this swap?

            I’ve suggested a couple of times in the last few weeks that Kassian is worth little to nothing so the Canucks may as well keep him…

  • Fred-65

    Seems to me a dog for a dog. Why would you burden yourself with another marginal player. I recall on the Canucks site a video clip of the Kesler deal being discussed and to para phrase Benning he said ” I see Sbisa as a top 4 defenseman ” maybe we’re over estimating Bennings skills. It’s late in the season the fans see the ‘Nucks for what they are, wait until the summer. Sure give some of the youngsters a whirl see what they have so you can judge better your teams future needs. Jensen, Gaunce, Grenier ( do you resign him ? ) …shows us what you got guys

  • elvis15

    Wait, why do we need help on our left side D? Hamhuis and Edler certainly don’t need help, and that leaves only one more spot on that side that’s being covered currently by Sbisa and Stanton.

    Is he an upgrade really over them that would be more helpful than developing the younger Kassian? I don’t think so, and since he’s prone to mistakes as well and would likely be playing with Weber (who has more than twice as many points as Bartkowski this year by the way) I don’t see that as a great option for the 3rd pairing.

  • Larionov18

    I am all for Packaging Kassian with Markstrom and Stanton for a top 6 guy. Throw Higgy in the package as well. Not for another Left Handed dman unless he can captain the PP. Kassian for Bartkowkski…no thanks

  • Larionov18

    I don’t agree with this writers assessment of Bartkowski at all.

    Bartkowski has been given the chance to be a 2nd pairing guy in Boston and has clearly failed to impress. If he really is a “solid 2nd pairing” guy then why has Kevan Miller gotten the majority of injury replacement minutes? At 26 years old he is likely nearing the top of his curve and isn’t likely to improve significantly moving forward. If he were 22-23 years old with top pairing potential, a few years of club control, and another 4-5 years of development before he peaks then this would be a deal worth exploring, but as it sits right now this deal is not the right one for the Canucks to make.

    I’m sure Benning is feeling the heat to improve the team but this feels like a move just for the sake of making a move. Why not give Kassian one more season? It doesn’t hurt. His value can only go up from here and he will be worth more at the draft or at next year’s deadline than he is worth now. There is a good chance Bartkowski doesn’t re-sign so this is basically a rental deal. Giving up a player with Kassian’s potential, low cap hit, and club control for an unrestricted rental player who cant hold on to a roster spot (never mind handle 2nd pairing minutes) doesn’t make any sense.

  • Larionov18

    He’s a rental…not worth it. Bruins won’t resign him anyway, so we could pick him up in the summer. Not like Bartowski is going to make a difference when LA beat us in the 1st round, again.

  • wojohowitz

    Vancouver Canucks: 20 years of losing to a team in the finals and then misguidedly doing everything we can to become that team.

    When is Lucic’s contract up? Maybe we can sign him so he can come here and force the team to move the Sedins.

    Jim Benning has made a lot of dubious moves…I hope trading sideways for a player he doesn’t need for a player he arbitrarily doesn’t like isn’t one of them.

    I’m not saying Kassian is perfect, or that he’s even serviceable right now; I’m just saying that players who seem to perform the same on the Canucks seem to have a much, much, much longer leash.

  • wojohowitz

    To answer Rhys’ question, on the surface no. Left side has been overcrowded for the last couple of years.

    Unless it’s a move made to dump a contract and cap in the summer to make a decent push for Cody Franson. Then it fits pretty well for the moment and I can live with it.

  • Mantastic

    Fills a need for defensive depth on the LH side, saves the Canucks $500K on the cap hit this year, and gives them a total of $1.75 cap space next year (over keeping Kassian).

    With Sbisa’s $2.175 coming off the books as well, that would give us nearly $4 mill to spend on a d-man on July 1. I can see why JB might be thinking about it. I know if I was Tanev’s agent I would be leaning for this trade.