For a long time now, you could say that we at Canucks Army have been on Team Kassian.
We’ve campaigned for him to be included in the lineup when he’s been healthy scratched, analyzed if he’s really the power forward that Canucks management seems to want him to be, and looked at his playmaking skills to see if he’s a legitimately good passer. Most of the writers here have been fairly consistent in our view that the much maligned Kassian is a talented young winger who is providing a larger benefit than many observers feel he is, and has more upside to give beyond that.
Still, as has been the case since early in the season, the coaching staff doesn’t look like they’re going to come around on Kassian any time soon, and his name is still swirling around in trade rumours. He is, by many accounts, the Canuck most likely to be dealt before Monday’s deadline.
But we know that the Canucks long-term needs should take precedence over their short-term ones, and Zack Kassian is the youngest credible forward the Canucks have playing in their top-9 right now. Does it make any sense at all to be dealing a 24-year old with promising talent just before he enters the prime of his career? Find out after the jump.
Despite Kassian’s recent tear – one that’s led to a promotion up to the Sedins’ right wing – many people feel that if there’s a Canucks player who will be moved ahead of Monday’s deadline, it will be ‘the big guy’. Jason Botchford appeared on TSN 1040 on Thursday night and shared his sense of the situation:
I still think they’re still going to trade [Kassian]. They’ve definitely been trying to trade him for a long period of time here this season. And I think if anything his play has upped his value over the past few weeks, and I don’t get the impression at all that Willie’s gained this incredible faith in him. Although I will say (on Thursday vs. the Sabres) I was thinking heading into that third period that he was going to go back to (Radim) Vrbata and the twins and he said after the game that he thought about it, but he stuck with Kassian. He said Kassian had earned it, but still is anybody going to be surprised if next week rolls around both Richardson and Burrows come back and Kassian comes out of the lineup? I don’t think that would surprise anyone in Vancouver.
If the coach isn’t going to play a player, then unless the GM is in the business of micro-managing roster decisions (a practice I’m sure goes over real good with the coach), the player in question holds more value as a trade chip than as a body on the roster.
The goal of management is to maximize the value you derive from your assets. So if Kassian is going to be of more use as a guy you trade, then the rational approach is to trade him.
Is Kassian a Surplus Asset?
It’s tempting to evaluate a trade by just bounding your analysis to the players exchanged, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Dealing from a position of strength to fill areas of weakness is a well-understood concept and the very essence of a hockey trade in armchair-GM lexicon, but it’s still important to have a good understanding of the marginal benefits and marginal costs of moving assets from one part of your roster or timeline to another.
Saying “we have a lot of player type X and a need for player type Y” is good, but knowing exactly how dire your need in one area is and how large a surplus you have in another goes a long way in dictating exactly how much you should be willing to pay for a particular asset.
In other words, in order to determine if a Zack Kassian trade makes sense, we have to determine how much Vancouver will miss Kassian on the right wing, and how much they can benefit from an improvement in other places on the roster. Using Domenic Galamini’s HERO charts (click here for more information and to clearly see the axis labels), here’s how Vancouver’s current depth chart shakes down:
Lines here are: Sedin-Sedin-Burrows/Higgins-Bonino-Vrbata/Matthias-Richardson-Hansen/Kenins-Horvat-Kassian/Vey-Dorsett
|[Ronalds Kenins]||[Bo Horvat]|
And the Canucks D appears as follows:
Pairings here are Edler-Tanev/Hamhuis-Bieksa/Stanton-Weber/Sbisa-Clendening
In terms of raw production, Zack Kassian has actually been Vancouver’s most prolific right winger since the start of 2012-13, scoring at a credible 2nd line rate. Other than that, he’s been questionable away from the puck, and is behind Burrows, Vrbata and Hansen in terms of his defensive contributions. Still, he’s essentially the right-handed version of Shawn Matthias, and a more useful player at even strength than Linden Vey and Derek Dorsett, albeit in a more unsatisfying package given the expectations placed upon him.
The good news for Canucks management is that Vancouver has enough bodies that can play right wing that they shouldn’t miss Zack Kassian for the rest of this season. Assuming Ronalds Kenins remains with the big club, Derek Dorsett can simply move back to his natural position and Jannik Hansen can make the jump to the 3rd line. Linden Vey is also an option, but at this point shouldn’t be considered unless he’s an injury fill-in. Vancouver won’t lose too much in the way of offense, especially considering that Kassian’s recent hot streak is more percentage-driven than any material change to his game, and we should expect regression to come soon anyways.
The problem is that Jim Benning cannot only consider the rest of this season. The Canucks are very much a team in transition, and they’ll need bodies that have the potential to contribute five or six years into the future.
There is not a single player above Kassian on the depth chart that will be under 30 years of age 4 years from now, so if the Canucks trade Zack Kassian by Monday, they’ll be trading away the only legitimate NHL winger currently on the team that still has his prime in front of him.
Areas of Need
The Canucks aren’t a team with any real glaring holes. Instead, they simply have a collection of players who are just a little bit below average in each of their roles, which leads them to be just a little bit below average as a team. In particular, the second line struggles with defense and would be improved with a centre who scored at an identical rate to Nick Bonino but was a stronger play driver. Brad Richardson, as we’ve also previously discussed, is also a below average player in his role, but the recent play of Bo Horvat may make him an in-house upgrade before too long.
On the blueline, Yannick Weber and Ryan Stanton appear to be cheap and serviceable bottom-pair depth, but Kevin Bieksa’s fastball is rapidly deteriorating on the second pair, and Luca Sbisa is not an everyday NHL-caliber defenseman and in my estimation is bad at everything except hitzzz and pizzas. Once again, Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado may grow into in-house replacements on the right hand side, so it’s quality left-side defensemen for the post-Dan Hamhuis era that is the team’s most pressing need on the back end.
A centre and a left-handed defender should have the greatest marginal benefit to the Canucks, especially if you, like me, subscribe to the theory that the best teams are built through strength down the middle and on the back end. However, given that nearly every Canucks forward is either in their late 20’s or 30’s, they also have a need for young NHL-ready talent, preferably younger than Kassian is now. Think another Adam Clendening-type.
Trading Zack Kassian can make sense for the Canucks, filling needs both now and in the future, but Jim Benning has to seek a very specific type of return to make the deal worth it. While Vancouver has a surplus of non-top-3 wingers, they don’t have enough young NHL-ready forwards in the system to be able to make a Kassian trade for the sole purpose of addressing a short-term need.
This means that, most importantly, any return on Kassian cannot be older than the age Kassian is now. Vancouver has to be looking at getting younger and aiming to compete in the future rather than the present. Why? It’s really, really simple: because their team isn’t good enough to contend this season, and the core is aging and won’t be getting better.
The challenge is that smart teams aren’t really lining up to trade really good young players, especially for a guy they know three NHL head coaches haven’t trusted. GMs don’t act irrationally, and they won’t all of a sudden be knocking on Benning’s door with fistfuls of draft picks and prospects just because Kassian has 11 points in his last 10 games. In terms of Kassian trade targets, you’re likely looking for other guys perceived in the same way as he is: defective goods in one way or another.
This is where things get tricky for us, since we can’t know what each particular team thinks of their guys. We had no idea that Kassian was being traded the first time, and we’ll likely have no idea who he’s being traded for this time around, if he’s even traded at all. We’ve previously speculated that Matt Bartkowski may be on his way from Boston, but Bartkowski’s a 27-year old pending UFA and doesn’t make sense on his own as more than a band-aid.
There is one obvious target on the market though, and he’s a local kid to boot: 24-year old Ottawa Senators LHD Patrick Wiercioch.
“In a perfect world, (Wiercioch) is the guy they’ll move out.” Dreger on Senators defence logjam
— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) February 27, 2015
Wiercioch, like Kassian, has one year left on an RFA deal after this one, and is a frequent healthy scratch in Ottawa. Also like Kassian, he has a massive frame (Wiercioch is 6’5) and doesn’t really use it to lay the body. It sounds like the Senators expect certain things from a defender that big, and aren’t happy that they’re not receiving them, even though Wiercioch’s production and context-adjusted possession numbers point to a criminally underutilized bona-fide top-4 NHL D with offensive upside:
Remember when Nick Leddy got no TOI: pic.twitter.com/fpIrQIc6HQ
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) February 27, 2015
Now look at this. pic.twitter.com/ZT4uPsTBGo
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) February 27, 2015
The big fancystats knock against Wiercioch is that his Offensive Zone Start% is high and his Quality of Competition is low, so his numbers may be inflated. The thing is that Nick Leddy killed it with a high OZS% and low QoC, until he didn’t have either of those things anymore, so he proceeded to kill it even more.
The same thing happened with Cody Franson, who was slow and soft for a 6’5 guy but then kept being really good once his deployments got tougher and tougher.
Non-NHLers and fringe guys don’t post the numbers Wiercioch has even in deployment softer than a 10-ply roll of Charmin. If you’re looking to roll the dice on a still young D-man that may be had for pennies on the dollar, Patrick Wiercioch may be the best bet in the entire NHL.
One last note on Wiercioch, from the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch:
“Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, who has been an extra most of the season, has been playing lately and that’s no accident. There’s been little or no interest in Wiercioch from any teams and when veteran Chris Phillips is healthy the 24-year-old is the club’s eighth blueliner. Ideally, a non-playoff team like Edmonton, Buffalo or Carolina will bring in Wiercioch to finish the year and pay him the $2.7 million he’s scheduled to make next season because he may be better than what those teams have on their bluelines.”
While Wiercioch very likely isn’t coming to Vancouver (though let’s hope he is because he’s very nearly the ideal Kassian return), he represents the type of player that Jim Benning will have to target in order to make a productive Zack Kassian trade that addresses Vancouver’s short-term needs without sacrificing some of the future. It’s a very tricky line to walk, so be prepared for anything come March 2nd.