Campfires, beach days and the Boston Bruins dealing a cost controlled star right as they’re about to enter the prime of their career — it must be summer. This time it’s David Pastrnak in the crosshairs if we’re to believe this report from former general manager turned NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton.
— Brian Lawton (@brianlawton9) August 14, 2017
Pastrnak, 21-years-old, just finished his third season with the Bruins, scoring at nearly a point per game pace in 75 games mostly spent on Patrice Bergeron’s right flank. He’s now in line for a new contract and a hefty raise on the entry-level deal he signed three seasons ago. By Hockey-Graphs analyst Matt Cane’s supremely accurate contract model, Pastrnak should land about $6.1-million annually. That might explain, at least in part, why the two sides are at an impasse. I’d call it the smoking gun, if not for the Bruins owning just north of $10.1-million in cap space without any salary hurdles to clear in the coming year.
Sound familiar? In Vancouver, it’s Bo Horvat who’s mired in a summer of contract negotiations without a deal to his credit. Cane’s model doesn’t have a projection for Horvat (not that I’m aware of), but most in the industry assume his next contract will start at $5-million annually; the Canucks have just under $7.4-million cap space. The Canucks have expressed in no uncertain terms their desire to sign Horvat, and generally seem unconcerned about the possibility of this dragging on into next season.
What if the best deal the Canucks can strike with Horvat is the one that sends him out of town, though?
Pastrnak for Horvat. Would ya? https://t.co/91oLsHGbB0
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) August 14, 2017
Is a Horvat-for-Pastrnak trade feasible, and do the Canucks come out on top in this hypothetical trade scenario? That’s the implied question TSN 1040 AM’s Matt Sekeres posed to his followers on Twitter yesterday. Based on the nearly 80 responses to Sekeres’ tweet from his followers (presumably a Canucks-fan majority) the answer is a resounding no.
They might want to rethink that. Pastrnak bests Horvat in nearly every statistical category we can account for in this stage of their young careers. Whether by cumulative or raw counting statistics, Pastrnak is the far superior player to Horvat in each measure. Pastrnak’s almost a full year younger than Horvat, too. It stands to reason then that Horvat, who’s already surrendering ground, is closer to reaching his physical peak than the younger Pastrnak.
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An obvious feather in Horvat’s cap is that he’s a centre. That adds value to the Canucks lineup that Pastrnak is inherently incapable of providing. Horvat can take faceoffs and anchor a line; there aren’t many lines, or teams, built around a right winger. Horvat’s supporting cast leaves far more to be desired than Pastrnak’s, too. That might cover some of the ground Horvat loses in an apples-to-apples statistical comparison.
With the GAR (Goals Above Replacement) statistic that HockeyData’s Dawson Sprigings developed, we can account for some of these factors. For those new to the statistic, GAR is a metric that combines a series of statistics into one currency as a starting point for analysis on any given player. Its purpose is to provide a rough estimate of a player’s impact when one combines the different ways a player helps the team — i.e. Corsi, point production, etc. The value is in aggregate, relative to a replacement level player. It’s not perfect, and it’s developers and chief proponents are the first to admit as much, but it can work as a good starting point.
In Pastrnak’s case, his 12.3 GAR puts him in elite company. Horvat’s 6.1 GAR is less than half of Pastrnak’s. This is a metric that accounts for the added value of playing centre and tries to control for teammate effects, and it paints Pastrnak as the far superior player.
If the Bruins are looking to offload Pastrnak for contract demands they deem excessive or for any other reason, then it’s absolutely in the Canucks best interests to make that trade call. And if that means parting ways with Horvat, who’s an above average second line centre at just 22-years-old, then that’s the type of tough call they should be willing to make.
Realistically, it isn’t a call they’re ever likely to even have to consider. I don’t want to discount Lawton’s credibility, but I’ve yet to hear about Pastrnak’s supposed availability anywhere else. When TSN’s Bob McKenzie starts to speculate, it’s DEFCON 1. Until then, it’s just food for thought. But what a tasty morsel at that, in these, the dog days of summer.