What Did the Bruins Really Get at the Trading Deadline?

This guy might be a better pickup than you think.

Trade Deadline 2012 has come and gone. And the biggest deal of the day was probably Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian. Feel the excitement!

The Bruins, of course, picked up Brian Rolston, Mike Mottau and Greg Zanon in exchange for two prospects who are only "prospects" in the loosest possible definition of the word, and Steven Kampfer. No Rick Nash, no Ray Whitney, just a bottom six forward and a couple third-pair defensemen. Not exactly earth-shattering.

We've heard plaudits like "veteran leaders" and "character guys". As far as I can tell, these terms are euphemisms for "they're old, and not very good, but they always work hard in practice and buy a round of beers for the guys after the game." I suppose there's some nominal value in that, but on a team that just won a Stanley Cup and has been playing well this season, "leadership" and "character" and other vague quantities that set hearts aflutter wouldn't seem to be an issue.

So is there more here? Let's take a look and see.

Brian Rolston

Rolston has been abjectly bad this year, rocking a -1.4 GVT, meaning that Andrew Bodnarchuk has been worth 1.4 more goals than he has this year, despite scarcely stepping onto the ice. That ranks 892nd in the NHL (out of 937...want to guess who's #937? I'll give you a hint: calling him the new Blaine Lacher is an insult to Lacher), so there's not much to recommend Rolston to the Bruins. Rolston was clearly Peter Chiarelli's Plan D, if not even further down the alphabet; the Islanders placed him on waivers the day before, and he went unclaimed. Trading two guys for him and Mike Mottau seems like poor prospect management. As it stands, the two guys they gave up, Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin had been floating between Reading and Providence since they each arrived in the Boston system. In RIendeau's case he's been doing that for a few years; Chiarelli and Julien and Murray would get on his case for not coming into camp conditioned well enough (hat tip to Sarah for the lowdown). So, while the Bruins didn't give up much, 24 hours previous, the Bruins could have had Rolston for free and obviously didn't really want him. But, the price on Rick Nash was too high, the Coyotes and Ducks decided they'd rather try to squeak into the playoffs and get clobbered by the Canucks or Red Wings than trade the diminishing assets known as Ray Whitney and Teemu Selanne, and suddenly, there just weren't any scoring wingers on the market.

Quick aside: what more does Scott Howson have to do to get fired? He has a huge seller's market for a guy whose price is going to plummet once teams realize that he will probably never hit 70 points in a season again, who's due $7.8M per year until 2018 and who desperately wants out....and he keeps him. This is after turning two mega-prospects into Jeff Carter and his crummy contract, then spinning Carter off for the thoroughly mediocre and laughably overrated Jack Johnson. Maybe Peter Chiarelli can get Ryan Johansen for Jamie Arniel, Colby Cohen and a six pack of Sam Adams. It's worth a try.

Anyway, due to Howson's incompetence, as well as the wishful thinking by Bryan Murray and Don Maloney and a few others, circumstances changed to the point that the only thing the Bruins could do was take a flyer on Rolston and hope he still had some magic left. So, does he?

Well, actually, yes. He just might.

The negative GVT is bad. The -12 rating is poor and the 9 points in 50 games pathetic. But looking at Rolston's advanced stats, something jumps out: his relative Corsi is a very healthy 5.6, meaning that Rolston was outshooting his Islander teammates, and an overall -0.31, meaning the Islanders were shooting pretty much even with the opposition with he was on the ice. Rolston did the same thing in the 2010-11 season with New Jersey with a 9.3 relative Corsi an a 10.06 overall. In 2009-10, he was a -0.1 relative Corsi, but an overall 2.32. His Corsi numbers stunk in 2008-09, but in 2007-08 with Minnesota, he was, again, among the team leaders. So, if you believe in shots as a measure of success and good play (and you should), Rolston may be an undervalued player.

Great, but what's with the rotten GVT? Well, that's an easier answer and (hopefully) an easier fix. For his career, Rolston is averaging a shooting percentage of 8.9%, and for the three years previous to this, he was in the mid 8s. This year? A Scott Gomez-esque 3.6%. Players don't just fall off a cliff like that. Rolston is having some seriously bad puck luck, and regression to the mean would make him a much better player.

Mike Mottau

I'm not going to spend much time on Mottau, because it seems clear that he was a pickup in the Shane Hnidy mold: he's experienced, he's not likely to completely embarrass himself, and so the team trusts him more than, say, Matt Bartkowski if disaster strikes.

Oddly enough, it wasn't that long ago that Mottau was a pretty useful player. From 2007-08 to 2009-10 with New Jersey, he piled up a cumulative 13.6 GVT; an average of 4.5 per season, and a number more than good enough to earn a second-pairing spot with most teams. However, injuries have derailed his late-blooming career: a puck in the eye cut his 2010-11 season short after just 20 games, and the recovery was long enough that he opted to have a hip surgery done as well, and this year, he's been limited to 30 games by a concussion. He turns 34 in March, and it's hard to imagine that another career renaissance is in store.

If Mottau is seeing significant time in the playoffs, it's probably because a spate of injuries has wracked the Boston blue line.

Greg Zanon

Alas, the Bruins couldn't get Marek Zidlicky at the deadline. Not that Zidlicky's any good (New Jersey badly overpaid for him), but it would have been fun to roll with a Z-themed defense. Maybe they can lure Zarley Zalapski out of retirement.

The price for Zanon bothered me a bit: I've professed my love for Steven Kampfer previously, and won't belabor the point here except to say that young, skilled defensemen with plus skating don't exactly grow on trees. Be that as it may, the Bruins soured on Kampfer and he clearly wasn't seeing ice time this year, so they might as well move him for something useful. Is he an Andrew Raycroft, who they traded at the perfect time? Or is he a Shawn McEachern, and they'll be kicking themselves in five years? We'll see.

Zanon, of course, is a great shot-blocker. You already knew this, and with Dennis Seidenberg, the Bruins have two of the premier shot-blocking defensemen in the NHL. (I've never understood why Zdeno Chara isn't a better shot blocker, but at age 34, I suppose he is what he is.) It's plain to see that good shot-blocking teams frustrate the Bruins; look at their series with Tampa Bay last year for an example. So, if you can't beat 'em (or at least, can't beat 'em consistently), join 'em. Can't knock that. The Bruins will get no offensive output from Zanon. With 54 career points, in 7 NHL seasons, he is the epitome of a stay-at-home defenseman. By comparison, Chara's career high for points in a season is 51. But that's fine; Boston has plenty of offensive skill on the blue line; what they needed was a shot-smothering stay-at-home type. I've heard reports that Zanon isn't always quick to make a hit or stand up for a teammate. Maybe that's true, maybe not, but all I know is that the spoked B has turned wallflowers like Benoit Pouliot into big hitters and quiet guys like Chris Kelly into fighters, so I'm less worried about that.

Like Rolston, Zanon was viewed as something of a backup plan. The Bruins may or may not have been in on Hal Gill before he was dealt to Nashville (I suspect they were), and were reportedly outbid for Johnny Oduya before he was traded to Chicago, so they settled on Zanon. Unlike with Rolston, however, there's ample evidence to suggest that settling for Plan C may not have been quite so bad. Here's a chart with some numbers pertinent to a stay at home defenseman:

Year Age GVT Offensive zone start percentage Qual Comp QC rank on team
2008-09 28 4.9 42% .023 2nd
2009-10 29 3.6 41% .038 1st
2010-11 30 1.5 37% -.008 3rd
2011-12 31 2.0 45% -.028 6th

Here's that same chart for Hal Gill:

Year Age GVT Offensive zone start percentage Qual comp QC rank on team
2008-09 33 3.1 45% .033 3rd
2009-10 34 0.8 46% -.032 5th
2010-11 35 1.5 46% .063 1st
2011-12 36 4.9 47% -.043 4th

And for Johnny Oduya:

Year Age GVT

Offensive zone start percentage

Qual comp QC rank on team
2008-09 27 8.7 51% .028 2nd
2009-10 28 4.1 55% .060 2nd
2010-11 29 2.7 47% .008 4th
2011-12 30 2.1 47% -.010 5th

(Credit to Behind the Net and Hockey Prospectus, as always, for the numbers. If you've any interest in statistics in hockey, please, take some time to check them out.)

A couple things jump out at me after looking at those. First, Johnny Oduya is a player in steep decline. I didn't include 2007-08 stats, but Oduya had a sterling 11.3 GVT then. From 11.3 GVT to 2.7 in the span of three years, and with ice time that's not getting significantly harder (he gets less offensive zone time than he used to, but he's also facing weaker competition) is a bad sign.

Second, it's increasingly hard for me to believe that Hal Gill, who will turn 37 next month, is going to continue this level of play through the playoffs. Admittedly, size ages much better than speed, but Gill hasn't played this well since the first Bush Administration. (Dubya, that is, not his old man; Gill's not THAT old.)

Third, Zanon looks like he might be a player in decline, but look again. Remember that GVT is a counting stat; if you're not playing, you're at a disadvantage. Zanon has played 40 games this year, and has otherwise been as healthy as a horse, so for the sake of argument, let's prorate his GVT over a full season, and do the same for Gill and Oduya. Zanon comes out to a 4.2, Gill an impressive 7.0 and Oduya 2.7. What's more, Zanon has had significantly tougher ice time than the other two over that time. This is a guy who has logged some serious shutdown-type minutes. And if you subscribe to the belief that GVT overrates offensive production and underrated defensive production, so much the better.

Maybe Gill is playing better this year, but I wouldn't hold my breath expecting that to continue. And even if you do, it's very hard to make an argument that Oduya would have been a better pickup than Zanon. In this case, Plan C may have been the best option of all.

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