The Numbers Game: Evaluating the Seguin/Eriksson Deal

Harry How

In a move that ships a young budding star out of town, what are the long term and short term ramifications of the July 4th fireworks between Dallas and Boston?

So, did anything happen over the holiday? What'd I miss?...

With the drunkenness of the Nation's birthday in the past and the hangover quelled by caffeine and bacon, it's time to take a non-reactionary, rational view of the Boston-Dallas trade that doesn't involve threats to jump off of anything. In the cold light of day, just how does yersteday's seven player trade look?

Comparing the Key Pieces

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What We Got:

Congratulations Boston! You've acquired a 27 year old former 36 goal scorer who has put up three seasons of 70+ points. He carries with him a good deal of defensive responsibility, seeing middle-of-the-pack PK time. He's locked up at a steal of a deal at $4.25m for the next three seasons - 250k less than Brad Marchand!

What We Gave Up:

Congratulations Dallas! You've acquired a 21 year old 29 goal scorer who has put up one season of 67pts at 20 years of age. There are knocks against his defensive game, though it has been steadily improving. He's locked up at what looks like a questionable deal of $5.75m that has potential to become a steal as the cap rises over the six seasons it spans.

Digging Deeper

While one could look at counting stats and come away with the impression that Boston has acquired the better player, matters aren't as cut and dry as they seem. Even viewing on this superficial basis, Eriksson's career peak to date only outpaces Seguin's 19/20 yr old campaign by 6 points.

Looking at ES production over the past few seasons, it turns out that Seguin has the edge:

As we see above, in Seguin's two full seasons skating a regular shift for the Bruins, he has outpaced Eriksson significantly in goal scoring and marginally in overall point production.

One might by extension believe from the slight advantage in scoring in the 2011/12 season that Eriksson therefore must have performed better on the powerplay, an area the Bruins are hoping he can help upgrade. That belief would be mistaken. With Eriksson scoring 3.13pts/60 with the man advantage to Seguin's 4.09, it's clear that the counting stat advantage here is attributable entirely to deployment. Eriksson receiving more time on the PP, and higher TOI overall, is the only reason for his higher production. Seguin's efficiency is better. This year, Seguin's PP pace dropped to 3.56, still higher than Eriksson's marginal increase to 3.25.

Being blinded by Eriksson's gaudy goal total in 08/09, now five years removed from the present day, would be to miss an obvious fact in the present. For all the gripes about Seguin's drop in production, falling a full two goals off pace from his prior 29 goal season, Eriksson took a sharper drop. The ex-Dallas forward was on target for 49.5 points over 82 games to Seguin's 54.6. One hopes that this is not an indication of decline and merely a blip, but more on this in a moment.

The biggest upgrade appears to be with Eriksson's defensive game. We can't evaluate Seguin based on PK performance as he's never deployed in this capacity by Claude Julien, so we'll score this as a win to the incoming forward. That said, performance on the 17th ranked PK doesn't represent a home run. Out of regular PK forward receiving over a minute and a half per game, Eriksson did see fewer GA/60 than all but Ott and Dvorak. However, in both recent years Boston's other outgoing piece Rich Peverley saw less. Granted, goaltending and d personnel plays a wee bit of a role here, so that's not to say that Eriksson can't excel in Boston. He held an impressive zone shift 4v5, corroborating the perception that he's good at clearing the puck out of trouble. He'll be a solid addition to the PK unit, though the strategy of deploying top six forwards in a penalty killing capacity has its drawbacks.

At 5v5, we are able to compare, albeit with numerous caveats and outside influences. Eriksson hasn't been rolled out in a wholly defensive capacity, seeing above 50% offensive zone starts and second line RELQoC. Fiddler, Nystrom and Dvorak saw the majority of the tough stuff - to claim that Eriksson is a defensive stalwart is slightly overblown. Similarly, Seguin was rolled out against the QoC tier after Kelly and Peverley's duties while seeing just over 50% starts. Their usage for both teams is roughly the same, with neither seeing a significant difference in defensive responsibilities beyond the PK. While goaltending and defense, not to mention linemates, play a significant role when comparing across teams, goals against were higher with both Eriksson or Seguin on the ice than off, though markedly more so for Eriksson. Combined with the young buck's scoring advantage, Seguin carried a much stronger +/- REL, contributing more prominently to the scoring differential for the team. Eriksson, typically hovering around a net 0, came out negative this past season.

From a possession standpoint, Eriksson again trails, falling in the single digits to Seguin's team leading 20 plus CorsiRel. Again we should factor linemates into the equation as Bergeron is just a smidge better than Derek Roy, though Seguin got comparable puck possession results out of time with Krejci as he did with Bergy. Both Eriksson and Seguin benefitted more from their linemates than the linemates from them, but Seguin's overall Corsi picture is stronger.

While Seguin edges out Eriksson in most regards above, I want to stress that the margin separating the two players at this moment is quite thin. These are very strong comparables and we should not see much of a drop in production, if any, in the transition. However, we should assume that the drop in TOI that will come with Julien's approach to ice time distribution will depress Eriksson's totals slightly relative to his Dallas production. All in all though, similar players from a scoring standpoint. We should be able to rest easy in the near term.

The Rub

Ah, but then there's age. With a mere six year difference between players, it's not as if we acquired a complete greybeard but there's still some cause for concern in getting older in a lateral move that sends a younger player out. Eriksson is a legit top line forward and is in the prime of his career, but that prime is finite.

Ken Krzywicki of Hockey Analystics did a study on NHLer career production curves back in 2008. He examined only forwards, looking at players whose careers began as early as 79-80 and as late as 95-96, providing up to 25 years of career data through the 05-06 season. His findings were that production rates begin to decline after the fourth full year of NHL play, with steeper declines for those whose careers began later. For a 22 year old NHL entrant, 26 should be the expected peak.

Screen_shot_2013-07-05_at_10

(From http://hockeyanalytics.com/. Depicted above is the rate of increase to career points on the left, represented as a percentage of career totals, and years in the league on the bottom.)

Those who make the jump earlier tend to have an earlier peak but a less pronounced downward slope and greater longevity overall. Granted, this longevity is likely influenced by survivorship bias of largely only top players lasting well into their late 30's/early 40's, and the same high skill players cracking the league early.

Numerous other studies have corroborated the findings herein, such as this at Arctic Ice Hockey. QuantHockey has also pointed out that the simple method of looking at the mode of player age and production in a given year produces the same resultes: approximately 26yr old peak.

What this means for us is that we've acquired a player who is likely entering the downhill slope of his career, and troublingly may have already begun the descent last year if the drop in his production isn't wholly PDO driven. Fortunately, given the short season, it may well be. For Seguin, it is likely his peak production years still lie ahead of him, if only for a couple more seasons before he plateaus.

None of this is to say that Eriksson is guaranteed to fall off a cliff or that Seguin will shoot into the stratosphere. Both will remain productive forwards, but it's wishful thinking to believe that Eriksson will maintain a 70pt pace throughout the remainder of his contract, taking him up through his 31st birthday.

Are there outliers to this data who maintain their production well into their 30s? Obviously yes. Selanne? Jagr? Ever heard of them? You also have late bloomers like Ray Whitney or the Sedins. But looking at the normal progression of a forward, if you're a betting man you should bet the under on Eriksson. That his career is already following the above curve - right down to the peak in the fourth full season - should be cause for some concern if you're wondering about the long term implications of trading youth.

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The Leftovers

With the above laid out concluding that the swap is pretty much a wash but for the long term, it's worth stressing that this is far from a one-to-one trade and that there are some other future assets that could factor into the equation.

Also in the package is Joe Morrow, a two-way defenseman selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2011 draft and shipped to Dallas as part of the Morrow-for-Morrow deal. Not a huge point producer since hitting point-per-game in an over-age year in the WHL, Morrow's upside projects below that of Krug and Hamilton, placing him third on the Boston PMD depth chart. With both of the other players graduating to the big club, restocking the pond is a necessity, though this particular fish lacks the high ceiling of his predecessors.

Undrafted winger Matt Fraser has the size and snarl that befits the Bruins ethos, though at 23yrs old he has limited time remaining to crack the big league on a regular basis. He's had spot appearances in Dallas while performing well in the AHL. Given his late bloom and middling performance in junior, he's a player that needed to grow into a bigger body and learn to use it, but his ability to contribute above the third line at any point in his career should be in question. He should be a good depth addition and a boon for Providence with their likely outgoing players, but is a bit on the old side to be considered a high value prospect.

Last among the incoming guys is Reilly Smith, another solid Providence addition who should be viewed with serious skepticism as an NHL forward. A 2009 Dallas 3rd round pick, at 22 he's also a touch old as a prospect, though he offers better offensive upside than any of the other youngsters having produced at an impressive clip in against tougher NCAA competition. Former Miami of Ohio partner with Providence's #2 scorer Carter Camper, we'll be seeing a reunion of small forwards in RI. The crux of the issue with Smith is his size, not that small forwards can't contribute. At six feet tall, the kid is charitably credited with 160lbs, giving up nearly 20 to the shorter Camper. Successful small forwards like St Louis also typically carry about 15-20 more points of muscle than Smith has on his beanpole frame. That he's not physically developed by this point is indicative that there's significant work ahead of him to be capable of being a valuable NHL contributor. His offensive tools are such that he was able to contribute 9 points for Dallas this year in spite of his deficiencies, though this is a mere 20 pt pace for a kid with very good finish.

Tossed in to Dallas are ol' pal Rich Peverley and ECHL defenseman Ryan Button. I've thus far left Peverley largely out of the discussion, though his production - declining as it is - will be missed. However, he is not a key piece of this deal. As noted earlier this week, Ryan Spooner is conceivably capable of assuming a comparable role and producing similarly, if not to Raptor Jesus' top years, at least at his recent. The loss of his production is not Eriksson's to shoulder. It can be replaced internally.

Also not inconsequential is that this trade provides a $4.75m cap dump. However, this is valuable only inasmuch as the space is utilized. With Horton walking for free agency, these savings need to be applied to the still-gaping hole on RW. Eriksson does fill the 1 spot, leaving only a 2RW to be addressed. It is imperative that the Bruins exercise their newfound flexibility and acquire a suitable replacement, which are unfortunately in short supply on the market.

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The deal on The Deal

In summation, the sky isn't falling, though if you've a tinge of pessimism to your gut reaction to this announcement it is certainly justified. Gone is a 21yr old 30ish/70ish scorer, an aging, overpaid defensive forward capable of 40pts and a dead-end prospect for a 70pt forward with three cheap cost-controlled years, a B+ PMD prospect that projects below others in the system, and two forwards with high third line ceilings. While next year's ramifications are minimal, this is not what I would classify as a great haul given the age and potential of the key piece sent to Dallas.

Many are projecting Eriksson to fill Seguin's role alongside Bergeron, though the fact that he's some defensive responsibility makes him more valuable to the Krejci unit, which was famously - and quite characteristically - exposed defensively against Chicago. If Eriksson joins the LuKE(???) line, he shouldn't see too much of a counting stat dip given that his minutes will only be reduced slightly vis a vis his Dallas usage. Furthermore, he might see more offensive zone deployment if Julien maintains the status quo, which could offset the TOI discrepancy. Meanwhile in Providence, the three new pieces should contribute to continued success and another playoff appearance, so long as Svedberg isn't making the North-ward drive.

In the short term, Seguin for Eriksson is a defensible lateral move that could prove to be an overall upgrade in the first line RW slot. In the long term, this has high potential for disaster, with Seguin the Cam Neely to Eriksson's Pederson. And that's the last time you'll ever hear Seguin compared to Neely in any fashion. Forefeited is a young, cost controlled player who reached comparable production at a much younger age to the forward obtained, who projects to decline within the remaining, admittedly very cheap, contract. Taken with the fact that there are no blue chip prospects included in the deal, it would seem that Chiarelli fell short of his desired return.

Six years of a top forward with likely built-in improvement traded for three years of a top forward with built in decline, along with some young spare parts that don't project as top six/top four.

Lastly, it wouldn't be a holistic trade evaluation if we didn't consider the conditions that created the need for the move. Ignoring whatever rumored personality problems existed with Seguin and the possibility of managerial overreaction to a playoff shooting percentage anomaly (which would be a motivator that would worry this writer the most), the cap situation is the true culprit that motivated this move. And that situation is wholly manufactured by Peter Chiarelli's existing decisions. Providing thirty-something, third line defensive forwards three million dollars for high-PDO career years put him in something of a pickle, as did spending 3.5m on the fourth line, including a cool million for a part-time pugilist. For those with short memories, overspending for depth also played into Kessel's unceremonious departure - we're witnessing history repeating. I'll not factor this trade into the prior - that way lies madness - but it should be noted that giving up on the previous 21yr old player too early has resulted in the acquisition a forward both older than and inferior to Kessel. It's hard to defend the move as is, though any damage is slight for the next couple years. Viewed in a wider context it becomes pretty damning.

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