Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rentals . . .

Deadline rentals . . . the stuff of fan discussion, column inches, and pundit perspectives. 2007 was no different. Teams on the cusp of the playoffs or looking to make a deep run mortgaged some (or in a few cases, a lot) of their futures for a chance to grab the ring. Did it matter? Did it make a difference? Well, let’s take a look at the “seven-figure” rentals – the ones who earned at least $1 million this year and who are likely to ask for (if not command) more in free agency…

New York Islanders: Ryan Smyth (2007 salary: $3.5 million)
Record after trade: 8-7-4 (reg. season)/1-4 (playoffs)
The costs: Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra, 1st round pick (2007)

This deal perhaps had the most emotional baggage attached to it, Smyth being Mr. Oiler in Edmonton. Smyth was 5-10-15, even, in 18 games to close the regular season and 1-3-4, +1, in the five game loss to Buffalo in the first round. The Islanders have the crash-bang style that might appeal to a player like Smyth in free agency.


Buffalo Sabres: Dainius Zubrus (2007 salary: $1.85 million) and Timo Helbling
Record after trade: 11-6-2 (reg. season)/8-3 (playoffs)
The costs: Jiri Novotny, 1st round pick (2007)

The Sabres were tweaking their roster for a deep playoff run with this move. Zubrus didn’t exactly light it up for the Sabres in the 19 games after the trade, going 4-4-8, -3. So far in the playoffs, he is 0-8-8, +2, in 11 games. He plays a different role, not to mention a different position (right wing), than he played in Washington – one more suited to his skills it would seem. But, five of his eight assists were registered in his first and last games thus far in the playoffs; he has been largely silent on the score sheet otherwise. He hasn’t had a goal in more than a month, and his impact doesn’t seem to merit a $3,000,000 a year deal, either.


San Jose Sharks: Bill Guerin (2007 salary: $2.0 million)
Record after trade: 13-2-4 (reg. season)/6-5 (playoffs)
The costs: Ville Nieminen, Jay Barriball, 1st round pick (2007)

The Sharks – one of the youngest clubs in the playoff hunt – went looking for a veteran forward and landed Guerin for a relatively paltry price. Good thing. Never among the most notable playoff performers (96 games, 28-20-48, -15, coming into the playoffs over his career), he was positively invisible in the San Jose run into the second round. 0-2-2, -3, in nine games wasn’t part of the game plan here.


Pittsburgh Penguins: Gary Roberts (2007 salary: $2.25 million)
Record after trade: 14-4-2 (reg. season)/1-4 (playoffs)
The costs: Noah Welch

“Grit” is one of the key terms in the glossary of hockey. Roberts has it oozing from his pores. He is a chippy, ornery, belligerent cuss that every club in the NHL and their fans hate . . . unless he’s on your club playing for your fans. He was 7-6-13, -5, in 19 games. He didn’t miss a beat in the playoffs – 2-2-4, even, in the five game loss to the Senators. He’s a character guy, a “role” guy, and he played his part very well. The skill guys came up short against Ottawa. Roberts didn’t have enough of that to drag the youngsters into the second round, but that really isn’t his problem. However, Pittsburgh isn’t a team with a lot of prospect depth on the blue line, and this acquisition cost them Noah Welch.


Atlanta Thrashers: Keith Tkachuk (2007 salary: $3.8 million)
Record after trade: 12-5-1 (reg. season)/0-4 (playoffs)
The costs: Glen Metropolit, 1st round pick (2007), 3rd round pick (2007), 2nd round pick (2008)

Going 7-8-15, +8, to close the regular season made this deal look not nearly as bad as it did on paper (and it looked like desperation on the part of Thrasher management). But then there were the playoffs . . . 1-2-3, +2, in a four game sweep at the hands of the Rangers. There was also the curious lack of playing time befitting such an acquisition – less than 17 minutes a game. Atlanta had a club-wide meltdown in their first-ever playoff appearance, but isn’t that what trades like this are intended to avoid? The thing is, this isn’t even the worst deadline deal the Thrashers made (the Braydon Coburn for Alexei Zhitnik deal wins that prize…Zhitnik has two more seasons to run on a $3.5 million/year deal)


Carolina Panthers: Anson Carter (2007 salary: $2.5 million)
Record after trade: 9-9-1 (reg. season)
The costs: 2008 5th round pick

1-0-1, -3 in barely ten minutes a game over ten games. That’s a pretty good working definition of “bust.” That Carter cost only the 5th rounder next summer is the only saving grace.


Nashville Predators: Peter Forsberg (2007 salary: $5.75 million)
Record after trade: 12-6-5 (reg. season)/1-4 (playoffs)
The costs: Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, 1st round pick (2007), 3rd round pick (2007)

Forsberg was 2-11-13, +5, in 17 games to close the regular season. Given his recent history, he was remarkably durable down the stretch. He was 2-2-4, +2 in five playoff games, but the price paid to secure him makes that statistical line look very, very disappointing. One playoff win makes the deal look absurd.


Dallas Stars: Ladislav Nagy (2007 salary: $3.0 million)
Record after the trade: 16-5-5 (reg. season)/3-4 (playoffs)
The costs: Mathias Tjarnqvist, 1st round pick (2007)

Nagy was 4-10-14, -3, in 25 games to close the regular season. He was not a factor in the playoffs, going 1-1-2, +1, in the seven-game series against Vancouver. With offense at as much a premium as it was in that series (of course, Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco had a little to do with that), the lack of production was keenly felt.


If one looks at these deals in retrospect, the question that almost leaps from one’s mouth is, “why?” Rentals this year didn’t have close to their intended or desired effect. The most successful rentals, which I would argue here are the Zubrus and Roberts deals, reflect acquisitions of second-tier players who play rather specific roles. But, looking back across these deals (and only one of these guys is still playing), The Peerless can’t help but think that rentals are more to calm a restless fan base that wants their club to “do something” at the deadline than they are critical contributors to their new club’s success.