Monday, November 29, 2010

Brooks, Brodeur, and Bad Trade Ideas

We find ourselves agreeing more often than we used to with our favorite crazy columnist, Larry Brooks of the New York Post. We attribute this to either the advancing years or wood beetles boring into our cranial spaces. But Brooks wrote a column published on Sunday that really had us wondering how much he really pays attention to teams not in the greater New York metropolitan area.

The argument concerned the current plight of the New Jersey Devils and the possibility that in order to save their future they might have to trade much of their present, including perhaps Martin Brodeur. The context in which Brooks makes this argument is the experience of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2006-2007 season. The Flyers of that season were skating their way to a 22-48-12 season, the 22 wins representing the third lowest total for a Flyers team in club history.

In an effort to minimize the damage, Flyer general manager Paul Holmgren traded a legendary, but aging star – Peter Forsberg – to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and Nashville’s first and third round picks in the 2007 draft (that third was eventually traded to the Caps and became Phil Desimone).* Upshall later was traded to Phoenix with a 2011 second round draft pick for Daniel Carcillo. Parent was traded to Nashville for Dan Hamhuis and a conditional pick in the 2011 draft. Hamhuis, a pending free agent, did not come to terms with the Flyers and was traded to Pittsburgh for a third round choice in 2011.

The point Brooks is trying to make here is that the Flyers saw the problem looming in their future – a team that would struggle with aging players – and sought to mitigate that damage by moving an asset for youth (never mind that he got the particulars wrong).

The relevance to the Capitals comes later in the column…

“What [Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello] has on his team are nine players with no-trade clauses who would have to be massaged in order to be moved -- impending free agents Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott are worthy -- and what he has is Martin Brodeur.

“Understand, the only way a Brodeur trade becomes a part of the conversation is if the all-time goaltender himself initiates the conversation with Lamoriello.

“If that were to happen, if Brodeur, 38 and on the penultimate season of his contract, were to tell Lamoriello that he'd be OK with a trade to a blue-chip contender in need of a blue-chip goaltender, oh, and let's just say he names Washington, then Lamoriello might well have his Forsberg and the Devils might well have John Carlson or Karl Alzner -- or Mike Green? -- plus a young forward along with a critically needed No. 1.”

Let us see if we have this right. The Devils, hypothetically, would move Martin Brodeur to Washington for one of John Carlson, Karl Alzner, or Mike Green; a young forward (Eric Fehr? Tomas Fleischmann? Marcus Johansson?); and a number one draft pick?

Are you kidding me? Let’s say, for the sake of argument that this deal looks like Brodeur for Alzner, Johansson, and a number one pick. This year, Brodeur’s cap hit ($5,200,000; annualized) is twice that of the combination of Alzner and Johansson ($2,575,000, including bonuses; annualized). Even with the season almost one third completed, the difference in cap hit (assuming the deal was to be made soon) would be between $1.5 and $2.0 million. And, the Caps give up a top-four defenseman from a roster already thin in NHL-capable defensemen and a center who could very well be a reliable third-line center (if not a second) by the spring in an organization that doesn’t have a lot of center options (well, good ones) after Nicklas Backstrom on the top line. Further, assuming the marginal cap hit that Brodeur brings would constrain the Caps’ ability to fill defenseman and/or center needs in the spring via trade.

Then there is next season. The full brunt of the last year of Brodeur’s contract would hit the Caps’ books, and this would be coming in the midst of other important salary decisions – Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brooks Laich (among others) would be unrestricted free agents; Semyon Varlamov would be a restricted free agent.

Which brings up the matter of a decision point – one of Neuvirth or Varlamov would almost have to be moved. And the Caps had better pick correctly, since Brodeur would not be with the team after the 2011-2012 season. The Caps could find themselves depleting much of their future for the sake of a goaltender who has had iffy playoff performances over the past four seasons (failing to get out of the first round in the last three) and who had a sub-par start to this season before sustaining an injury.  You could argue that moving Varlamov or Neuvirth could bring back that center or defenseman the Caps need, but will that player fit under the salary cap?

It is in this respect that we just do not suspect Brooks has been paying attention, at least to how the Caps have been doing business since the great selloff. The club has taken great pains and has exhibited great patience in assembling a roster by building from within. The club has not been entirely averse to signing free agents (Mike Knuble, Tom Poti) or making trades (Jason Chimera). But the important pieces are home grown, including the three goalies who have dressed for the Caps this year, none of them older than 22.

For the Caps to mortgage a significant chunk of their future for an aging star – even a hall of famer in waiting – would not be consistent with their behavior the past five years. To do it for an aging star giving indications of being in decline would border on insanity. This is the sort of trade the folks at Puck Daddy might highlight. Oh wait… they did. Well, sorta.

* Brooks actually gets the deal here incorrect, at least in the particulars. He stated that “[Forsberg’s] trade to Nashville that ultimately brought back Scottie Upshall, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell represented the underpinning of the immediate 2007-08 revival.” In fact, Forsberg was traded to Nashville in February 2007; Hartnell and Timonen were obtained in June for a first round draft pick in 2007 (Jonathon Blum), which previously belonged to Nashville, obtained in a separate deal. OK, it was the Forsberg deal, so we guess the two are related.


Todd said...

So Brooks went a bit overboard. How about this: If you were GMGM, what would you be willing to give up for Brodeur? Or for anyone on the Devils roster currently (excluding Parise and Zajac, who aren't going anywhere)?

Stephan said...

Yeah, I read that article and immediately thought, "Wow, that would be a terrible trade." You put it better than I did.

Elliotte said...

@Todd, nothing. Any of the Devils that show signs of fitting our needs on the ice have bad contracts.

Bailey said...

I'm not entirely sure Brooks actually mean that it was a trade he considered viable or even one he expects to happen. I think he merely used Washington as an example to illustrate what he would consider something the Devils should persue.