Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dealing from Strength, Filling a Need

The Washington Capitals pulled the trigger on a trade yesterday that sent forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan. On paper, this is one of those win-win sorts of deals. The Avalanche get a forward who can score – not an insignificant matter for a team that has forwards Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart on injured reserve – and the Caps get the stay-at-home defenseman who can eat minutes that they lacked.

First, Fleischmann. Tomas Fleischmann, if not dealt a bad hand in his tenure with the Caps, didn’t exactly have a winning set of cards in his hand. First, he was a natural left wing on a club that employs Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in that capacity (yes, we know…Semin plays a lot of right wing, too). For Fleischmann that meant playing on the other side or getting fewer minutes on the third or fourth line. Having had some experience as a center in his past, he was given an opportunity to take up the second line center role this season, and in fact auditioned for this role in the second half of last season. It was a position that he was either an ill fit for, or was one that would require quite a bit of time to develop a comfort zone in playing it. His faceoff efficiency and his defense weren’t of the sort that a team needs to compete against the Pittsburghs and Philadelphias of the world – teams that are very deep at the center position.

What Fleischmann did provide was secondary scoring, improving his goal scoring from four (in 29 games) in 2006-2007 to 10 to 19 to 23 last season. He did this despite battling illness in the middle of the 2008-2009 season and missing the first ten games of the 2009-2010 season with the after effects of a blood clot in his leg. He got off to a slow start this season (four goals in 23 games) and was seeing more time on the third and fourth lines. A scoring forward on a team with a lot of them, especially when he was not scoring, became less a luxury than a burden. There was also the fact that Fleischmann was being pressured from below by Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault for a spot on one of the top three lines.

And it is in that respect that the move to Colorado might serve to jump start Fleischmann’s career. He will have competition for time on either of the top two lines, certainly, more when Mueller and Stewart return. But there would appear to be more openings for a player of Fleischmann’s profile with Colorado than there would be in Washington.

For Scott Hannan, it is a chance to fill a specific need on a club that has few of them, but critical ones. The Caps have two distinct weaknesses on this year’s roster – the lack of a second line center and the lack of depth on defense. Hannan addresses the latter in several ways:

-- He was leading the Avalanche in penalty killing ice time per game. His 3:21 in PK time per game exceeds that of all Capitals except for Jeff Schultz (3:40/game). He could provide some relief for the likes of Mike Green in this regard, who is skating 2:57 of his total 25:30 a game on the penalty kill, thus leaving Green a bit fresher.

-- Hannan was skating 18:37 a night for the Avalanche, 15:11 at even strength. It is his lowest average ice time since skating 19:02 a game for San Jose in 2000-2001. Even if Hannan is not a 20-minute a game defenseman a night (and chances are he will not be, given that he won’t see any power play time), he will be assuming the 15 minutes a night John Erskine was getting or the 12 that Tyler Sloan was getting, and perhaps providing a bit of relief for the big minute guys – Mike Green (reducing his PK time), John Carlson, and Jeff Schultz.

-- Adding Hannan allows the Caps to implement a more reasonable rotation of defensemen. We’ve made the point that the Caps, if history is a guide, are likely to dress ten different defensemen over the course of the year. The Caps now have a passable eight in Green, Schultz, Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Poti, Hannan, Erskine, and Sloan. It will allow Bruce Bourdreau more of a luxury in giving a top-six guy a breather in favor of Erskine (who has played quite well so far this season) or Sloan. It is the difference between using Erskine and Sloan in spot duty versus relying on them to assume significant minutes in roles that might be above their respective comfort levels.

-- Hannan provides experience. He has 775 games of regular season experience in the NHL. That is more than the combined games experience of Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green (732 games). Adding someone who has been through it, who knows how to play the game, who can supplement the experience of a Tom Poti (795 games of experience) should not be discounted.

-- Little things. Hannan might be 6’1”, 225, but he is not a big hitter (he has three more than Jeff Schultz, for example, and two fewer than Mike Green). But he does block shots (second on the Avalanche), a commodity that is more and more important with the quality of shooters in the NHL these days.

-- It might be a bit early to look at a statistic such as this, but in Hannan’s last 54 playoff games he is 1-9-10, plus-14. Not spectacular, but then again, spectacular for a stay-at-home defenseman usually means spectacularly bad things. We’ll take that sort of steady performance.

The Caps dealt from a position of strength (scoring forward) to fill a specific need. This is what good teams do as part of their personnel management strategy (and why drafting for need isn’t often a good idea – you wait too long to fill that need as the player develops) and, just as important, what teams that have drafted and developed well can afford to do. The proof will be in the playing, but at the moment this is a trade that looks quite good for both teams.


Hooks Orpik said...

Scott Hannan reminds me of a slightly better version of Jay McKee (with more gas in the tank these days). Invaluable guys to have, this should be a solid deal for the Caps.

Also you'd have to think making this deal with about 70% of the season left as opposed to acquiring a guy like Hannan at the deadline (when there's only about 20% of the regular season left) also bodes well for the Caps. Hannan has time to learn how the Caps play and get in more of a groove -- which is no small advantage to have, given the differences between Hannan's style of play and the Caps system.

The Peerless said...

The Caps tried adding a defenseman at the deadline last year, and it failed. Joe Corvo is an entirely different kind of defenseman, but he looked lost a lot of the time, trying to assimilate a system in the midst of games that mattered. He looked awful in the Montreal series (to be fair, he wasn't alone in the last three games).

Adding Hannan now provides a 55-game course in Caps hockey, so that by the time the games that matter do come around, he will be familiar with what the Caps do to the point of instinct (we hope).

Given the nature of the position and how important it is in keeping pucks out of the net, doing the learning late in the year carries with it a lot of risk. It's why adding top-four defensemen at the deadline does not often work (something we covered in another post).

exwhaler said...

I think that Joe Corvo was a different kind of a defensemen also had a bearing on why that trade failed. He didn't fill a glaring need for the Capitals (like Hannan does) and his pairing options were limited (Hannan apparently can be paired with both offensive and defensive-oriented guys). It didn't help that the Capital gave up a more-than-solid third pairing guy in Pothier who was a better two-way defenseman who had established chemistry with several players (and who in my mind was a better PP specialist than Corvo). Although he was a big injury risk, I still believe that trading a decent and working cog like him for a player like Corvo was a mistake.

But I absolutely agree on the timing of the trade. I can't help but think of Jason Chimera's addition to the team last year. He struggled for a couple of weeks, but then found his place and adapted to the system. The Capitals and Scott Hannan have plenty of time for adjustment and finding his regular role.