Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Rebuild...Reloaded

Long-time readers of this space will remember an entry we made in January 2007 on “The Rebuild…Revisited." Well, it’s fair to take a look back at that and ask, did any of the grades change? Let’s take a look in "The Rebuild...Reloaded."

Steve Konowalchuk – traded to Colorado for Bates Battaglia and the rights to Jonas Johansson, October 22, 2003.

Both players obtained for Konowalchuk are long departed from the organization. Battaglia, who played his only season with the Caps in 2003-2004, is with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL (the farm club of the Maple Leafs). Johansson, who played one NHL game in his career (in 2005-2006, for the Caps) is out of the NHL. He played for HV71 Jonkoping in the SEL last year.

There really isn’t a way to put a dress on this pig and make it a prom queen. The trade yielded nothing.

Original Grade: F
Revised Grade: F (can we give an F-minus, Peerless?)

Robert Lang – traded to Detroit for Tomas Fleischmann and a 1st round draft pick in 2004 (defenseman Mike Green) and a 4th round pick in 2006 (forward Luke Lynes), February 27, 2004.

Since being traded away in 2004, Lang has put up respectable numbers for Detroit and Chicago. In 235 games, he is 61-112-173, +40, with 11 game-winning goals. That works out to 21-39-60, +14, with 4 GWG per 82 games. Green, on the other hand, has emerged as perhaps the best under-25 offensive defenseman in the game. Fleischmann clearly has skill – he demonstrated as much in his time with the Hershey Bears (52-62-114, +20, in 102 games with the Bears, plus 16-37-53, +16, in 39 playoff games there). But he has not yet translated that to success at the NHL level on a consistent basis. 10-20-30, -7 was not a bad season for him, although it was disappointing in a way, given his starting the year on the top line (and, he’s still only 24 years old). He does – and perhaps is expected – to take another step up this year. Lynes played for the Stockton (ECHL) Thunder for two games last year after completing his season with Brampton in Canadian juniors. We was re-signed by the Thunder for the 2008-2009 season.

Lang is a dependable veteran, but the operative word there is “veteran” (he will be 38 in December), and Lang was not in the long-term picture for this team. If you’re looking for a late-30’s veteran center, the Caps are better off with Sergei Fedorov. In the meantime, the Caps have a defenseman who could be worthy of Norris consideration before too long. Fleischmann remains a work in progress for whom the upcoming season could be pivotal for his career.

Original Grade: B
Revised Grade: A

Sergei Gonchar – traded to Boston for Shaone Morrisonn and 1st (defenseman Jeff Schultz) and 2nd (center Mikail Yunkov) round draft picks in 2004, March 3, 2004

Gonchar, as most folks know, ended up in Pittsburgh, where he signed on a five-year deal for $25 million. During that first year in Pittsburgh, he was wearing that contract like an anchor chained to his waist. But he has improved in each of the last two seasons with the Penguins and this year was mentioned as a potential Norris Trophy finalist. You’d have to go back to the 1999-2000 season (with the Caps) to find a better plus-minus than his +13 last season.

Morrisonn has become as close to a shut-down defenseman as the Caps have on the parent roster. He continually draws the assignments of facing the top offensive performers among opponents. And if you consider the time he spent paired with Mike Green (and JP has, over at Japers’ Rink), there is his added value in letting Green do what he does. Schultz is something of an enigma…not for his play (although he doesn’t necessarily play to his size), but for the reaction he evokes in fans. In both Hershey and now, in Washington, he has inspired criticism of his style, which tends more to the positional than the physical. But, facts are facts, too. Last season – his first full season in the NHL – Schultz was 3rd on the club among defensemen in scoring, fourth in average ice time (discounting Brian Pothier, who played only 38 games), and led all Caps defensemen in plus-minus. Despite the barbs cast his way about his style, he emerged as a solid second-pair blueliner for the Caps. Given his age and experience, it would seem he is likely only to improve.

Yunkov played last year in Russia with Spartak (Moscow), where he was 4-6-10, -1 in 57 games and 1-0-1, +1 in five playoff games.

Gonchar is, if not an elite defenseman, than as close as an offensive-minded player at his position is. However, the Caps have in return two young, defensive defensemen who could be fixtures on the club for a decade or more.

Original Grade: B
Revised Grade: A

Jaromir Jagr – traded to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter, January 23, 2004 (Caps also liable for a substantial share of remaining value of Jagr’s contract)

Jagr has been involved in perhaps the most inconsequential deals for an elite player in the history of professional sport. Pittsburgh traded Jagr to Washington (with Frantisek Kucera) for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Russ Lupaschuk, none of whom made a ripple in the NHL, with Beech hanging by a thread as far as any future NHL career goes (the others are gone).

Then, after two-plus indifferent seasons in Washington, he was peddled to the Rangers for Anson Carter, who played two-plus seasons for four different teams (including the Caps), then ended up playing for Lugano this year in Europe. Carter was traded to Los Angeles six weeks after the Caps got him from New York. Jared Aulin came in return, and he is out of professional hockey.

This is another one that’s hard to pretty up. The best one can say of it is, “at least Jagr’s gone.”

Original Grade: D-
Revised Grade: D- (the only thing saving this from being an “F” was the karma that led to the Caps drafting Alex Ovechkin later that year)

Peter Bondra – traded to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a 2nd round draft pick in 2005 (parlayed with another pick via trade with Colorado into the 27th overall pick – defenseman Joe Finley), February 18, 2004

After leaving Washington, Bondra finished up his career with Ottawa and Atlanta, going 31-36-67, even, in 120 games. It was an unfortunate end phase of a career that saw his goal production decline from 45 goals in 2000-2001 to 39, 30, 26, 21, and ultimately five in 37 games in his last year in Atlanta.

The return for Bondra looked modest at the time – a 20-year old, former sixth-round draft pick who had precisely one game of NHL experience. Fast forward to last season, and Brooks Laich has achieved something of a cult status, at least among Caps fans. Laich had career highs in goals, assists, and points in going 21-16-37. He was third on the team in goals, and tied for third in power play and game-winning goals. This despite being 16th on the club in average ice time and ninth among forwards.

This is one of those trades that gives truth to the phrase, “you have to wait a few years to see if it was worth it.” Laich has emerged – well, at least last season (mindful as we are of the possible Matt Pettinger analogies) – as a very efficient player. His versatility in being able to play any forward position adds to his value.

Original Grade: C-
Revised grade: B+

Mike Grier – traded to Buffalo for Jakub Klepis, March 9, 2004

Mike Grier, for whom Caps fans’ lasting memory is likely that of a player who couldn’t finish a play against an empty net, remains a decent pro (now with San Jose).

Klepis, on the other hand, is one of those players folks will likely remember as “disappointing.” A former first-round pick (16th overall in 2002), he had the skating and playmaking ability – or so it seemed – to be a scoring line center. But is 66 games with the Caps, he managed only four goals and 14 points, never able to stick with the parent roster for a full season. He played 19 games at Hershey last year, then returned to the Czech Republic to play for Slavia Praha HC.

Grier was a consistent source of frustration to Caps fans (perhaps to management as well) with his inability to finish plays – shorthanded breakaways were betting certainties to end poorly. But he was, and remains, a flesh and blood contributor to a very good hockey team. The Caps ended up with squadoosh in this deal.

Original Grade: C
Revised Grade: F

Michael Nylander – traded to Boston for a 2nd round draft pick in 2006 (Francois Bouchard) and future considerations (a 4th round pick in 2005 – defenseman Patrick McNeill), March 4, 2004.

What a difference 18 months make. Nylander is now with the Caps, and Bouchard and McNeill remain in the Caps’ system. Bouchard gives evidence of being a potential scoring line winger (although he took a step back – numbers-wise – last year at Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL). McNeill split time between South Carolina (ECHL) and Hershey (AHL).

Nylander, in returning to the Caps, was something of a mystery last year. He started poorly, then was injured, tried to play through it, was ineffective doing so (at least in terms of defense and faceoffs), then was shelved for good after 40 games.

For the Caps, it’s all good, one supposes, since all of the principals in this deal are with the club. But all of them are unfinished pieces in this puzzle.

Original Grade: Incomplete
Revised Grade: Incomplete

Brendan Witt – traded to Nashville for Kris Beech and a 1st round draft pick in 2006 (goaltender Semen Varlamov), March 9, 2006

Witt went to Nashville, then to Long Island where he is now as close to a cornerstone defenseman as the Islanders have. Given the Islanders’ finish last year (79 points, 13th in the East), you can draw your own conclusions about how strong that cornerstone is. This is not to say Witt is a bad defenseman – he’s not. But he is, at this point in his career (33 years old) perhaps more a second-pair type than a first-pair shut-down defenseman.

As for the return, it’s all in what Varlamov becomes. While he seems to be on a path to the NHL (he looked much, much better in the recent Caps development camp than he did in a similar setting last summer), nothing is guaranteed, especially with goaltenders. Everything depends on Varlamov, because if you look up the term, “well traveled,” in the dictionary…well, by God, there’s Kris Beech’s picture! Consider the first time Beech played for Washington and was traded to Pittsburgh in the Jaromir Jagr deal. He went to Nashville, Washington (again), Columbus, Vancouver, Washington (yet again), then Pittsburgh (he’ll probably start next season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). All since July 2001.

Original Grade: Incomplete
Revised Grade: Incomplete

So, to reiterate . . . the Caps moved:

Steve Konowalchuk
Robert Lang
Sergei Gonchar
Jaromir Jagr
Peter Bondra
Mike Grier
Michael Nylander
Brendan Witt

…and received in return:

Jonas Johansson
Tomas Fleischmann
Mike Green
Luke Lynes
Shaone Morrisonn
Jeff Schultz
Mikail Yunkov
Brooks Laich
Joe Finley
Jakub Klepis
Francois Bouchard
Patrick McNeill
Kris Beech
Semen Varlamov

…and nothing for Jaromir Jagr

As the trades have “ripened,” so to speak, they have ended up for the most part better than what they looked like 18 months ago. That is what prospect development does. Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, and Brooks Laich are important elements of the current Capitals squad. Tomas Fleischmann might reach that status yet. Varlamov could get there in another 2-3 years. Ditto for Bouchard.

What has transpired over the past 18 months is a caution to fans – don’t look at a trade on the day of the trade, especially when veterans-for-picks/prospects is involved. It pays to take a look in the rear-view mirror once some time has passed to see just what you have from those deals.


DMG said...

For literally years I've been yelling in the dark that McPhee knows what he's's nice to see more and more evidence mounting to support that.

Anonymous said...

PP, you are WAY off in evaluating some of these trades. One must consider what exactly one gave up before urinating all over the returns.

1) Konowalchuk played less than 100 games and his career is over. We got nothing. Grade is C-.

2) Lang - even before Green blossomed because Lang was a $5/mil per season overpriced non-winner.

3) Gonchar, A+ based on the two months he played with Boston. Anything after that is based on the decision not to sign him as a UFA, not the trade.

4) Jagr for nothing. Jagr has been traded twice in his life, both times for a bucket of s***. I think this tells you all you need to know. Caps made the best they possibly could out of the situation given that exactly one team was willing to take him. Grade: B.

5) Bondra. Bondra scored 30 goals for the remainder of his career until he retired in 2007. You were way too low on this trade originally and B+ is about right now.

6) Grier - this is a 4th liner that doesn't stay on any team very long. And he's really not too good. The trade is a C, maybe a C- only in that we didn't parlay anything out of it.

Anonymous said...

Konowalchuk - loved him as a defensive shutdown center and a spark plug on that third line with Halpern and Dahlen. Reality, though, is that we moved him on at the right point. As noted earlier, fewer than 100 games left and 25g/29a in those games. With him gone, we've had Laich in there developing as a young player, something that wouldn't have happened if we kept Kono around. The net of the trade was minimal, but the long term effect was positive. I'd concur with the other comment that it's a C, not an F.

Jagr - As Ted noted on his blog, Jagr was not contributing to the same degree as he was taking (in terms of his contract). Dumping him (even with the additional salary over the past few years we've been paying) resulted in the draft that brought us A.O. I consider it like my former engagement - a painful and expensive lesson, but ultimately we're much better off for having him gone. Again, the direct effects are poor, the long-term effects are very good. Call it a D, not an F.

GMGM really has been doing a darn good job in the draft and (Jagr excepted) on trades. 2003-2004 was a painful season and I hated to see Bondra, Konowalchuk, Lang, et al disappear that spring, and there's no denying that 2005-2007 were painful years to be Caps fans (and season ticket holders). But the reality is, they're on the move now. This season should be considered the final exam for the management team - I'd expect this team to make it to at least the third round of the playoffs, barring any freak/serious injuries. We'll see...

The Peerless said...

Konowalchuk played only 100 more games, but no one (unless the Caps had intelligence never revealed) could foresee the reason why he was traded. The Caps gave up a perfectly good third liner (who likely wasn't going to re-sign, it's true) and got nothing but a year of Bates and a game of Jonas. I'll stick with that grade.

On lang, the Caps traded a player who was, at the time, the league's leading scorer. The Caps got value for him in picks.

Gonchar was -- at the time of the trade -- one of the top three offensive defensemen in the league. That he isn't still in Boston is Boston's problem, but it doesn't say much as to the value of the return.

As for Jagr, it remains that the Caps have zero return on a player carrying a $77 million contract at the time. The the Caps ended up with Ovechkin later is a product of the fall of a ping-pong ball, so to speak, not of astute management. That the Caps have him is a tribute to karma, and nothing else, as far as I'm concerned. But what Ted implies is right, too -- Jagr had to go.

On the Bondra trade, that is entirely a case of time mellowing the grade. A 500-goals scorer (or close to it) for a sixth round pick who had one game of NHL experience isn't getting anybody any A's...or B's for that matter. But Laich has demonstrated himself -- for one year, at least -- as a player having value in return for that trade.

Grier is the definition of a "journeyman." He's serviceable, but he's also expendable. And what do the Caps have for his stay here? Nothing.

Not all trades work, and the occasional "F" is not indicative of poor front office performance (frequent "F's" are). On balance, this group of trades yielded much of the "second tier" of contributors to this team -- Shultz, Laich, Morrisonn, and even Green (if you think him "second tier" to an Alex Ovechkin).

Anonymous said...

Peerless, thanks for your hard work. This was a rigorous piece. You are like a good preacher -- always keep me thinking about your sermons and lead me to the water but don't force me to drink it.
Thanks to guys like you, Japers, OFB Staff & Vogel --- without your works I'd still be in darkness.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Peerless on the Kono trade...the Avalanche benefited greatly from Kono's performace and the feeling was mutual--after his career was cut short do to unrelated health problems, he remained in the organization until this past year. Meanwhile, Bates played some of the worst hockey of his career with the Caps and Jonas was a bust of prospect. For the Capitals, they lost their captain, a heart-and-soul guy who might have stayed through the rebuild if given the chance, and got a bad player and a nowhere prospect in return.

What I find interesting about the review is that the trades that failed were the ones that were compromised by other factors. Firesale trades always are a crap shoot--other teams know your priority is trying to drop salary, so that hurts your negotiating position--and with the CBA blow-up on the horizon, McPhee really had his work cut out for him. The two trades that didn't work out were the Jagr and Kono trades.

With Jagr, it's easy...because of the upcoming lockout and Jagr's poor performance given his contract, most teams were extremely reluctant to deal. In fact, word was that the Rangers were the only buyers interested in Jagr, and McPhee had absolutely no bargining room. So, no prospects, no picks, and Washington has to pick up a portion of the salary for the remainder of the contract. Yuck. Turning around Carter for Aulin was a risk that failed when that prospect couldn't recover fully from his shoulder injury (which is a shame, because from all accounts, Aulin was a good AHL leader and a talented guy to have in the system).

As for Kono...when that trade was made, the firesale wasn't officially on, not for a few months at least. McPhee did the trade partially because Kono wanted out of that locker-room, and partially to send a message to the roster by trading their captain. I'm sure management was thinking about doing the rebuild, but the fact remains that publicly at least, they were still trying to win. Any trade at that time involving a veteran player needed to bring back a veteran player in return, which is what the Caps got--a checking line winger in exchange for their checking line winger. Problem is, McPhee still tried to bring back something for the future as well, and wound up splitting the value of the return, so he got two lesser players--a declining veteran and a questionable prospect--rather than getting one, good player or prospect. The timing of that trade hurt the return more than anything else.

The Peerless said...

There is one trade not mentioned in what I laid out, and that is the one that gets the A+. It is not entirely part of the "rebuild," since no player was moved from Washington.

However, sending a 7th round choice in the 2006 Entry Draft and a 6th round choice in the 2007 Entry Draft to Calgary on August 4, 2005, brought back a 7th round choice in the 2007 Entry Draft...

...and Chris Clark.

And what did the draft picks sent to Calgary yield?...the Flames picked Devin DiDiomete with the 2006 pick. The 2007 pick was traded to Colorado along with Calgary's own sixth rounder for a fifth rounder in that draft. They took Mickey Renaud.