The Inaugural NHL Trade Value Rankings (Part I)

Datsyuk

In Part I of my Top 50 NHL Trade Value Rankings, players 50 through 41 are counted down, along with several honorable mentions.

My inspiration for writing this piece came from Grantland, where Bill Barnwell recently published his top 50 NFL trade value rankings (a terrific two part series, which can be read here and here, respectively). Barnwell’s borrowed the idea from Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons, who has published his annual top 50 NBA trade value rankings for the past 12 years.

There are a lot of factors that go in creating such comprehensive rankings. In coming up with the guidelines for his list, Barnwell used football players as his examples. I went ahead and translated into hockey-speak.

Here is how Barnwell constructed his list (with my notes and revisions below):

Contracts matter. Larry Fitzgerald is a better receiver than Jordy Nelson, but Fitzgerald’s in the second year of a contract that will guarantee him about $50 million, while the Packers have Nelson locked up to a four-year deal that guarantees him only $5 million.

I agree that contracts matter. The NFL doesn’t have guaranteed contracts like the NHL does, so how contracts affect a player’s value won’t be the same in hockey as in football. A 40-goal scorer making $5 million will surely beat out a 40-goal scorer making $6 million, though (all other things being equal).

Age matters. Justin Smith might have been the most valuable defensive player in football last season, but he turns 33 in September. Jason Pierre-Paul’s nowhere near as complete of a player, but when he turns 33, your third-grader will be heading off to college.

Age most definitely matters, and it is something I took into consideration with each of my selections (and non-selections) for the top 50 list. Martin St. Louis is an elite talent, but he is closer to 40 than 30, and that was taken into consideration.

Pretend that every team can fit each player on this list within their cap and that they have a below-average starter at the position in question. The Packers aren’t going to deal Jermichael Finley for Matt Ryan because they have Aaron Rodgers, even though that trade would happen in a heartbeat if the Packers had Matt Flynn as their starter.

Team depth charts are irrelevant for these rankings. I agree with this point. For example, the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t value Henrik Lundqvist as highly as other teams would, as they already have Jonathan Quick starting in goal.

Quarterbacks are more valuable than pass rushers, who are more valuable than wide receivers, who are more valuable than interior linemen. When in doubt, we looked at how organizations valued top players at each position when re-signing their own or shopping in free agency.

Positions matter. This matters more in football than in hockey, but it was taken into consideration. Young defensemen capable of logging big minutes are extremely valuable in hockey, for example (hey there, Mr. Ekman-Larsson).

It’s a question of degree. The Chargers might not deal Philip Rivers for Cam Newton, but they’d have to give the possibility of acquiring a younger, cheaper, healthier guy some thought. The Panthers would never deal Newton for Rivers.

This applies to hockey, as well. Boston wouldn’t trade Zdeno Chara, but if Nashville called up and offered Shea Weber, they’d think about it. A trade like this would be completely unrealistic in real life, but in terms of trade value, Weber carries more (and this comes back to the age factor).

This list runs in reverse order. If Rob Gronkowski is 20th on the list, the Patriots would probably at least consider dealing him for one of the first 19 players on the list, but they wouldn’t bother having a conversation for players 21-50.

The list is in reverse order. My list follows this logic as well, and it is something I worked hard at when finalizing the rankings.

To summarize, age, position, and contracts are all important factors, real life depth charts are not as important, and the list runs in reverse order.

Before we get to the list, I want to apologize to Columbus Blue Jackets fans. The Jackets were the only team to have no players in the top 50 (or even close to it). If only we could take Cam Atkinson and give him Jack Johnson’s size and skating ability….

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THE HONORABLE MENTIONS

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THE ROOKIES

Only professional experience is standing in the way of these three talents

Jonathan Huberdeau

Huberdeau is arguably the top prospect in hockey, and he narrowly missed the cut for making this list. Why? Well, he has zero games of professional experience. The same could have been said about Sidney Crosby in 2005, Steven Stamkos in 2008, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 – a lack of professional experience hurts a player’s trade value. Potential and upside are well and good, but what a player has done and not what he could potentially do matters more. This omission isn’t meant to slight Huberdeau – if he performs as well as a rookie as many are expecting, he’s a lock for the top 50 at this time next year.

Mikael Granlund

See above. Granlund, like Huberdeau, could be considered the best prospect in hockey. He is a dazzling talent with a ton of skill and flair in his game. But he hasn’t played a minute of professional hockey (in North America) yet. Granlund’s skating has been knocked a bit, but who cares when you can do this:

Jacob Markstrom

I went back and forth on Markstrom – he is arguably the best goaltender not in the NHL, but Florida’s summer fling with Roberto Luongo clouds Markstrom’s future in the Sunshine State a bit. Young goaltenders are generally slower to develop than forwards or defensemen, as well.

THE VETERANS

Father time is the only thing working against these three stars

Miika Kiprusoff

Kiprusoff has two years left on his current contract, although he will only be making $1.5 million if he decides to play in 2013-14 (his deal was massively frontloaded as the annual cap hit is $5.8 million). From 2003-06, he was the best goaltender in the NHL, and one of the most dominant players in the sport. However, thanks to Calgary’s phobia of rebuilding, he has had to play behind very mediocre teams more recently. There isn’t much help on the way, either (paying Dennis Wideman like a top pairing defenseman doesn’t mean he will perform like one, unfortunately).

Ryan Miller

Like Kiprusoff, Miller was once the best goaltender in the league (2010), but he has struggled in recent years. His peak was leading the underdog Americans to a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He won 41 games in 2009-10 for Buffalo, and his win totals have been declining since (34 and 31 wins, respectively). Miller is still one of the best goalies in the league, but he needs to get his level of play back to where it was if he wants to provide positive value while making $6.25 million per season.

Miller’s 2011-12 season could best be described as unfocused. I wonder why?

Martin St. Louis

In terms of pure skill, there are few that rank above the diminutive right winger. His numbers are impressive – six straight seasons of 70+ points, including a 102-point season, a 99-point season, and a 94-point season. He has played a significant part in the emergence of Steven Stamkos (more on him in a while), and he is a widely-respected leader and ambassador for the sport. However, this is one number working against him – 37. St. Louis turned 37 back in June, and even with his extreme dedication to fitness, we have likely seen his best. If he hadn’t won a Cup already, St. Louis would likely be getting the Ray Bourque/Steve Nash treatment (a veteran that everyone is pulling for to win a title before retirement).

The downside of his success is that every undersized forward is unfairly compared to him (call it the Theo Fleury syndrome).

THE BEST OF THE REST

For varying reasons, these eight players narrowly missed the top 50

Dustin Brown

I can already hear the angry Kings fans questioning Brown’s omission from the top 50. He has one of the best contracts in hockey, and he was the most dominant forward on the ice for many games during the recent postseason. His great play started back in the regular season, as Brown had 27 points in 32 games after the All-Star Break. Why he isn’t on this list? His sample size of dominant play is too small.

He has been a player who was involved in trade rumors as recently as this past February, and he has scored more than 30 goals at the NHL level only once. Brown is arguably the most feared hitter in the NHL, and he is respected by his teammates as their leader. However, he needs to take the next step offensively to make the top 50 list. If he isn’t a household name yet, he may be if the NHL decides to implement a “divers list” across all arenas in 2012-13. Speaking of….

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler could never be faulting for not caring, and that has both helped and hurt him. At his best, he is a dominant, Selke-winning center capable of scoring goals and shutting down top opposing forwards. At his worst, he is a player who embellishes on a frequent basis. His play against Nashville in the 2011 Western Conference Semi Final was one of the most impressive performances in a series by a forward in the last 20 years. His stellar postseason run in 2011 contributed to a poor regular season after, though. Kesler rushed back from offseason hip surgery, and never got on track.

Keith Yandle

Young puck moving defensemen don’t grow on trees, but don’t tell that to Phoenix(?) GM Don Maloney, as the Coyotes boast a number of elite young puck movers. Their relative strength on the back end may lead to Yandle being offered up as trade bait for a top line center, and it will allow us to get a look at his actual trade value. He does a lot of things very well (skate, shoot, and move the puck), but he has been passed over on the depth chart by the even more impressive Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Logan Couture

The Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL, Couture is a player who does everything well, and this ends up hurting his value around the league. Aside from his hockey sense, no aspect of Couture’s game stands out – he has a very good shot, great hands, and he is a good skater. However, there isn’t one defining attribute that comes to mind when his name is mentioned. San Jose would prefer it that way, too, as they will be building their team around him for the next decade.

James Neal

How could I leave a 40-goal scorer off the list? A few reasons – the Rob Brown effect, for one. Neal benefitted from lining up with the best player in the world (currently) last season – Evgeni Malkin. Brown is a former NHL player who scored 49 goals playing on Mario Lemieux’s wing in 1988-89 (more than one-quarter of his career NHL goals came that season).

And two – Neal plays a very offensively-focused role. It may not be fair to fault him for excelling with great linemates and making the most of scoring opportunities, but I am going to do it anyway. He needs to prove last season wasn’t an aberration to qualify for the top 50 list. Of all NHL players with at least 40 games played in 2011-12, Neal ranked 10th in offensive zone start percentage at 64.4. What this means – he started almost two-thirds of his shifts in the offensive zone, with Malkin passing him the puck. Seems like a pretty sweet gig, no?

Ryan McDonagh

Regardless of what Pierre McGuire may tell you, the smooth-skating former Wisconsin Badger was the backbone on the Rangers defense last season. And I won’t beat the dead horse for Montreal fans… but Glen Sather should be locked up for committing grand larceny when he not only dumped Scott Gomez’s contract on Montreal, but pried McDonagh away as well.  He doesn’t turn 24 until next summer, and he’s already one of the NHL’s top defensemen.

Mike Smith

Smith’s turnaround happened faster than it takes to count to 2.90 (his GAA in his final season with Tampa Bay). The Coyotes, free of space explorer and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, signed Smith as a free agent last summer. The club recognized his natural abilities and he worked closely with goalie coach Sean Burke to shore up his weaknesses. He is an incredibly fun goaltender to watch – there aren’t many who play with more flair and athleticism at the position. I left him out of the top 50 for a few reasons: one, he has only been an elite goaltender for one season, and two, Phoenix has a way of making goaltenders look good.

Joe Thornton

Jumbo Joe was, at one time, the most feared offensive player in the NHL. He has quietly developed into a very good two-way forward over the past few seasons, but his production has subsequently fallen off. The 33-year-old center plays a very cerebral game and should have another couple of seasons (he has two years left on his $7 million-per-season contract) as a top line center until Couture passes him, but he isn’t as impactful as he once was.

In today’s installment, players 50 through 41 will be counted down.

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THE BIG MONEY VETERANS

They make a lot, but they also deliver a lot

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50. Marian Gaborik

There aren’t many players who score goals with Gaborik’s proficiency. He is still the best skater in hockey, and should find a way to hit 500 goals if his body can remain intact. He’s out until November or December as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Gaborik has three 40+ goal seasons at the NHL level, and seven 30+ goal seasons. He was a victim of John Tortorella’s outbursts on HBO’s 24/7 last year, but he redeemed himself by carrying a Christmas tree through the streets of New York. Gaborik is just an everyday man who happens to make $7.5 million and skater better than anyone else on the planet (while chasing a puck).

Gaborik

49. Jason Spezza

Spezza doesn’t turn 30 until next summer, although it seems as if he has been around forever. With a career-high 34 goals, 2011-12 was Spezza’s best season in the NHL. Although his 84 points was only his fourth best career mark, he didn’t have Dany Heatley on his wing (back when Heatley was motivated and healthy). Spezza’s play away from the puck has improved immensely (he now knows where the defensive zone is), and he is taken on more responsibility as a leader – something he was slow to embrace as a younger player.

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THE NEXT GREAT GOALIES

They haven’t arrived… yet

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48. Tuukka Rask

Rask can thank Tim Thomas for his ranking on this list. Thomas decided to take a year off from the sport to focus on other things (including supporting the ‘rights’ of fast food restaurant chains), which opened up the starting spot in Boston for Rask. He hasn’t played a lot in parts of five seasons with the Bruins, but he has been dominant in his limited duty. Rask is a fiery personality who relies on Gumby-like reflexes to make saves and frustrate opposing shooters. How many teams would like to add a 25-year-old surefire star goaltender playing for a new contract? I know of at least one, and they traded Rask six years ago for a goaltender now playing for a team named Milano Rossoblu.

47. Cory Schneider

Like Rask, Schneider has excelled in limited NHL action. While Rask succeeds with intensity and flexibility, Schneider is calm, poised, and technically proficient. He isn’t officially the starting goaltender in Vancouver, as future Florida Panther Roberto Luongo is still kicking around. There is a bit of a risk with both Rask and Schneider, as neither goaltender has handled a starter’s workload before. However, from what they have shown, both on track to become two of the game’s best.

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THE EDMONTON OILERS, PART I

These young Oilers aren’t used to winning, but that is sure to change

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46. Jordan Eberle

Eberle’s recent contract extension (six years and $6 million per) created a significant divide among hockey fans – the number crunchers point to his cushy offensive zone starts (60.7 percent) and his easy minutes (Edmonton’s rookies didn’t see tough matchups very often), while others bring up his 34 goals, 76 points, and cult-like national hero status for his heroics with the Canadian World Junior squad over the years. Eberle may not live up to his contract, but you could do a lot worse with $6 million.

45. Nail Yakupov

Yakupov is the only player with zero NHL experience to make the list. He is considered by many to be the best prospect since Sidney Crosby. Yakupov skates like Pavel Bure, he competes like Alex Ovechkin (used to), and he shoots the puck like Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s likely going to bump Eberle down to the second line in Edmonton, as well. His place on an “ability to create lame sports headlines from a player’s last name” list would be considerably higher.

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HOCKEYTOWN, USA

The dynasty isn’t dead… yet

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44. Pavel Datsyuk

If this were a countdown of the best highlight reels on Youtube, Datsyuk would hold down

Datsyuk

Almost 10 years later, Marty Turco is still looking for his jock.

the top 10 spots. And if this were a countdown of the best two-way forwards in the game, he would sure be a lot higher than 46th.

What holds him back? His age (34), for starters. Former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov recorded 83 points as a 33-year-old in 2002-03 with the Wings. He played five more NHL seasons, eclipsing the 50-point mark only once. While it is doubtful that Datsyuk ends up playing in Anaheim, Columbus, and Washington like Fedorov did, he is headed for a steady decline from here on out. He has missed 38 games over the past two regular seasons, as well. And goalies around the league are grateful for that.

43. Henrik Zetterberg

Zetterberg is a prototypical Swede in many ways – he is disciplined, responsible in his own zone, deferential with praise, and quietly confident. However, he also has a lot of Detroit in him – he plays with a fiery intensity and grit when the stakes are raised. He is the likely choice to follow Nick Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman as the next captain in Detroit. He’s two years younger than Datsyuk, and appears to be headed in the opposite direction with regards to durability, having missed only two games over the past two seasons.

There weren’t many (any?) better two-way hockey players than Zetterberg in 2007-08 (perhaps the guy ranked below him on this list). He followed up a 43-goal, 92-point regular season with 13 goals and 27 points in 22 postseason contests.

The hidden beauty of both Datsyuk and Zetterberg is how they were cultivated by the “system” in Detroit. Even as rookies, they understood that the team came before individual success. Both players could have contended for scoring titles if they focused more on offense, but that isn’t the Detroit way, and it is a reason why both have been integral parts of Detroit dynasty.

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THE SHOULD/COULD-BE FRANCHISE FORWARDS

These players have the talent to lead a team, but for whatever reason they haven’t… yet

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42. Rick Nash

We know exactly what Nash’s trade value is, thanks to his recent move to New York. Columbus received two-way center Artem Anisimov, gritty winger/center Brandon Dubinsky, top prospect Tim Erixon, and a 1st round draft pick in exchange for Nash. In Columbus, he was the franchise player by default (he was the only 1st round pick who actually developed properly by the early regime), and he never fully embraced the role of captain and leader.

He isn’t blameless, but he isn’t totally at fault, either. It must wear on a player to head to the rink each day knowing that a loss is a likely result, regardless of how nice the bank account looks at the end of the day. Just as easily as Nash could have been left off of this list (we have likely seen his best hockey, and he makes close to $8 million per season), he could have been in the top 25 as well (he has been absolutely dominant against the world’s best on the international stage many times). Which Nash are the Rangers going to get?

41. Bobby Ryan

Tired of being involved in countless trade rumors, Ryan asked for a trade earlier this summer (which he has since taken back). He has spent the last few years playing third fiddle behind Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim. In that time, Ryan has developed into one of the most dominant forwards in the league, and he comes with a reasonable price tag, too (three more years at $5.1 million per). Only seven players have scored more than his 100 goals over the past three seasons, and six of them are ahead of him on this list (sorry, Patrick Marleau).

Ryan is ready to emerge as a franchise forward, but it won’t be in Anaheim. His production dropped from 71 points in 2010-11 to 57 last season. Why? He went from playing close to 50 percent of his shifts with Perry and Getzlaf to just over 35 percent. He was a victim of Anaheim’s lack of depth, as they relied on him to create a second scoring line with third and fourth line talent.

Next week, spots 40 through 31 will be counted down.

 

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