Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Summer's For Fiction

Habs Trade Rumours Of Late

I do my best to ignore the rumours as they roll by. I mean are we honestly going down the Patrick Marleau road again for the 5th consecutive summer? You expect it from Eklund, he needs the readers; but for everyone to join in is a bit disappointing.

The hook for most rumours nowadays seems to be their perceived achievability. Are they realistic? This includes the salary exchange, of course. But added to the mix (and a favourite of the Hockeybuzz randomizer) is connections from the past.

When Saku Koivu was here, one consistent rumour from the guys who generate these "realistic" rumours was Teemu Selanne. Now that someone from Montreal has actually spoken to Teemu we know that Saku asked and he balked immediately – a question of enjoying California sunshine just that much. Bob Gainey GM, Guy Carbonneau father-in-law – it was only a matter of time back in the day before Brenden Morrow was added to the Habs. Big and cousin to Carey Price? That's two reasons Shane Doan always popped up. Don't forget anyone who can speak French with a contract running out – there's a whole other boatload of potential trade targets.

The trend of the summer seems to be that we will reunite any combination that our new free agents have ever successfully undertaken. Gainey, to be fair, has encouraged this kind of activity by signing Brian Gionta after he made the Scott Gomez deal. So the rumour-makers go to work. Cammalleri had a good year in LA, so naturally Frolov should be here too. Gomez and Gionta played well with Patrik Elias, so naturally Gainey must be pursuing him as well.

It's nonsense, of course. The stuff of August.

Why do trades that "make so much sense" so rarely happen?

Well one very good reason is that trades in general so very rarely happen. Now I'm not sure that they ever did really. I think what seems to make them so scarce nowadays is the simple fact that thanks to certain very imaginative internet users, about 5 or 6 are rumoured every single day. And when you look at interesting trades over the year, you'd be lucky to list 5 or 6 – that's a whole lot of unfulfilled dreams.

Honestly, though, I think the reason a lot of trades that "make sense" don't happen is because most of the time, they don't make any sense at all. Yes, Patrick Marleau for Halak makes sense in a one-eyed Canadiens kind of way, but for the Sharks? Throwing in salary doesn't help either, because it's rare that desirable asset and salary to shed fall on the same list for the trade partner.

Take the latest rumours. The trades for Elias and Frolov don't make as much sense to the teams reported to be shipping as they might for Montreal. For instance, there is good reason that Elias is the player from that line left in New Jersey from that line and Frolov is the one lingering in LA. There was reason to why those GMs made the choice to keep those two players ahead of their linemate(s). When you consider New Jersey, it would probably not be far-fetched to say that Elias has been the engine behind the offense there for a decade. Compared to Elias, Gomez was a blip on the radar. In LA, Frolov came first as well. A biggish winger who scores 25-30 goals like clockwork, it's easy to see why another team would covet him. Also easy to see why LA would not part ways with the guy.

Do these trades even make sense for Montreal?

It's all well and good to look down a roster and pick out players that played together (do we know that anyway, do we remember?) and come up with a story about the times they had together. It's quite another to substantiate those stories. It occurred to me that not only were these trades not the stuff of dreams for Lamoriello and Lombardi, but also that Gainey might not be getting the incredible boost that everyone assumes that would come from the moves.

If Luckily, there are resources available courtesy of the tireless stats crunchers who live in our computers to verify the hypothesis. We can have a look at how the partnerships we're supposedly working around the clock to reunite actually fared in the past. So that we can take our one eyed view if we want, yet make it an analytical eye.

Cammalleri – Frolov

In 2006-07, Cammalleri and Frolov did play together at even strength, but they weren't joined at the hip. They shared the ice for 481:33 minutes. Cammalleri played 564:49 without Frolov and Frolov played 637:35 withou Mike – so both played more without the other than with.

Interestingly, their partnership did seem to make both players more productive as they produced 28 goals when on ice together for a a rate of 1.163 a period. Cammalleri sans Frolov gave only 1.062 G/20 and Frolov sans Cammalleri 0.784 G/20. In case you're wondering Mike also made Alex a slightly better defensive bet, but Alex made Mike more of a liability.

But the duo didn't stop compiling evidence in April 2007. They did play another year together – and this is where it gets interesting. It seems that in 2007-08 (at least at ES), Mike and Alex were not primary linemates. Perhaps due to injuries and the resulting discovery of new combinations, perhaps due to coaching preference. Cammalleri in that season spent more time with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Of his 1060 or so minutes of ice time, he spent less than a third with Frolov. And contrary to the season prior, 2007-08 was not a data set to suggest that the two were the second coming of Gretzky and Kurri. Offensively, both players were quite a bit better apart. Where together they popped out 0.846 goals a period, apart Cammalleri was good for 0.908 and Frolov for a whopping 1.237. Defensively, Mike was ever so slightly better with Frolov whereas Alex was again worse off.

If I'm Alexander Frolov, then, where's my burning desire to return to Cammalleri's side? I'm pretty happy with what I can do on my own. If I'm Cammalleri, I've shown I can be even better with Iginla – please get me Iginla.

Elias – Gomez – Gionta

At the very least, the rumour-makers got the line right. Back in 2006-07 (first year of data, last year for the line), the favourite linemates for each player came from the threesome – and they spent in the neighbourhood of two thirds of their even strength playing time together. And they were a good line on a good team. It wouldn't be a massive mistake to reunite them.

But really, who made who better? Well offensively it goes like this. Gomez made both Elias (1.143 vs. 0.453 G/20) and Gionta (1.022 vs. 0.281 G/20) a lot better producers at even strength. Elias helped Gomez a little (1.143 vs. 0.820 G/20) but not Gionta at all (0.828 vs. 0.841 G/20). And Gionta seemed to be leeching off the line because both Gomez (1.022 vs. 1.016 G/20) and Elias (0.828 vs. 0.927 G/20) were at least as good if not slightly better without his small frame around.

The next two seasons give us more fodder on the Elias front. In 2007-08, Elias dragged Gionta along again, but once again Gionta was not into symbiosis, preferring his parasitic ways. Last seasonsaw them together again, but like an old tired couple – neither really sparking the other anymore. Both seemed resigned just to plod on as they would. Importantly though, from Elias' point of view (and Lamoriello's), Patrik is still cruising along and steadily challenging the goal for every 20 minutes of play standard. He has also taken to playing with Zach Parise when possible, it seems, with massive boosts in production for both when they grace the same surface.

So if Elias were to be targeted, it would make sense to partner him with Gomez, but also to distance him from Gionta – so it would mean banishment for Brian from the centre he signed on for, hardly a very good strategy to welcome your new 5-year signing. From NJ's point of view, Elias is a leader and a very reliable offensive player who also happens to click with their new superstar forward. Not much incentive in the trade for them really. Not unless the trade includes someone named Andrei Markov.

In all honesty, if Gainey was as fixated on combination boosts as people are making out, it would be a better tack to go after Robert Lang who actually did potentiate two players on the team by quite a handsome margin (Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn) – all the more relevant, being that it happened in Montreal.

Both would obviously be great additions in Montreal as two of the top left wingers in the league. But considering salary, the current roster players, price to pay in a trade and the fact the combinations wouldn't bring quite the Midas touch the Eklunds of the world sell, it seems both are a massive stretch in the end – a bit of summertime fiction for the beach (and that goes for both the one-eyed or two-eyed onlooker).

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