Kubalik for Machacek: Fun name differential = 0

Kevin McCartney
March 12 2013 03:55PM

It's old news now (like, two days!), but the Jets moved elder prospect Spencer Machacek for Czech winger Tomas Kubalik over the weekend. It's a small move, and neither player is likely to play 200 games in the NHL. Still, I'm obsessive, so we're going to talk about each player, why it happened, and what it means for the Jets after the jump!

The Trade

My sense from the interweb's lack of interest in this trade is that most people are comfortable thinking of it as a minor league move. That may, indeed, be the case. Still, both players were on the cusp of making their NHL squads in recent years and have each had a cup of coffee in the majors. Kubalik is a slightly younger and bigger player with less pedigree and more question marks. Machacek is a known two-way quantity who may or may not be ready for NHL action but who took a major step back this year for unknown reasons (well, unknown to me). This may be a classic 'new scenery' trade, but my spidey senses tell me that new Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen may have bought low on a player the Jets were holding back unnecessarily.

The loss of Machacek signals continued faith in the Slater/Wright/Thorburn/Peluso grouping, and the choice of Kubalik reflects management's desire to get bigger and meaner. As a team that looks some nights to be a few good bottom-6 players away from being competitive, the Jets may yet regret this seemingly small move. 

Tomas Kubalik

My first run with in Tomas Kubalik was when he scored a surprising 35 goals for the Jackets in 2014/15 during my Be a GM campaign in NHL 13 (please don't tell girls about this blog). I eyed him for a trade at the deadline, but it just didn't seem like he had the tools (by which, of course, I mean computer-generated ability ratings) and his shooting % was crazy high (EA may not have a regression algorithm yet, but they say if it's in the game...). So yeah... who is this guy?

First off, he was born on the Worker's Holiday of May Day for those who celebrate. Regardless, he's definitely been bringing his lunchpail to the rink since coming to North America for his 20 year old Junior season with the Victoriaville Tigers of the Q. He's 18 months younger than Machacek, but this is only his 3rd AHL season. Numbers, please!

Kubalik Seasons

Age

GP   G-A-Points

NHLE (in 82GP)

2009-10 (QMJHL)

20

58     33-42-75

13-17-30

2010-11 (AHL)

21

76     24-29-53

12-14-26

2011-12 (AHL)

22

50     11-12-23

8-9-17

2012-13 (AHL)

23

54     14-6-20

 9-4-13

Kubalik was selected out of the Czech league in the 5th round by a Blue Jackets team not known for its impressive scouting. In fact, Kubalik had been a top scorer in a partial season in the Czech second division, but managed just 3 points in 20 games when called up to Plzen HC during his draft year. The smaller ice seemed to help Kubalik find the range, however, as his North American debut season was an impressive one and earned him a reputation as a gritty aggitator. 

Says HockeyFutures:

"Kubalik is a chippy forward, always in the middle of scrums.  He plays with a bit of an edge, but also brings skill.  He is not afraid to go to the net and score dirty goals.  Kubalik must continue to work on his skating. He owns a good shot.  He needs to continue to develop his physical game, and must increase his strength to compete with bigger stronger players."

He's already a big body at a current listing of 6'3", 215lbs. His skating is said to still need work, and his shot... well, it was good enough for 35 goals two years from now in a video game, so I think 'nough said.

At 21, Kubalik posted better numbers than did Machacek, despite being a rookie and playing on a team that scored 31 fewer goals on the year. He was actually playing on the top line with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter during pre-season in September 2011 and expected to make the team when he suffered a concussion while playing against Winnipeg. That accounts for his lost games that year, and he hasn't put up the same points since.

I haven't read anything about his game changing since the concussion, but it's possible. It's also possible his rookie season was an outlier as he posted an 18% scoring rate on less than 2 shots per game. Of course, Jets and Ice Caps fans are hoping that he's just been a good player on a bad team as the Falcons had a -34 goal differential during Kubalik's first two seasons. 

Spencer Machacek

I always cheered for Machacek. I started following hockey outside the NHL when Brule was playing for the Vancouver Giants (my hometown WHL team). That guy could roll and made the whole city instant fans with his speed, rifle shot, and aggressive hitting. Machacek went undrafted out of Bantam and his 16 year old rookie season with the Giants was Brule's encore. Many people forget that Brule's rookie NHL season saw him collect 4 points, a broken sternum, and a broken leg in just 7 NHL games before being sent back to Junior in January. The medical insurance industry's loss was the Giants gain as Brule posted 68 points and 84PIMs in just 45 games (including playoffs) on the way to a WHL President's Cup over Moose Jaw.

What does that have to do with Machacek? Well, Michael Repik was also a 16 year old rookie with the Giants and had outscored Machacek in the regular season by 23 points by the time Brule joined the team on January 20th. Somehow, Machacek got the call with Brule on the top line and had 21 points in his final 20 games, and another 14 points in 18 playoffs games. He hit, he drove the net, he played both ways, and now he was scoring too. Brule taught fans to appreciate Machacek and perhaps taught the coaching staff to appreciate him a little more too. The fact that he went on to lead the team in scoring his final year and wear the 'C' after Lucic seemed natural, as from that point on, his reputation for two-way, physical play fit the 'leader' mould in the 'dub and his hero role in the Giants success gave him some gravitas within the fanbase at least.

I was cheering, naturally then, when he had his 9-points-in-11-games run last Spring. With four solid seasons in the AHL under his belt and a reputation dating back to his draft year of two-way play, it seemed he was poised to be a contibutor alongside or perhaps in place of former Giants line-mate James Wright. What happened?

Machacek Seasons

Age

GP   G-A-Points

NHLE (in 82GP)

2006-07 (WHL)

18

63     21-24-45

 8-9-17

2007-08 (WHL)

19

70     33-45-78

12-16-28

2008-09 (AHL)

20

77     23-25-48

12-13-25

2009-10 (AHL)

21

79     20-29-49

10-14-24

2010-11 (AHL)

22

67     21-32-53

12-18-30

2011-12 (AHL)

23

61     18-32-50

10-18-28

2012-13 (AHL)*

24

57     11-14-25

 5-7-12

*AKA: The Cliff. This was also his first minus season of his career. Machacek brought an AHL career +/- of +56 into this season, before going -23 in 57 games for St John's.

Two things are clear to me from his NHL Equivalencies (derived from Gabe Desjardin's forumlas). First, this season is clearly an aberation and Columbus (or Springfield) is likely to see Machacek-of-old return at some point (though injury status is an unknown). The scouting knock on Machacek was his ability to keep up with the speed of the NHL, and prior to last Spring's surprising points explosion, Machacek had 14 games of NHL experience without a point. He's a strong player, but not that big, a fine skater but not a plus skater, and so the list goes on like that. With that in mind, perhaps those NHLE's don't apply to all players - perhaps some are just not suited to the speed and strength of the best league in the world. And, of course, he wouldn't get the same minutes with the Jets as he does with the Ice Caps. But - the second thing that jumps out at me - isn't this guy better than several Thrashers/Jets over the last few years? What happened that he didn't get Thorburn's job?

A third thought comes to mind. Tyler Dellow (mc79) did am amazing review of where bottom six players come from, including by age last year. The observed rate of 25 year olds drafted where Machacek was (third round) making the NHL full time in the bottom six is just 5%. The rate goes up as they age, actually, perhaps due to a perception of 'veteran savvy' or the actual accrual of requisite skills over time. Nevertheless, it's not likely Machacek becomes a full-time NHL player at this point. I have some hope that Jarmo Kekäläinen just sees something the Thrashers and Jets staff have refused to see to this point - that Machacek is already able to play that role, this season notwithstanding.

Let's hope Kubalik finds his scoring touch again and can push his way onto the starboard side of the Jets' fourth line to end the rotation of ineffective bodies. Looking at these stats, though, Machacek may have been the answer all along.

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Kevin is a regular contributor to Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart
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