October 06 2014 05:18PM
After clearing waivers, Eric Tangradi was dealt to the Habs for a sinking prospect and a backup goalie with a salary $350K richer and a career save percentage 7 points lower than the last guy. Perhaps most strange is that Tangradi was among the Jets very best neutral zone players. His zone entries hovered around 7th among forwards despite limited ice time and poor linemates, and his possession numbers put him in the top-5 among Jets' forwards last year (and 8th the year before). His limitations are obvious, but he put the puck in the right end of the ice more often than not as a fourth liner and that has value.
So the question is, why the trade? What does it tell us about Paul Maurice's intentions for this season, his coaching preferences, and the direction of the team?
The Right Deal?
The Jets waived Peter Budaj today, indicating he's at best #3 on the depth chart. With the team desperately in need of a marquee goaltender, we can hope that he's a useful support for Connor Hellebuyck but doesn't impede his opportunity at the net - especially with Eric Comrie turning pro next season. The team needs answers and development, not more questions and waiting.
We can imagine Budaj is the first call-up in case of injury, though, which is what he should be if you believe Eyes on the Prize. Budaj's career .903 save percentage puts him at the level of an NHL call-up goaltender according to their research - a good AHL goalie, a bad NHL one. That career number includes two seasons as the de facto starter on a bad Avalanche team, both sub-.900 seasons, so it may not be fair. His more recent work - a .910 as a backup in 3 years in Montreal - puts him in average NHL back-up territory and ties him with Al Montoya's career number.
Patrick Holland is a reasonable depth addition considering Tangradi was being flushed by the Jets. A 1992 birthday who exploded in his draft +2 season, Holland finished 6th in WHL scoring with 109 points in 2012/13. His turn to pro has come with injury troubles and a drop in his offence. Once known for his hockey IQ, two-way ability, and exceptional passing, Holland fell down a poor Hamilton Bulldogs roster and lost his PP time in his second pro season. He might be a Mitch Holmberg-type for those of you watching the Oilers this pre-season. He won't replace the offence or veteran presence of IceCaps standouts like Jerome Samson or Andrew Gordon from last year, but he adds to the team's forward depth and we can hope he provides some shelter for the many new professionals debuting with the club. He's a 'tweener' and so is unlikely to ever make the NHL. But he's still only 22 and has 2nd line AHL potential.
It's fair to question the additions made, and Tangradi might have been the best player in the deal. But ultimately, the Jets acquired Tangradi for a 7th and eventually moved him for a player at a more shallow position. It's a hockey deal with unwanted assets from both sides.
We know that Maurice intends to be fast, and Eric Tangradi is not fast. When Paul Maurice took the job, he noted that he was excited about having a young, fast, big team. TJ Galiardi and Matt Halischuk remain with the team despite having their own visible limitations. Matthieu Perreault is not necessarily a faster skater than Jokinen, but we can be sure he moves in more straight lines. Kane and Wheeler are together after years of attacking with speed from an outside lane solo. Maurice has preached simple outs, speed through the neutral zone, and straight lines in attacking to the net. Tangradi is more of a rumbling player who eventually finds a corner for 30 seconds of filler effort.
If we leave it at that - Maurice wants something this player doesn't have - it's a sound move. The 'fitness = playoffs' drum has been sounded often this pre-season, and it's reasonable to assume that Tangradi's skating fitness wasn't ideal for Maurice's system either. He's never been known for his range or stamina.
At the same time, players like Galiardi and Halischuk are known for their extremely poor possession results. Adam Lowry - another candidate to take a bottom-six role this season - is a rookie with just 73 professional games of experience and isn't likely to (or expected to) push the flow of play for some time.
A move as small as shipping Tangradi out of town signals that the organization is even less interested in possession and control of play than they were this time last year, but are equally or more concerned about scoring chances as a metric of effective play. (That may excite or disappoint – it’s a matter of perspective and preference)
Eric Tangradi was having limited impact on the Jets. Playing under 10 minutes night, he managed just 6 points last season. Even if we all agreed his replacement was a downgrade, the consequence would be a matter of a few goals at most over a whole season.
Instead, what is of interest to me is the value this management and coaching group have placed on skating and on scoring chances. Paul Maurice is hardly the first coach to ever consider trying hard, being fit, and getting chances to score as a recipe for success. But at the same moment the Jets are replacing a possession player with a speed player, John Tortorella is living on buy out money and the Maple Leafs are handing control of the systems to the assistants Randy Carlyle didn’t get to pick after both coaches chose speed and scoring chances over possession. Teams are hiring analytics gurus – a crowd that has lauded Tangradi as a 4th liner and lobbied against bloated contracts for replacement level players like Budaj – while the Jets are convinced that simplicity, gumption, and skating will be the difference.
The team had a predictable pattern last year, including notable offensive brown-outs against teams that play above the puck in defensive transition. Against the Wild, Kings, Blues and Lightning, the team went 4-9-3 with an average of 2 goals per game (just 1.3 goals per game in the 12 losses). Despite all the rhetoric about change and the hope for a new coach, is it possible a move as simple as Eric Tangradi for Peter Budaj signals the continuation of those same structural problems? Those teams with aggressive forechecks, vertical speed styles, or who play to the man in defensive transition got burned a little more often. We saw the team go 8-2-1 against the Ducks, Coyotes, Leafs, and Oilers last season. In that way, the team moved in fits and starts to an 11th place Western conference finish. Consistency was said to be a problem, but in truth, the team was extremely consistent in everything but who they played.
The challenge for the Jets is identifying players who help in every game against every opponent. Moving Tangradi to give a roster spot to Halischuk is just picking which teams to be effective against.