One of the least heralded trades to go down yesterday was the deal between Anaheim and Atlanta that say the Ducks send away forward Evgeny Artyukhin in exchange for minor-league defenceman Nathan Oystrick and a conditional draft pick.
Given the small stakes involved, my use of the word ‘robs’ above is over-selling things, but in my mind there’s no doubt that the Ducks win this deal, hands-down. I’ll explain.
For starters, there are significant problems with Artyukhin as an NHL player, the biggest of which is his penchant for taking his tiny bits of ice-time and converting them into opposition power plays. Among NHL players averaging more than five minutes of ice-time per game (min. 20 games played), Artyukhin ranks third in penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice-time. Last year, he was second. On average, for every 20 minutes the big Russian is on the ice, the opposition will get a power play. He’s three times as likely to take a penalty as he is to draw one. He may not be the Gretzky of stupid penalties, but there’s a good case to be made that he’s at least the Datsyuk of that particular statistic.
Artyukhin plays fourth line minutes, has been brutally outshot every year he’s been in the NHL, has little or no offensive game to speak of (his best offensive season at any level was a 40-point year in the QMJHL) and is only in the league because he stands 6’4” and likes to hurt things. As a hockey player, he’s a negative asset.
At first glance, though, he’s a better bet than Nathan Oystrick, a 27 year-old minor leaguer whose only NHL experience came last season with the Thrashers. On the other hand, a little digging tells me that Oystrick could be a pretty serviceable NHL defenceman, especially given that he’s dirt cheap and doesn’t mind the rough stuff.
Let’s start with Oystrick’s time with the Thrashers last season. He was cast in the role of sixth or seventh defenceman, and thus saw favourable matchups; i.e. against lower-tier NHL players. He had a favourable zone start ratio for the Thrashers, meaning that he only started in his own end 46% of the time rather than 40% of the time. It’s what he did in that role that’s interesting: he broke even. The chart below shows the 5-on-5 shot clock totals for the seven Thrashers defenceman to play 25+ games last season, adjusted for ice-time:
Those are favourable numbers. Very favourable, actually, considering the mess that was the 2008-09 Atlanta Thrashers. But that isn’t the only mark in his favour. With a player like Oystrick we have a long track record to look at; more than 150 NCAA games and more than 200 AHL games. I’ve added up his totals in both of those leagues to give us his average (82 game) season, and for the heck of it I’ve included a projected 82 game NHL season.
Oystrick’s performed very well at whatever level he’s played at; his CCHA career showed a capable two-way defenceman, his AHL career shows a capable two-way defenceman, and his NHL career to date shows the same things, albeit in a depth role.
The reality is that this trade isn’t a huge deal. Anaheim’s traded a tough, physical but otherwise useless NHL’er for a minor-league defenceman who might be a good third-pairing guy right now. Nobody gets too excited about capable third-pairing defencemen (except for me of course) but I believe the salary cap era makes these guys valuable, and Anaheim may have just got a useful piece (plus a conditional draft pick) for not much really.