The Philadelphia Flyers acquired Kris Versteeg from the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 14th for first and third round picks. Philly was riding high at the time as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and while the price tag for the former Hawk seemed rather steep due to the inclusion of a first round pick, it was generally considered a pretty good addition to the line-up.
Unfortunately the Flyers went into a bit of a tailspin after the deal, winning just 11 of their last 27 regular season games. The club’s post-Versteeg record was probably more coincidence than anything, but it illustrates the extremely limited impact an acquisition of a single player can have on a team.
One of the most common forms of analysis one sees after a trade is the tallying of goals a player typically scores and then ‘adding’ those goals to the line-up. “Flyers add 20-goal scorer Kris Versteeg” was probably written as a headline somewhere when the swap was announced, for instance. Twenty goals in a season is a conventional marker for an effective top-six forward in the NHL and as a quick rule of thumb, it’s fairly effective in identifying those kinds of players. In terms of actually assessing the potential and lasting impact on a given line-up, though, it’s next to useless.
This is mostly because adding a guy to a roster doesn’t simply mean piling his offensive contributions on top of what’s already there. If the Flyers re-sign Versteeg following the 2012-13 season, it would be inaccurate to simply add his career average goal total (21) to the Philadelphia’s GF column. This is because in adding Versteeg, the club displaces another forward on the roster. There are only so many minutes to go around for each forward on any given night, meaning Versteeg’s output and contributions would have to be significantly larger than those of the player(s) he is bumping down from the roster in order for him to have any real effect.
The Flyers were a fairly deep club before Versteeg arrived, so this wasn’t really the case. To illustrate, I’ll use Hockey Prospectus’ Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), a statistic defined by it’s creator Tom Awad as the value of a player, in goals, above what a replacement player would have contributed. GVT in as holistic stat that incorporates offensive, defensive and shoot-out contributions and then totals them against a theoretical “replacement level” player (basically, your average, fourth-line NHLer). The question it answers is: how many more goals was player X worth to the team – given Y ice time – versus a fourth-line plugger?
With that in mind, here is Versteeg’s GVT for Philadelphia: +1.7.
Yup, that’s it. Versteeg added just 1.7 goals above replacement level to Philly’s line-up over the last 27 games of the season. Of course, he likely wasn’t bumping a fourth liner from the Flyers top-six rotation, so if his addition limited the opportunities for guys like James Van Riemsdyk (GVT +8.2) or Nikolay Zherdev (+5.2), then his impact was probably even more limited.
In defense of Paul Holmgren and the Flyers organization, receiving an established, relatively effective NHLer for anything below a top-10 or top-15 draft pick is almost always a win in the long-term since most draft picks are little more than lottery tickets. If the club can retain Versteeg on a reasonable ticket in a couple summers or flip him for another useful piece, then the trade was probably a worthwhile one. That said, if the aim was to add a difference maker in a push to improve the team for the post-season, well…only the very best skaters and goalies in the league will have that sort of impact in the short-term, especially on a team like the Flyers who are already swimming in above replacement-level players.