There was a trade that happened two seasons ago that looks like a sure win for the Toronto Maple Leafs in retrospect. The Leafs, headed towards their sixth consecutive season with no playoffs, traded away François Beauchemin, under contract for one more season, for Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul.
Beauchemin has had an interesting career and despite being one of the steadiest and consistent top four defenders in the National Hockey League. He’s missed just 74 games due to injury over eight full seasons in the league. He’s played over 17 and a half minutes a game at even strength over each of the last four seasons save for last, when he only played 17:29. That was only good for 39th in the NHL, but his other years he’s been in the top 15 in the league in 5-on-5 ice time.
He’s the definition of a late bloomer and teams have been paying higher and higher prices for him throughout his career. Originally a third round pick by Montreal, he was waived by the team in 2004 and claimed by Columbus. Noted crazy person and terrible general manager Doug MacLean traded away the 25-year-old Beauchemin to Anaheim for a 36-year-old Sergei Fedorov.
That first season in Anaheim, Beauchemin played on the top pair, scored four powerplay goals, and was on the turnaround Mighty Ducks squad that ended up in the Western Conference Finals. A year later, even after the Ducks acquired Chris Pronger, Beauchemin saw his minutes increase from 24:14 to 25:28 and the Ducks won a Stanley Cup.
After signing as a free agent in Toronto coming off his one injury-plauged season, he was traded one-and-a-half seasons later for a package that looks like a king’s ransom in retrospect. Joffrey Lupul has established himself as a top line forward in Toronto, when healthy, and Jake Gardiner had a 30-point rookie campaign in 2011-2012, before being inexplicably benched by Randy Carlyle last season.
He keeps being traded for more and more things, and gets fewer and fewer dollars. He re-upped in Anaheim and took a $300K pay-cut, dropping from $3.8-million against the cap to $3.5-million. In the first year of that three year deal, Beauchemin came a distant fourth in Norris Trophy voting after finishing the season well down the list of top-scoring defencemen.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but he’s always seemed like an incredibly steady player in both ends of the ice. As little as he is recognized as a household name, he’s been one of hockey’s lesser-appreciated two-way defencemen for the last several years.
It’s important to note that Beauchemin’s PDO this past season, like most of the Ducks, was elevated. The Ducks shot 10.98% with Beauchemin on the ice and Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth stopped 94.1% of pucks at even strength, for an unsustainable PDO of 105.0%. That came after years in Toronto where problems in goal made it look like the team was horrible defensively, and Beauchemin as a top pairing guy took his share of the blame.
Which is hilarious, because when Beauchemin got to play with a competent goalie in net in James Reimer, he was a +2 in ten games. With Reimer in net, the Leafs had an above average-to-very good .926 even strength save percentage while without, it was a very bad-to-below average .913. Those .013 points in save percentage were good for about 14 goals when Beauchemin was in Toronto. He coincidentally was a minus-14.
It’s fun looking at Beauchemin in context. Over the six-year period you can look at the stats on Hockey Analysis, Beauchemin’s teammates, without him on the ice, have combined for a 48.9% Corsi rate (87th out of 102 defencemen with 5000 minutes) but amazingly, 50.1% in goals rate (49th). The discrepancy can be in no way Beauchemin’s fault, and it’s fun noting that over that period while his teammates have enjoyed a PDO of 100.4% when they’re on the ice without Beauchemin, Beauchemin’s managed to be just 98.9% total. The difference mostly lies in shooting, with on-ice teammates scoring on just 6.7% of shots. [Hockey Analysis]
Eric T. has done the leg-work here that shows quite decisively that defencemen don’t affect on-ice shooting rates, which makes Beauchemin’s low numbers over six seasons honestly quite amazing. Corsi-wise, teammates are better off with Beauchemin on the ice than off, but it sinks their overall goals rate for reasons that appear to be quite beyond Beauchemin’s control.
In 2011, the year he was traded from Toronto to Anaheim, was the only time he had both a negative Corsi ON and Relative Corsi, according to Behind the Net. His teams simply push the play forward with him on the ice, and he’s not playing easy minutes. His Corsi Rel QoC numbers bounce between above average and high for defencemen, and in only one year has he started the majority of shifts in the offensive zone.
Let’s not kid ourselves about his production in 2013. Him and Sheldon Souray together caught lightning in a bottle early on in the season. Two-thirds of Beauchemin’s points came in the first half of the season, as the Ducks jumped out to an unsustainable start and started to fade as the playoffs came around. It was nice to see, for fans of Beauchemin and Souray and the things that they’d put up with in Canadian markets that never seemed to appreciate them, tee off offensively for a month and a bit. Sustainable or not, they showed that they still have a lot of NHL ability left.
With Beauchemin it’s interesting. He’s always been a little underrated and a little unlucky, but slightly grew in value over his career. Not sure how many years he has left, but it’s clear his value has increased over his career and at 33, he’ll probably at least finish off the remaining two years on his deal with Anaheim providing them value for the money he’s making. I think he’d be on most teams’ top four, good-enough defensively to skate on his natural left side, but with a booming shot that allows him to play the right side as well. Versatility is an important attribute, as is durability, and Beauchemin appears to have both qualities and does so while playing big minutes.
Coming back to that Leafs and Ducks trade… it’s really even in retrospect. Both sides may have got a player they didn’t expect to acquire, and each probably gave up a player they didn’t think they had.