Thursday, 26 February 2009

Break It Down!

There has been a somewhat surprising lack of commentary on the Ryan Whitney-for-Chris Kunitz and spare parts deal made by Pittsburgh and Anaheim today. While it seems that sides are divided on who essentially won the trade, both teams seem to fill glaring holes. Anaheim, in the tightly-contested Western Conference, needed to improve their blueline while securing a quality defender for the future. Pittsburgh, desperate for a scoring threat to play alongside Sidney Crosby, acquired Kunitz who, for all intents and purposes, should slot in beside Sid for the foreseeable future. The Penguins also acquired junior player Eric Tangradi, currently starring with the OHL's Belleville Bulls, to help the team in the future after dealing away Angelo Esposito last season at the deadline.

The terms "winner" and "loser" in a trade don't really fit here since it all depends on your perspective. Whitney's return from injury caused the Penguins to send Alex Goligoski back to the AHL, and created a logjam of defenders in Steeltown. Moving him was a result of his contract and his recent poor play. At 26 years of age, he still has a huge upside, but he simply looked out of place in his own zone with the Penguins.

In Anaheim, he can play on the second unit and pair up with one of Pronger, Niedermayer, or Beauchemin to give the Ducks one of the deepest bluelines in the West. He'll help a powerplay with his shot and puck movement, and he still has a good breakout pass from his own end - perfect for scoring threats like Selanne, Perry, and Getzlaf. Being coached by a former Norris winner in Randy Carlyle should only help him in his own zone in front of Giguere and Hiller.

"I know that I can play better than I have this year and I think I will," Whitney said about the trade to The Associated Press. "It's about me getting some confidence back and having a new start."

While it was known for some time that Whitney was possibly up for sale at the trading post, I don't think anyone could have predicted getting Chris Kunitz back from Anaheim. He has 16 goals and 19 assists this season, but could see a dramatic rise in his output if he and Crosby click as expected. He's a great hustle guy who isn't afraid to go into the corners, and seems to enjoy the battles. His conditioning with the Penguins shouldn't be a problem as he was logging over 27 minutes per game on the west coast.

Once again, though, the Penguins get a little smaller. Giving up Whitney hurts their size on the back end, and Kunitz isn't the big, power winger that Crosby appears to have needed. Kunitz will have to continue to play as a plus-player - the Penguins need to get a better effort from their backchecking forwards if they want to climb into a playoff spot.

Where this trade may look like a mismatch is through the development of throw-in Eric Tangradi. Tangradi is currently second in OHL scoring, posting 38 goals and 49 assists with Belleville. When GM Ray Shero traded Armstrong, Christensen, and Esposito to Atlanta last season, there were some serious questions raised about the number of good, young prospects in the Penguins' organization. With the addition of Tangradi, the Penguins may have added a legitimate scoring threat for the AHL Baby Penguins next season.

All in all, this trade should benefit both teams. Are these the pieces needed for this year's playoff push? Time will tell, but neither of these players should be a cause to sound any alarms with their new teams.

In a second trade today, the Montreal Canadiens sent forward Steve Begin to the Dallas Stars for journeyman defenceman Doug Janik. I'm not sure how this helps the Montreal Canadiens whatsoever, but Dallas is getting a hard-nosed, grinding forward who can wear down opponents.

I've never understood why depth players like Begin are cast aside by teams. They are the guys who coaches send out to do the dirty work - skate the opposition's top line and throw a lot of checks; chip in a goal to swing momentum of a game; or to shut down and pester a player who has a scoring touch. Begin did all of these things well, and never once complained about ice time or playing on the fourth line publicly. While he asked GM Bob Gainey for a trade if he wasn't going to be used after having been a healthy scratch for the last five games, it was his depth and energy that seemed to break the Canadiens out of slumps. Begin wasn't Ovechkin, but he brought intangibles to the table when he played.

The acquisition of Janik by the Canadiens gives them some depth, albeit not much. Since turning pro in 2001, Janik has played in 159 NHL games, recording three goals and thirteen assists. He's obviously not going to shoot the lights out like Mike Green, but his lack of playing time in the NHL clearly speaks volumes. With the majority of his games coming between 2006 and 2008 with the Tampa Bay Lightning - one in which they were the worst team in the league - I still have no idea why Gainey would take a chance on Janik, especially when he has to clear waivers.

"It was more of a wish than a demand," said Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey to The Canadian Press. "I believe this will be a good opportunity for Steve and we also capture a defence player with NHL experience who will be available to us if he clears waivers."

That's a huge "if". Look at what happened with goaltender Wade Dubielewicz earlier this season. He was supposed to be suiting up with the Islanders, but the Blue Jackets claimed his off waivers. The same thing could essentially happen to Janik, leaving Montreal with nothing in return for dealing Begin.

Honestly, though, who is that desperate to claim Janik?

I really think Begin could be the grinding forward that Brett Hull wanted Sean Avery to be this season. Good on the Stars for picking up the veteran for, literally, nothing.

Trading season is starting! March 4 is officially the big day, but another big piece of the pie has been moved as Whitney is off the board. Who will be next?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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