Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Regrets, I've had a Few

kris versteeg panthers leafs
Making a trade is always a risky proposition. You may think you know what you're giving up, but sometimes, especially with young players, you really have no idea. If you have to give something to get something, in a lot of cases that something you give could turn out to be a lot more than you expected.

It’s very rare that you can rummage in the dumpster out back, throw your findings in an old, dirty burlap sack and get Dion Phaneuf. It just doesn’t happen all that often, especially now that Darryl Sutter isn’t employed as a GM.

Sometimes you're the one giving up the Dion Phaneuf in the deal. In other words: the loser.

Being on the losing end of a deal is a bad feeling. There’s the shame in knowing that your team once had that certain player now dominating the league, and there’s an even greater shame in knowing the team you support is run by people dumb enough to let that player get away.

That’s the feeling Toronto fans get when they think about Tuukka Rask, Boston’s backup goalie who just needs to wait for Tim Thomas to vacate the crease before becoming the league’s best netminder. He's already amazing, but Thomas is so unhumanly good that Rask sits patiently and bides his time before everyone can see his awesomeness 60+ times a year. Thanks, JFJ!

It’s also the feeling Leafs Nation gets whenever Tyler Seguin’s name shows up in the boxscore. Although this feeling is somewhat mitigated every time Phil Kessel’s name shows up, which, thankfully, is quite often.

In addition to Seguin and Rask, another former Leaf is doing quite well for himself. Kris Vertseeg has 28 points in 26 games for the Florida Panthers. He sits 10th in points and is in the top-20 in goals.

But despite how well Versteeg is playing right now, very few Maple Leafs fans are bemoaning his loss. There are a few reasons for this.

First, the Leafs are doing well without him. They sit sixth in the Eastern Conference and are fifth in goals-per-game. Versteeg’s value would be much more apparent if the Leafs were in a lottery position and looked way atop the standings to see their former winger helping lead the Panthers. In that case, having Versteeg would be a big boost, and consequently, not having him would hurt much more than it does now.

Plus, the fact that Versteeg’s replacement, Joffrey Lupul, is having a breakout season of his own also contributes to the lack of regret over dumping Versteeg. Lupul wasn’t acquired via trade for Versteeg, so he didn’t directly replace him, but he took his spot in the lineup and has been able to fill in opposite Phil Kessel in a way Versteeg oddly never could.

But the most important reason Leafs Nation feels little remorse over dealing Versteeg is that the Philadelphia Flyers also passed on Versteeg before the Panthers reaped all the rewards.

In some sense, both the Bruins and the Blackhawks gave up on Versteeg as well, although they did so before Toronto and Philadelphia. The Bruins traded Versteeg, who at the time had 55 points in his first 56 games in the AHL, to Chicago for Brandon BochenskiDon Cherry’s one-time Rookie of the Year pick.

Versteeg helped the Hawks win the Stanley Cup in 2009-10 as a valuable member of their third line. He was traded almost immediately after his name was engraved on Lord Stanley's mug, a casualty of the salary cap. 

I guess Chicago didn’t so much as give up on Versteeg as they deemed him expendable in their attempt to keep Patrick Sharp, which is totally understandable, but doesn't change the fact that they didn't see the value in Versteeg, just like everyone else who traded him.

More recently, it was in both Toronto and Philadelphia that Versteeg was looked at as a top-6 forward, and it was here that he failed to live up to those expectations, eventually resulting in his exile.

Disregarding the reason for his departure, simply put, four teams got rid of Kris Versteeg.

The fact that Philadelphia passed up on Versteeg after Toronto confirms the thought process of Leafs management. If they failed to harness Versteeg’s latent ability as a top-6 forward as well, then Toronto wasn’t so wrong in trading him in the first place. The Flyers are just as culpable as the Leafs. If the Leafs feel any remorse for dealing Versteeg, so too should the Flyers, and there's something comforting in knowing that others share in your pain. In a way, it eases it.

It wasn’t until Versteeg made it to Florida, his fifth organization in seven years, that he truly blossomed. If any of the other organizations realized Versteeg would turn into the player he is today, they surely would have kept him, salary cap constraints or not.

Maybe there is something special about the circumstances in Florida that has helped Versteeg play so well. Maybe if he never made it to Florida he would have continued to perform as the same 40-50 point player trapped somewhere between the second and third line.

Regardless, Florida saw the potential in Versteeg and has extracted what four other teams were unable to do. The Panthers are clearly the benefactors of other organizations’ mistake. But was dealing Versteeg truly a regrettable failure for those four other teams?

In essence, the collective mistake of those four organizations means that none truly failed. The mistake of dealing Versteeg is somewhat diffused across all four teams. All were wrong, so in a way none were wrong.

Brad Boyes is another example of how the diffusion of responsibility makes the departure of a good player more palatable.

Boyes, a former first round pick of the Maple Leafs, scored 76 goals for the St. Louis Blues over two seasons and was a what-if for the Leafs, who received less than 82 games from Owen Nolan in the exchange for Boyes.

However, the Leafs didn’t trade Boyes to the Blues: the Bruins did. But the Leafs didn’t trade Boyes to the Bruins either; they traded Boyes to the Sharks. The Sharks got rid of Boyes after one year, and the Bruins did likewise after Boyes’ first season in the NHL.

Each progressive step away from the Leafs reduces the discomfort in seeing Boyes succeed. If both San Jose and Boston gave up on Boyes, Toronto must not have made a completely incomprehensible move. The fact that Boyes’ career took a swift decline after those two years in St. Louis certainly hasn’t hurt either.

Kris Versteeg is doing something in Florida that he was unable to do in Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Philadelphia: he has become an excellent player.

Passing on a point-per-game player is stupid. But the rest of the league didn’t seem too eager to jump on Versteeg either, considering the Panthers were able to score Versteeg for a pittance. Versteeg cost a conditional second round pick and a third round pick (previously acquired from San Jose, which should be in the latter half of the draft).

Versteeg is making everyone who gave up on him look very stupid right now. But if everyone is stupid, then no one is stupid.


Ted said...

It's true, that extra degree of separation just makes it hurt less... I really wish Tyler Seguin would get traded.

Bo Jackson said...

Another good example: Nobody ever talks about Logan Couture. But the 1st round pick the Leafs traded to the Sharks for Toskala was then traded to the Habs for a higher 1st round pick, and then the Sharks end up with Couture.

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