The trade deadline is fast approaching and it is time to analyze what is out there.
As always, the trading market has a variety of different options from spread makers to deep cuts that can put a team over the top or plug some much needed holes. There is something for everyone and I wanted to explore the most interesting names available and analyze what to expect from them.
With an analytical bent, I’ve dived deep into three categories of players: the biggest names, the little-known types, and of course, the red flags.
This post focuses on players who are under the radar, players who are known as commodities but may fly under the radar as deep players, buy low options, or reclamation projects. They’re guys who may make a bigger difference than many expect – and cost less as a result.
These are the five players flying under the radar at this year’s trade deadline and what to expect from each of them.
Well, well, well – if there is no other poet fueling analyzes on the worth of Jesse Bulgojarvi. Let’s get this clear from the start: Puljujarvi has been a player below replacement level this season. His harshest critics may have moved on to something last season when Polijarvi’s most ardent supporters were touting him as a top-class talent. The results certainly made it seem but with his performance this season it may just have been a mirage created by McDavid.
Puljujarvi’s career is at a crossroads right now. The 24-year-old was picked fourth overall in the 2016 draft, but has consistently struggled to meet the bills. There were flashes, but clearly not enough to justify Ouetirus’ desire to keep him around. It’s a project to reclaim his pedigree and performance over the previous two seasons, and it’s a project worth arguing about.
The comparison many draw with Puljujarvi is that of Valeri Nichushkin – a player who seemed to have little to give to offense at the NHL level early in his career. He scored an infamous zero in 57 games in 2018-19 with the Stars at the age of 23, making Bulgojarvi look like a sniper by comparison. Despite this, Nichushkin showed promise with his ability to suppress opportunities and had his own avalanche the following year. Obviously, they haven’t had any regrets since then.
I’m not suggesting Puljujarvi follow the same path, but given his lineage, he’s a player worth being patient with. He’s already shown he can produce solid top-six finishes in the past, and while that was with the best player in the world, it tells us McDavid’s numbers are really down without Puljujarvi – particularly in defence. Offensively he needs help, no doubt, but at least he’s not a liability there.
Puljujarvi is not a perfect player, but a change of scenery could work wonders for him. With the Oilers wooing to move on from him, the potential team will likely do well to capitalize on this at a profitable cost.
After years of being a leading scorer at the quarterback, Nick Begstad spent the three seasons leading up to this season toiling away at sixth place. A player who was a bit difficult because of an injury. This year he received another chance at something else with the Arizona Coyotes and proved his worth in the process.
In 55 games, Bjugstad has scored just 13 goals and 23 points, which isn’t much to write home about. But at five-on-five, Bjugstad swings an average of 1.63 points per 60, which puts him in the middle six territory. That’s acceptable (and for teams looking for places he’s better than both Ryan O’Reilly and Max Domi), but that’s not what makes Bjugstad so intriguing. It’s his defense as the Coyotes only allow 2.53 expected goals per 60 and 2.1 actual goals per 60. Both marks are among the team’s best and his relative impact is very strong as a result.
Bjugstad has a surprisingly long track record of strong base numbers with six straight seasons having above-average comparative impact. This is Bjugstad’s first year within that spell where his expected actual goal rate is less than 50 percent and this likely has more to do with the team he plays for than with his game. Despite the poor surroundings, the Coyotes still managed to score 55 percent of the goals with Bjugstad on the ice. That’s huge given the context.
The key part of Bjugstad’s results is that he’s not just doing it in a sheltered role – he’s doing it as a second-line center in Arizona. They mostly thrive with opportunity. The Coyotes aren’t very consistent with their stripes, but it’s worth noting that Bjugstad has the hardest jobs on the team. He’s not eaten alive despite the big role, he keeps to himself and that’s a very good sign for the opposing team.
If Bjugstad is doing it in a senior role in a bad team, chances are he can thrive in a much smaller role in a much better team. Forget the Sam Lafferty hype. If a team is looking for a bottom-six responsible position that can provide solid defensive results, Bjugstad is a top choice.
Oh yeah, and he’s 6’6 too – because that counts.
If size matters, that’s probably reason enough why Conor Garland isn’t the hottest commodity — and why the Canucks are exploring the idea of moving from him. He plays bigger than he is, but at 5’10” and 165 pounds there is still reason to doubt his overall effectiveness in a playoff setting. It’s hard to thrive in a heavier environment as one of the lightest players in the league. Put in his contract, $4.95 million for three more seasons, and Garland’s value as an asset doesn’t seem so strong. Especially during a down year.
Still – Garland gets results. The results are usually worth $5 million per season. Cam Charron covered this in detail last week with an enthusiastic post about its value, and it’s unsurprising that two analytically savvy people saw it head to head.
In each of the past five seasons, Garland’s impact on actual and projected goal difference has been positive. Normally, his teams earn more than 55 percent on goals and 52 percent on expected goals with him on the ice, which is saying a lot considering the quality of the teams he’s been a part of. That is, until this season where it’s only about 47 to 48 percent of actual and projected goals. Given his consistent relative influence, it is probably more on the team she has let him down than Garland has failed the team.
Garland hasn’t been producing as much in past years and has seen his scoring opportunity contribution rate decline, but even his numbers in a down year have been good. If that’s Garland’s floor, he’s still a player worth cultivating as someone who can provide a capable second line production at the age of five. as a floor. At his best, Garland has averaged 2.52 points per 60 the past two seasons and is the kind of effective depth score that can put a team out on top in a series. It’s a middle-aged luxury.
Vancouver isn’t entirely wrong in wanting this given the team’s massive salary commitments on the winger, but that could be a win for another team.
An amazing name to see there given Seattle’s current playoff standing, but if the Kraken is indeed pitching offers for Carson Sussi, it would be a huge curiosity grab for a team looking to fill a deep defensive role.
Soucy is everything GMs claim to be looking for this time of year: a solid defensive back but mobile with size. Susi is all of those things – he just doesn’t play hard minutes. That’s the sticking point here, but the main difference between Soucy and the available defenders who play hard is that these players play higher in the lineup out of necessity rather than talent.
That and Soucy are not a liability in his role. In fact, it is getting results that consistently exceed expected targets while achieving a very strong goals ratio. These findings probably will not lead to further translation, but this is not certain. We already know that they don’t do it with the Gavrikovs and Edmundsons of the world. Susi has the ability to surprise, much like last year’s Brett Kulak.
What makes Soucy such an attractive commodity is that year after year, opposing players have a very difficult time scoring while he’s on the ice. Soucy consistently allows fewer chances than his teammates, but his influence on actual goals against him is greater. Over the course of four years, that made sense and in 3,254 minutes his teams allowed 0.49 fewer goals for every 60 goals with him on the ice than they did outside. It is one of the highest scores in the league.
This is likely affected by the weaker competition he’s playing against, but there are elements to his game that seem strong enough to translate higher in the lineup. This year for the Seattle Susie he was the team’s best defender at recovering pucks and turning them into zone exits. He was also one of the most effective defenders in the league at rush defense. Soucy is targeted for zone entries 26 times out of 60 but has only allowed a chance to score 2.6 of those. That’s an impressive ratio not far from Jakob Slaven – though there’s clearly a huge difference in the degree of difficulty there. Soucy allows only 39 percent of entries that rank second in the league to John Marino and trails 16 percent of entries that also rank highly in the league.
Seattle isn’t just going to give up Susi, and it’s not in the middle of a playoff run. But Kraken seems to be listening if the right offer comes up. I don’t think any defenseman on the market deserves the rumored asking for someone like Gavrikov, but if given the option at the same cost, I’d pick Soucy without hesitation.
When Anthony Mantha was traded for Jakub Vrana, it felt like a seismic moment at the trade deadline. What could Mantha be capable of in a new team? How will Frana perform in a bigger role? As it turns out, the deal ended up being a mutual mess for both sides, but for Varana it has more to do with his inability to stay in the line-up than anything else.
Last season, Vrana was limited to just 26 games with the Red Wings, but it’s easy to forget that in those 26 games, he scored 13 goals and 19 points. In his first 11 games after the trade he had eight goals and 11 points. Even in the two singles matches he has played this year, Frana has had a goal and an assist. When he scores 46 goals and 67 points, the problem is how rare that is.
However, it made it quite a shock when Vrana returned from his time with the NHL and NHLPA Player Assistance Program and was promptly waived during the AHL conditioning period. Vrana isn’t an AHL-caliber player, far from it. He has a lot of upside to save a future team, scoring a high of $4.5 million owed to him this season and next.
Vrana isn’t the best defensive player and that’s certainly an issue for a potential play-off team, but his ability to score goals efficiently is extremely rare and this could make him incredibly useful as an option in the middle of the six-goal sack. Since the 2020-21 season, Vrana has scored 1.65 goals-per-60 on five-for-five, a rate bested by exactly one player: Auston Matthews. With points per 60, he ranks 2.79 in the top ten, between Matthew Tkachuk and Nikita Kucherov.
This does not mean that Vrana is that caliber of player or even that caliber of scorer. There is a difference between scoring at this rate in the middle sixth and at the top of the lineup. But the key is how efficient he can be at the forward’s primary task: getting pucks into the net. Few can match the ferocious frequency that Vrana is capable of. He deserves another chance at that.
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(Top photo by Nick Bjugstad: Jerome Miron/USA Today)
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