Marc Bergevin’s first real trade came out of seemingly nowhere, and it wasn’t a minor one, either. He sent the team’s leading goal-scorer of last year for Dallas’s current scoring leader. This is a trade that was all about the numbers.
Erik Cole was perhaps Pierre Gauthier’s signature acquisition, having signed a four-year, 4.5 million-a-year contact at the beginning of last season. Last year, Cole faced fairly weak opposition (7th among the team’s forwards) and was started in the offensive zone more often than not (51.5% O-Zone start). He parlayed that, and a lot of good luck (10.3% on-ice shooting percentage, 14.5% personal shooting percentage) into somewhat positive possession (4.18 Corsi) on a bad possession team and a career-high 35 goals. It was a great performance, but one he was unlikely to reproduce. He was an important cog for the Habs, but he was ripe for a “sell high” trade. In Carolina he was regularly used as Staal’s sidekick in tough minutes (much like Gionta to Plekanec this year). As a Hab, he was used in more of an exploitation role. And despite his lackluster scoring numbers, Cole had extremely strong possession numbers (13.9 Corsi) in an exploitation role this year.
He was traded for Ryder, who last year faced fairly weak opposition (6th among the team’s forward) and was started in the offensive zone more often than not (51.8% O-Zone start). He parlayed that, and a lot of good luck (10.88% on-ice shooting percentage, 16.6% personal shooting percentage) into fairly neutral possession (-0.26 Corsi) on a mediocre possession team and a career-high 35 goals… gee, all this sounds awfully familiar.
Both players are coming off seasons they’re unlikely to reproduce. Ryder’s scoring numbers this season so far are better, but it’s largely because his luck has held (14.3% personal shooting percentage) while Cole has been a victim of bad luck (7.3% personal shooting percentage). As Pacioretty amply demonstrated, such slumps happen, but shooting percentage almost invariably regresses to the mean over time.
The two players, therefore, are fairly close in 5-on-5 ability, though I would give Cole the edge because he does have superior metrics, and he is more of a play-driver than Ryder. Bergevin’s intimation that Ryder can help the Habs’ power play is not without cause, however; despite all the hoopla last season about Martin refusing to use Cole on the power play, he’s traditionally an average-to-mediocre performer there, whereas Ryder is usually a much better PP producer.
Nevertheless, Montreal gave away the stronger player in the deal, justifying the return of a third-round pick.
But of course, this deal is not about those numbers found on behindthenet.ca or even nhl.com; it is, first and foremost, about those numbers found on CapGeek. Cole has two more years at 4.5 million dollars; they would be his 35 and 36 year old years, years in which he is likely to decline to at least some extent. Ryder is on an expiring deal; between this, the early Gomez buyout, and another amnesty buyout (likely to be Kaberle with Bourque rediscovering his game), Bergevin has neatly solved the upcoming salary crunch that was looming with the cap going down to 64.3 million next year. He will need to find a new winger to replace Ryder and Cole, but with two rookies likely to evolve into strong top-6 players (indeed, Gallagher looks like a quality exploitation winger right now), he does not need to retain the same quality of player if money is tight. If money isn’t tight, he can now gun for an elite UFA.
All in all, I’d call the trade a win for Bergevin, though I hesitate to go so far as to call it a “masterstroke” as some have; he did give the better player in the deal, after all, and that’s an odd thing for a team sitting at the top of the newspaper standings and possessing such strong underlying metrics to do. But the downgrade between Cole and Ryder is very slight and Bergevin improved his cap flexibility next year, which was looming as a serious problem. The third-round pick is a small asset (it’s unlikely to produce a NHLer of any value even with Timmins at the helm), but it’s nice to get the throw-in.
Not a masterstroke, then, but a nice little “cap” trade that shows a good insight into the workings of the salary cap by the Habs’ GM. As that had been a concern, it’s very nice to see.