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The Newest New Jersey Devil: Introducing Martin Skoula

The New Jersey Devils made only one trade at the trade deadline today; acquiring Martin Skoula from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2010 fifth round draft pick.   Thanks to Steve for getting the info up so quickly.  The general reaction in Steve's post about the trade is about right: it's a minor deal, if it works great, but if it doesn't it's no big loss.  No Devils fan should be too upset for the lack of action considering Lou pulled off a blockbuster back in February to bring Ilya Kovalchuk to the Rock.   Now, opinion does vary as to what Martin Skoula can do.  Now that he's a New Jersey Devil, let's get to learn a little more about the 30 year old defenseman, who is making $575,000 for this one-year deal.

2009-10 - Martin Skoula 33 3 5 8 -4 6 1 0 0 16:43 23 13.0
Career Stats - Martin Skoula 757 44 149 193 9 324 17 0 5 - 775 5.7

I will tell you up front, he's a depth defenseman.  He's not better than Mike Mottau and I question if he's really an improvement over Mark Fraser and Anssi Salmela.  Quite frankly, he hasn't been all that good of a defenseman recently.   Read on for a compilation of information about Skoula's last full season with Jacques Lemaire and Minnesota, as well as his time in Pittsburgh from this season.

First, Tom Gulitti talked to Lou Lamoriello about the deal.  Here's what Lou had to say about the acquisition:

"What he does is he gives us a big body (6-3, 225) that can play in different situations," Lamoriello told me. "More importantly, he is used to our style because he played for Jacques (Lemaire) in Minnesota. Whether he plays the five, six or seven (defenseman), he give us depth and when Paul Martin comes back we’ll have eight defensemen."

Right up front, Lou states that he gives the Devils depth on defense. He didn't say he'll be competing for a larger spot. He didn't say he'll make an impace. He said that the most important traits about this move are that Skoula is familiar with Lemaire's coaching and that he adds depth to the Devils' blueline.  For a fifth round pick, that's not bad. I'm sure the Toronto Maple Leafs fans are pleased they turned him into an extra pick; but will it come back to haunt the Devils?  Probably not.

However, his time in Pittsburgh and his last season in Minnesota - where he was coached by Jacques Lemaire - wasn't good.

2008-09 with Minnesota

2008 - Martin Skoula 81 4 12 16 -12 10 0 0 0 19:57
55 7.3

Skoula played a lot in Minnesota and, well, he wasn't exactly a rock in his own end.  Back in May 2009, BReynolds of Hockey Wilderness painted a vivid description of how the Wild fans felt about Skoula:

What he means to the team:

Skoula's worth as an NHL defenseman is debatable, with those who believe he is useless, and those who feel he is a solid third pairing d-man. His worth to a team, and a fan base is less tangible. He serves, if nothing else, as a scapegoat. He can always be blamed for a mishap, a goal against, or a loss. A way can certainly be found to blame him for the strife in the Middle-East if you give me enough time.

What is gained by a re-signing, what is lost if he walks:

The only thing I see as a positive should Skoula re-sign is the scapegoat returns. Maybe a new coach can teach him to be physical and protect the goalie, but it is doubtful.

Nothing is lost if he walks. Nothing at all. It would actually be a God send if another team makes him an offer. He still, somehow, has a solid reputation throughout the league. Skoula leaving would open up a spot for any number of possibilities. Someone from Houston could come up and get a shot. Maybe Cuma comes up from juniors.

Skoula leaving would be one of the best moves a new GM could make in both PR, and on-ice production. Who becomes the scapegoat after that? Only time will tell.

Should they (and will they) make an offer?

They should not. There are few players on the roster that I would say an offer should not even be made too. Heck, I even admitted they should try to re-sign Gaborik. Skoula needs to go, and they should not even make an offer, for fear he might take it.

Needless to say, he and the Wild fans didn't like Skoula. They got what they wanted, though, as he signed with Pittsburgh right before the beginning of this season.

The even strength numbers at Behind the Net from that season are enlightening about Skoula's worth, in my opinion.  His QUALCOMP (quality of competition) was slightly above average at 0.009 and his QUALTEAM (quality of teammates) was slightly below the median at -0.001.  Yet, he managed the second worst rating (-0.82) among Wild defensemen who played 10 games or more in 08-09.   How? Well, his CORSI was low (-8.0), and when he stepped on the ice the goals for per 60 went down (2.15 to 1.93) as well as the shots for per 60 (24.5 to 23.6).  So Skoula's not bringing the offense.

Fine, but what about defense?  Well, when he's on the ice the Wild's shots against per 60 went down a little bit from 28.0 to 27.2.  At the same time, the goals against per 60 rose from 2.01 to 2.61 when Skoula is taking a shift.  That's pretty shocking!  It's not like it's the result of a few bad games, I mean, he played 81 games for Minnesota and across all of those shifts, the team gave up .6 more goals per 60 minutes. No wonder he was present for 58 goals against in 5-on-5 situations. All of this, to me, suggests a statistical proof of Reynolds'  and the Minnesota fans' assertion that he tends to be around for mishaps and goals against. 

In fact, it's not even just their assertion. His own player profile at SBN states the following as a flaw for Skoula:

Gets himself caught out of position on occasion and makes the wrong play at the wrong time.


Well, that could very well explain the big jump in goals against per 60 minutes when Skoula stepped onto the rink in Minnesota in 08-09.  It can't be just horrible luck, not across 81 games and averaging just under 20 minutes per game.

No wonder I wasn't keen on wanting him to be signed last summer.


2009-10 with Pittsburgh

Skoula signed with the Penguins on September 29, 2010 in a one-year deal for $575,000.  The move was noted by Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh as a depth signing, with little enthusiasm as Skoula didn't make it in Florida's camp.  As it turned out, he's been exactly that - rotated in and out of the lineup as needed to fill in holes made by injuries. Mind you, when he did play, he played somewhere between 17-20 minutes until December when his minutes started dropping.  So it wasn't as if he got limited minutes for most of his 33 games.

I think the best way to illustrate Skoula's time in Pittsburgh is to look at the monthly grades Hooks Orpik assigns to each Penguin.  The grades are relative to expectations, and as you'll see, he basically played himself out of Pittsburgh.   In October, Skoula got a "C+" for playing decent and still trying to fit in with the team.  In November, Hooks praised Skoula highly with a "B+" and stating that he was still a viable NHL defenseman in rotation.  That was his peak.  In December, he was given a "C" for being decent.  Fine.  Then 2010 happened and it all went awry.  In January, Skoula only played 6 games and was scratched even when the blueline wasn't fully healthy; so he was given a "D."  Hooks stated that his time in Pittsburgh may be done then, and  February confirmed it.  Skoula played only one game and did poorly in the 4:30 he did get (a -2), solidifying the loss of confidence by the coaching staff (and getting an "F"). 

So, Pittsburgh had no problem dumping him to Toronto along with prospect Luca Caputi in exchange for Alexei Ponikarovsky.

What does Behind the Net have? Well, for this season, there's Tom Awad's GVT stat to take a look at.  Skoula managed to have a GVT above 0 so he wasn't a total waste in value, but it was pretty low at 1.2.  That's the lowest among any Penguins defensemen to have played more than 10 games this season.  Going back to the old-standby of even strength on-ice, off-ice numbers (minimum 10 games played); Skoula doesn't look so bad. When he stepped onto the ice representing the Penguins, the goals against per 60 dropped from 3.37 to 2.32 and the shots against per 60 fell from 27.0 to 25.7.  That's good.  However, the big red flag for this season is his quality of competition and teammates.  Skoula's QUALCOMP was at -0.103, the lowest on the team; and his QUALTEAM was at 0.063, the third highest on the team.  This means Skoula played the weakest opposition and with fairly strong teammates, that suggests to me that the Penguins coaching staff didn't want him in difficult situations at 5-on-5 hockey.

Combining that statistical suggestion along the way he apparently lost his coaches' confidence, it definitely doesn't suggest that he should be able to step right into New Jersey's blueline or even seriously challenge anyone on the team.  As Lou said, this is a depth move. 

He's not replacing Mark Fraser or Anssi Salmela unless either starts stinking it up on the ice.  He's definitely not going to be taking Mike Mottau's spot in the lineup.  He's going to be used when the coaches see the need for experience on the third pairing. When Paul Martin returns, he can used to spell players or replace guys who are injured in the run up to the playoffs. To that end, I'm not expecting much.  All I want is that he plays perfectly acceptable, average defense when he does play.

Incidentally, the move for Skoula means someone's got to go down to Lowell when Martin does return. It probably would be Vladimir Zharkov, as he can go back to Lowell without passing waivers.  (Though I don't think Andrew Peters or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond will be poached on waivers, they'll stick around for better or worse.)

So let me know what you think and expect out of Martin Skoula in the comments.  And do check out the SBN Trade Deadline hub to learn more about what other deals went down today.

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