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Dissenting Opinion: Stempniak Trade Was the Best In-Season Move

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In the AATJ awards post last week, I was overruled by my fellow writers, who believe that the Matteau for Smith-Pelly trade was the best in-season move for the Devils. I disagree. Here is my dissenting opinion as to why the Stempniak trade is better.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

In our awards post last week, there were many awards where I was on point with the majority, and in fact there were several that had no dissenting opinions (like best goaltender obviously).  However, I did find myself in the minority for some of the awards.  One in which I found I was not a part of the majority was with the best in-season move.  Every writer except for me and one other chose the Stefan Matteau for Devante Smith-Pelly trade.  Now I agree that that was a quality trade, one where Ray Shero definitely came out on top.  Matteau clearly had no future in the organization, and in DSP it seems like they got a quality top 9 forward. There is nothing to argue about on that trade: it was a big hit.  And in fact, it really may end up being a better move for the New Jersey Devils than the one I picked.  I was not in disagreement when I saw that it had won the award.

What I want to give, however, is my opinion as to why I chose a different in-season move.  I picked the Lee Stempniak for picks move.  On the surface, I can see why it did not win.  The Devils did not gain anything specifically from those picks during the 2015-16 season.  In fact, they will not gain anything beneficial for years to come.  The trade netted the Devils a 4th rounder in this year's draft and a 2nd rounder in next year's.  So let's just say that the 4th rounder never pans out and the 2nd rounder needs a few years in the system before he becomes a regular NHL player.  That is a solid 4-5 years before we begin to see any fruits from this trade.  DSP, meanwhile, contributed immediately with some quality goal scoring that kept the Devils interesting and relevant even after it was clear that they had no chance to make the postseason.

However, that does not make the Stempniak trade moot.  There are a couple points I would like to make as to why it was at least as good as the DSP trade.  The first one is perhaps the easiest and most obvious point to make.  Stempniak was traded as a rental.  He will almost certainly not be re-signed in Boston unless he really liked it there, they want him back, and he is willing to accept less than he may be worth on the open market.  Boston is essentially at the cap ceiling this year, and if they want to bring back the likes of Loui Eriksson, Torey Krug or perhaps get ahead on a deal for Brad Marchand or Ryan Spooner, they will not be bringing back Stempniak or paying him anywhere near his worth given his production this season.

That makes Lee a free agent this offseason.  He has admitted before that he likes it in NJ, and said before he was traded that he would like to stay in the red and black if at all possible.  Let's face it too: he had his best success in a very long time in Newark this past season, and if he wants to up his value, playing here where he knows he can succeed is a good idea.  Plus, given that he has succeeded under John Hynes, Shero may look to bring him back into the fold.  He would become a good top 6 player for the next couple seasons while this team makes its way back from a rebuild.  If that happens, then the Devils still have the same quality goal scorer they had last season; they simply just traded him away for a third of a season, and in return got a 2nd and a 4th rounder.  That is like receiving free picks for doing absolutely nothing.  How do you argue with that?

Even if he does not come back to the Devils this offseason, that does not make the trade irrelevant.  Let's look at the perceived value of a 2nd and 4th rounder.  Last year, TSN analyst Scott Cullen researched the NHL drafts between 1990 and 2010.  He rated each selection in the draft based on the success that pick has had during those years in producing quality NHL players.  It is obviously not an exact science, but it gives us a good idea of what sort of chance the Devils have of reaping the rewards of those 2nd and 4th round picks they got from trading Stempniak.

He graded each player on a scale of 1-10, 1 being a complete bust who played 10 or fewer lifetime NHL games, and 10 being a generational talent like Sydney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.  Every person picked at a certain pick number between 1990 and 2010 were averaged together to give that pick an average rating.  So for example, the first pick had an average rating of 7.90 between those years.  That would equate to a top 6 forward or top 4 defenseman, with the strong likelihood that he is more like a top line forward or a top pairing defenseman.  Here are the grades he put on each number:

10 - Generational
9 - Elite Player
8 - First Line, Top Pair D
7 - Top Six Forward, Top Four D
6 - Top Nine Forward, Top Six D
5 - NHL Regular, 350+ NHL games 
4 - Fringe NHLer, 200+ NHL games
3 - Very Good Minor Leaguer, 50-200 NHL games
2 - Minor Leaguer, under 50 NHL games
1 - 10 or fewer NHL games

So, given that information, there are some numbers to look at for the second round pick next year.  The average rating of a second round pick only falls somewhere between a 3.03 for the top of the round and a 2.39 for the end of the round, but there is more that looks a lot better.  Someone drafted in the top 2/3 of the second round has around a 12.4% chance to become a 7 or better.  Someone drafted near the end of the 2nd round has a little under a 10% chance.  That gives the Devils a 12% chance approximately to turn that second rounder into a top 6 forward, unless Boston dominates next year and the Devils get a late pick in the round as a result.  Those aren't the worst odds ever.

Furthermore, someone drafted in the 2nd round has somewhere between a 28.6%-39.0% chance to become a NHL regular at any level.  Cullen uses at least 100 NHL games played as a regular.  So even if New Jersey does not hit that 12% chance for a star, they have around a 1/3 chance to draft a NHL regular with that pick.  Those are good odds.

The fourth round pick is obviously more of a flier.  At those picks, the Devils have somewhere between a 2.5% and a 4.4% chance to draft someone who rates as a 7 or better.  Although at that point, you are looking at around a 15% chance to draft a NHL regular, which are not miserable odds.

Conclusion

So, let's go over the trade once again.  The Devils traded Lee Stempniak, a camp tryout who was signed for peanuts, for a 2nd and a 4th rounder.  They traded him away for around a third of a season.  The Devils may re-sign him this offseason and bring him back, knowing that he is successful in this system and can help anchor the top 6 for the next couple seasons.  Furthermore, it netted 2 draft picks.  The 2nd round pick has around a 12% chance to net a star, and around a 33% chance to net a NHL regular.  The 4th round pick has around a 4% chance to net a star, and around a 15% chance to net a NHL regular.

Again, the Devils got all of this simply for giving away a camp tryout that may come back this offseason because he was highly successful here, more successful than he was basically anywhere else over the last several seasons.  I'll take those chances for a star player.  Even if they don't pan out, just having those chances instead of having Stempniak for an extra 30 games or so when the Devils were not even making the playoffs, how can you go wrong?  There was absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by making this trade.  I mean I know it seems like the same for the DSP trade, but there has to be at least some chance that Matteau pisses us all off and becomes a quality player for Montreal, right?

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on this debate? What do you think was the better in-season move, the DSP trade or the Stempniak trade? Why do you feel that way? Am I crazy for having this dissenting opinion? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.