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An Even Trade: A Closer Look at the Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen Deal

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On Thursday, the New Jersey Devils stunned many fans and the hockey world by announcing a deal that sent Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi, and a 2018 third round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Sami Vatanen. This post takes a closer look at what is an even trade for both sides.

Vegas Golden Knights v Anaheim Ducks
He’s had his coffee. Now he’ll put on a Devils uniform.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Thursday, November 30, turned out to be a huge day for the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils. This morning, the Devils announced that they traded Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi, and their third round pick in 2018 to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third round pick - dependent on whether Henrique re-signs with Anaheim. This was surprising to me in two ways. One, I had no inkling that there was a deal being made - which I think is fantastic. I always liked that trait from Lou Lamoriello and I like that Ray Shero has continued that tradition. Two, the Devils moved a fan favorite in a deal that I think is actually quite fair for both sides. It is not common that you see a trade where all parties benefit from the deal itself. It’s easier and more entertaining to pick out winners and losers as soon as possible after the deal is announced. Let’s take a closer look at the trade itself and understand who the Devils are getting in Sami Vatanen.

Who the Devils Traded Away Helps Anaheim

Let’s consider the other team first: Anaheim. They need forwards. According to Rotoworld’s injury report as of today, the following forwards are hurt: Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rackell, Ondrej Kase, Jared Boll, Patrick Eaves, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler. While most of those players are day-to-day, that’s a long list on the report. More relevant to this trade: Getzlaf and Kesler, Anaheim’s top two centers, have been out for more significant time. This has meant more ice time for Antoine Vermette, Derek Grant, and Chris Wagner - and they have not exactly been exceptional. Henrique, who can play center as well as left wing, fits their short-term roster need and provides additional depth and versatility up front for the Ducks.

Adam Henrique was beloved in New Jersey. From knocking out Florida and Our Hated Rivals as a rookie to his presence online and in the community to some nice goal scoring streaks, Henrique has grown among the fans. Those who fell in love with the team around 2012 especially look up to Henrique. As he was traded and it was a pure hockey trade, he will likely be cheered at the Rock on December 18 when the Ducks come to play. I’d like to think the Duck fans will really like Henrique in time too.

More objectively, the best way I can describe Henrique is that he’s OK. Henrique’s offense? It’s OK. It’s nothing to blow you away; he does not really have a skill or a skill set that puts him heads and shoulders above other forwards. He does not shoot the puck at a significant volume. He is not a play driver - especially this season as he was ninth on the team in CF% at 45.3% per Natural Stat Trick. In fact, he hasn’t finished a season above 50% CF% since 2013-14. But he can thrive with the right set of teammates. He does go on goal-scoring tears and it has resulted in him cracking the twenty-goal plateau three times in his six seasons so far. Henrique has been utilized both at wing and at center and has been competent at both. He also has been used as a solid penalty killer and a contributor on a power play, which adds to his versatility. Henrique is a perfectly fine player in the middle of the forward group.

But don’t just take my word for it, take this from Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy:

Additionally, Joseph Blandisi - who also can play center and wing - can make a case to get minutes in Anaheim’s bottom six. He skates well, he can be a pain to his opponents, and he has some decent moves on the puck. The diving reputation is going to be hard to shake, but Blandisi is still young enough (23) to shed that label (and to also not dive so obviously in the NHL). While Blandisi did not exactly impress last season, the emergence of Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman along with the continued use of Pavel Zacha made him unnecessary on the roster. With John Quenneville and Nick Lappin in Binghamton (Aside: Check out Jeff and his panel’s grades for the B-Devils players for the first quarter of their season.), it was not clear whether Blandisi would have been the first choice to be called up as needed. This trade helps him get an opportunity that may have passed him by in New Jersey. Should he get a chance, I hope for his sake that he tried to make the most of it. If so, that’s another plus for the Ducks. We’ll see whether he gets that spot right away.

That third round pick in this year gives Anaheim a second pick in that round. That could be used as a chip-in for a future deal or be used in the draft to pick another prospect. It’s a nice benefit. The swap in cap hits gives Anaheim a little more breathing room on their salary cap too. Their current cap space is still less than a million dollars per CapFriendly, but a little more space is better than none at all. It’s a small bonus in a deal that gives the Ducks some help up front and strengthens their depth down the middle when Getzlaf and Kesler return to action.

What the Devils Acquired Helps Them

The New Jersey Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen. The Devils’ defense has been horrendous this season. Acquiring a defenseman makes sense for that reason alone. What makes even more sense is that Vatanen has been a pretty good one when it comes to offense.

Yes, the Devils did acquire Will Butcher, who has provided plenty of helpers and helped facilitate the power play on some nights this season. Damon Severson has always had a good offensive component to his game. It is not a surprise he is the team’s leader among defensemen in shots on net and has a CF% above 50% on a team that’s well in the 47th percentile. But the team still struggles to make zone exits, lead breakouts, and when Butcher and/or Severson have a rough night on the power play, the power play unit struggles mightily. Vatanen can absolutely help with all of that.

The power play stats for Vatanen have been quite good prior to this season. Just look at these from Natural Stat Trick. Vatanen was a key player on Anaheim’s man advantages and attempted many shots in addition to piling up a healthy number of points. When he was on the ice, Anaheim generated plenty of scoring chances and many of them were dangerous ones. It remains to be seen how he fits on the power play, but if the Devils want to run a unit with two defensemen or give a different look from the back, they can absolutely do so.

The penalty killing stats for Vatanen are not so bad prior to this season as well. Look at these from Natural Stat Trick. Keeping a SA/60 rate below 50 is quite good in shorthanded situations. It was astounding in 2015-16, but not so bad last season either. As Mueller (and Moore) have been used regularly on New Jersey’s power play, this deal gives the coaches another player they can utilize in shorthanded situations. That helps with Mueller out for several more weeks.

Additionally, Vatanen is a right-handed shot and plays on the right side of the defense. With Mirco Mueller out for quite sometime, the Devils can slot Vatanen in the lineup in a number of ways. What I would like to see the Devils try first is that Vatanen replace Steve Santini, who has been noticeably bossed around for weeks. Should Vatanen fit well next to Andy Greene, the Devils can then give the younger defenseman some more favorable situations where he can thrive. Such as a pairing of Will Butcher next to Santini. This would leave Ben Lovejoy to be a more-than-solid seventh defenseman to rotate in for players as needed. It also leaves Dalton Prout to be nothing more than cover for injuries; but that has been the role he has served for much of this season anyway.

If you look at this season alone, you would not believe that Vatanen is what the Devils could use. Vatanen’s numbers for 2017-18, per Natural Stat Trick, have been horrible. He has a CF% below 42%, he has the second lowest CF% on the team, and his SA/60 rate can be described as Moore-esque. However, a closer look shows that Anaheim’s coaches kept pairing Vatanen with Kevin Bieksa - which has been a terrible pairing per Natural Stat Trick. You know it’s bad when the team jumps about 10% in CF% when Vatanen is not with Bieksa and Bieksa is worse than 36% away from Vatanen. Last season, Vatanen was mostly paired with Cam Fowler, which also did not go so well. It was at least better than Bieksa-Vatanen. The Devils do not have Kevin Bieksa, so that is a plus. Combined with the fact that he has been around the breakeven point for much of his career, I do not think Vatanen is some albatross on the ice. I think his most common pairings in the last two seasons were not so good and so a change in scenery may help. I would not expect Vatanen to be this amazing defender, but he has been OK for what he has done. Again, don’t just take my word for it. Here’s one from Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy:

While it does not matter so much now, the conditional pick could be an additional chip for New Jersey. However, that is dependent on Henrique re-signing in Anaheim. When that extension is made determines if it is a 2019 or 2020 third rounder. Of course, no extension for Henrique means the Devils get no pick. Basically, the Devils went out and got a defenseman to bolster their current blueline. How Vatanen performs will determine whether this trade turns out to be good or not.

Why This Trade is Even

In the previous two sections, I explained what each team is getting. Let’s take a step back and look at why they were moved at all.

For New Jersey’s side, I called Adam Henrique increasingly expendable back in this Summer. With Nico Hischier arriving plus the then-real possibility of Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod making the team, I saw a future where they could take over the center roles and Henrique would be less necessary. Reality did not turn out exactly in that way, but it appeared to management that Henrique became less important to the team’s future anyway. McLeod did not make the team and Zacha has not exactly secured a spot in this lineup. But Hischier was given center spot on the top line and has remained in the top six since his NHL debut. Travis Zajac is back and has been an effective center for seasons; once he is back in form, then he will continue to be someone who can handle tough matchups - something Henrique was not so good at. Speaking of, Henrique struggled for several weeks this season and only recently did it start looking like he was turning his season around for the better. Even then, he was relegated to wing. With an expiring contract next season and this deal on the table, general manager Ray Shero took a calculated risk and moved Henrique. Joseph Blandisi was passed up on the depth chart, so he was thrown in the deal as well.

For Anaheim’s side, not only did they need forwards, they had a glut of defensemen. They had such a glut last season, which drove the Shea Theodore trade at the time of the expansion draft. With Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson (his extension kicks in next season), and Kevin Bieksa all committed to large salaries as per CapFriendly, Vatanen was seen as trade-able. The pairing with Fowler last season did not work all that well and his most common pairing this season with Bieksa has been sore for any sights. That would help the thinking that Vatanen had to be moved. So did the fact that health has been some kind of concern as Vatanen has never played more than 71 games in a season and he was coming off shoulder surgery earlier this year. So did the fact that he had more years left on his deal and a pricier cap hit of $4.875 million. Better to move him when he has value and better to move him than someone like Manson or Lindholm.

Basically, both sides had a position of need for the short-term and long-term. Both sides had a position of strength where they could deal assets. They made something work. That’s what I call even. Both sides appear to benefit from it.

Great, But Do You Like This Trade?

I like this trade and I have to emphasize that I like it. I don’t love it. I would have loved it if Shero swung a deal for either a better right-side defenseman or a comparable left-side defenseman. That side of the blueline remains an issue as John Moore continues to receive significant minutes and there remains no potential future for Andy Greene’s role. I think if Shero wants to continue to beef up the blueline, upgrading from Moore should be his next target.

I also think that while Henrique was becoming expendable, I said he was increasingly expendable. Not that he was right now. They could have waited until it was clear Zacha was set to receive more minutes. Marcus Johansson coming back in the near future does help. Should the forwards get hit with some more injuries, Henrique’s absence may be felt a bit more. But I understand that there is rarely a perfect time for a deal to be made.

I will like it a lot more if Vatanen helps out the Devils with respect to the breakout and zone exits. I do appreciate Shero trying to strengthen this team while the standings still look good. Not that Vatanen should be expected to drag this team from being one of the worst 5-on-5 teams in the league, but he can help stem some of the pain by assisting in areas where the Devils tend to struggle at even strength. It depends on where he fits best and how he is instructed by the coaches. Of course, that is true on the other side. Anaheim has been a bad 5-on-5 team too and whether Henrique helps them depends on whether he meshes with his linemates and if his stick gets hot to supplement his other contributions. This adds to the evenness of this deal. Both teams stand to benefit, but it is not a guarantee the deal will make either team so much better.

One Final Point - The Finnish Factor

Sami Vatanen is Finnish and he has a real shot becoming the most accomplished Finnish player in New Jersey Devils franchise history. This is not at all a high bar to clear. Your all-time leader in points is defenseman Taipo Levo, who put up 69 points in 107 games between the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons according to Hockey-Reference. The games played leader is Tuomo Ruutu, who appeared 129 games with New Jersey from 2014 to 2016. For whatever reason, the Devils have not found success with Finnish players. They have drafted prospects from there and they have all struggled in the North American game. Vatanen can break a streak of relative futility. All he needs to do is to stay mostly healthy (which is possible) and be productive (also possible if he’s given plenty of power play time). If there’s one more reason to be hopeful for this trade working out for New Jersey beyond the fact that we all support the Devils and want them to succeed, then I think it is a good one.

Your Additional Take

You’ve all had a lot to say earlier today. I know this is a late set of opinions but it is worth stating all the same. Do you like this trade? What do you expect from Vatanen as a Devil? How much will you miss Henrique? Please leave your answers and further thoughts about this deal in the comments. Thank you for reading.